While volunteering is a great way to beef up your resume or the activities section of your college applications, it’s also a great way to get involved in your community and use your skills and efforts to improve the lives of those around you. That being said, if you’re not a legal adult yet, you might be wondering whether or not there are restrictions to how and how much you can volunteer, as is often the case working paid jobs. Read on to learn about how your age will affect your volunteering experience.

A Brief Introduction to Volunteering

Volunteering, by definition, means working on a project without pay. A volunteering opportunity could be long or short term, organized or more casual. Volunteering could involve non-profit organizations or even religious organizations, such as your local church. It might mean serving food at a soup kitchen or even cleaning up a local lake or river.

Volunteering is often used as a synonym for community service. This isn’t always the case, though. For example, working in the office of a nonprofit or government agency might qualify as volunteering, but not community service, whereas volunteering at a camp for underprivileged youth would likely qualify as both.

Volunteer opportunities can take many different forms. Being involved with volunteering shows that you’re engaged with your community and with the larger world around you. Volunteer experience can also be a valuable addition to your college applications, though your first reason for volunteering should always be to further causes you care about and improve your community, not bolster your resume. For more information about how volunteering and community service can affect your professional life, check out this blog post: Do I Need Community Service For My College Applications?

There are benefits to volunteer work even beyond college—volunteering can allow you to network with community leaders and other individuals, gain work experience, and even further explore a favorite interest.

Your age and volunteer opportunities

While volunteering can be both exciting and rewarding, you might run into some complications, especially if the opportunities you’re interested in are intended for adults. Often, volunteer opportunities will require a minimum age of 18, although some have lower limits of 12, 16, or somewhere in between.

Volunteer organizations often have age limits for legal reasons—when minors work somewhere, even without pay, there are many rules and regulations that they organizations hosting them have to follow. For example, there is a liability for injury, parental permission or curfew requirements, or even be specific labor laws about how much and for how long minors can work.

Volunteer opportunities might also have age restrictions for supervision reasons. Though you might be a mature and helpful individual, unfortunately, teens aren’t always the best-behaved age group. The organization that you’re interested in volunteering for might not be able to provide sufficient adult supervision for minors.

There also might be restrictions for reasons of skill—a volunteer position might require skills or even a certain degree of physical strength or size that typically isn’t found in teenagers. After all, it wouldn’t really be fair for either the volunteer organization or for you if you got to work and were suddenly expected to be able to lift 200lb boxes or write a 25 page dissertation.

Existing volunteer possibilities for people under age 18

So if you’re not an adult yet but you still want to get involved, what can you do?

First of all, you can consider volunteering with your family as a group. There are tons of different options available for groups of people, and the presence of your parents may help the organization to manage its younger participants. You might want to consider, for example, weeding a community garden as a family. Perhaps you will even find that this is a fun way to spend time with your loved ones as well as help out in your community.

You could also try volunteering with an organization that specifically works with teenagers. This can be a great way to work at a place designed specifically for your skill level. For example, you could look into volunteering with an organization that pairs teens with elderly people in nursing homes for assistance and companionship.

Another option to consider is to volunteer through your high school, either through a particular club or through a school-wide activity. You can look at your school’s website or talk to your guidance counselor for more information.

If an organization has a standard age limit of 18, you can still ask if there’s a way you can help. Perhaps the organization can look into finding a different, more appropriate role for you with fewer liabilities. For example, you might be asked to stuff envelopes instead of going out canvassing.

You may not be able to do the exact volunteer activity that you want to—for example, maybe you can’t walk dogs at a local animal shelter, as this is often age-restricted—but remember to remain flexible. Even the less attractive volunteer options will help you to build your resume and network with others for better opportunities in the future.

Starting your own volunteer activity for people under age 18

If you’re still unsatisfied with any potential volunteer opportunities or you simply can’t find anything to get involved with, consider starting your own volunteer activity for high schoolers.

This option can have many benefits: it allows you to shape the project more directly, as you’d be the one in charge. This is also a great way to gain leadership experience, and it can help you fill an unrecognized niche. If creative writing is your passion, for example, maybe you could start a service that helps younger students edit and improve their creative writing projects for free. Founding an activity is also an impressive endeavor that will improve your college and job applications.

Before you dive into creating your own volunteer organization, though, you should be aware of the potential challenges. As the person in charge, there will be a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. You’ll need to recruit and manage other people, and there could be legal issues that are complicated for minors to have to deal with alone (for example, if you find yourself stuck dealing with contracts to sign or the transportation of other young people).

Make sure that before you take any further steps, you understand the applicable rules and regulations first. You’ll have to focus on lower-risk activities that are appropriate for people under the age of 18, and you’ll need to be sure to get parental permission, both from your own parents and from the parents of the other minors that are involved.

Having an adult advisor or resource will probably be helpful to you as well—consider starting a youth offshoot of an existing adult organization or a service club at school with a teacher as your advisor. You might even think about starting a teen volunteer group at your church with the help of your youth minister.  

In conclusion

While some opportunities will be restricted to you as a minor, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any ways for you to get involved. You can always look into volunteering with your family, getting involved with volunteer opportunities that allow minors, or even starting your own volunteer activity. Keep in mind, though, that there will be a lot of serious responsibilities involved with starting your own volunteer organization. Overall, remember that there are lots of different ways for you to get involved and give back—you just to be flexible and willing to give your time to a worthy cause.

For more information about volunteering and extracurricular activities, check out these blog posts:

What Counts as an Extracurricular?

Do I Need Community Service For My College Applications?

How Do I Get an Internship?

Managing Extracurriculars: a Strategic Guide to Quitting

Devin Barricklow

Devin Barricklow

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Devin Barricklow is a Political Science and Creative Writing double major at Columbia University. She’s really excited to be able to share her expertise about the college process with students who need advice. When she isn’t writing for CollegeVine, she enjoys reading the poems of Mary Oliver, going to concerts in the city, or cooking (preferably something with lots of bok choy and ginger).
Devin Barricklow