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Finding Volunteer Service Activities: Tips for Freshmen & Sophomores
You might think that the college process is a numbers game that merely focuses on your GPA, test scores, and the difficulty of the courses you take in high school—but you’d be wrong. Community service is an important (and often overlooked) aspect of your college applications. Volunteering is a wonderful way to spend your time and use your skills to give back to your community, and it can even be helpful in understanding yourself and your own interests. If you find the right opportunity, you may even end up discovering a new interest or skill that can be beneficial to you throughout your life!
Volunteering doesn’t just help your community and help you discover your interests, it’s also a great way to strengthen your college and scholarship applications—and the possibilities for volunteering opportunities are essentially endless! Read on for tips, tricks, and suggestions on how you can begin volunteering in high school.
First and foremost, it’s just a good thing to do. You can help make a difference in your community and help out those less fortunate than you. Having this type of experience when you’re young can offer you a really valuable sense of perspective that is hard to find anywhere else. It can also help you learn more about your interests and values, and allow you to do real work towards a goal or a cause that you believe in.
On a personal level, volunteering gives you an opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals who share your interests and care about giving back — these may be other students who you could become friends with; they could also be adults who could serve as a mentor or role model for you as you try to figure out what you’re interested in pursuing in college and beyond.
Finally, there are professional benefits: volunteering helps improve your college profile and gives admissions committees a better idea of who you are and what you believe in. It can also help you network and make professional connections. You might even be able to use your volunteering supervisor as a reference who can speak to your abilities when it comes time for you to apply for jobs, internships, to college and even scholarships.
Getting involved early
While you can begin volunteering at any time, it’s true that the sooner you begin to do so, the more you’re likely to get out of your experience. Volunteering as a Freshman or Sophomore is likely to help you nail down your interests which can help you decide which activities at school you’d like to join, which course of study you’d like to go into, or even what kind of jobs you might like to do a little further down the line.
Not only will it help you get to know yourself early on, but it also offers more benefits to begin volunteering early because you will be able to make a longer-term time commitment to your chosen opportunity. Once Junior and Senior year roll around, you will have racked up tons of hours to put on your college and scholarship applications, and you’ll also be demonstrating a long-term commitment to something, which looks great to Admissions Committees.
How do I find the right volunteer opportunity?
When thinking about which volunteer opportunities you might be interested in, you should think seriously about your interests. If an opportunity involves something that you’re passionate about, then you’re much more likely to want to devote your energy to it and give it your all.
If you care about poverty and helping the homeless, try volunteering at a local soup kitchen. If equal access to education is your passion, or if you like working with kids, try working as a volunteer tutor at your local Boys & Girls Club. If you like working with the elderly, consider working at a local retirement home. If you care a lot about animals, consider working in a local animal shelter or vet’s office. If you’re passionate about sports and being outdoors, think about becoming a volunteer student coach or even a summer camp counselor.
If you’re not sure quite what you want to do, don’t panic. The good news is that many volunteer opportunities are low-commitment on account of them being unpaid, so you can try out several opportunities in order to try and find what fits. Be aware that this isn’t always the case, though—you should always double-check the level of commitment for a volunteer opportunity before getting involved!
Considering time commitment
When you’re already going to school, preparing for standardized tests, and participating in extracurriculars, the thought of adding another activity to the mix might make your head spin. As a freshman or sophomore, you’re probably still trying out numerous different clubs at school and beginning to prepare for the PSAT or maybe even the SAT/ACT. Before you jump into a volunteer opportunity, it is important to consider how it will fit into your schedule and how you might be able to manage this activity long-term.
Some volunteer places have a minimum (or maximum) number of hours per week that they expect their student volunteers to work—be sure to clarify how many hours per week you’d be doing before you get involved!
Keep in mind that volunteering as a student doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment, although it’s true that having more hours will demonstrate a bigger commitment to volunteering when AdComs review your application. That being said, if taking on a volunteer opportunity is difficult for you for any reason (maybe you’re too busy, maybe you have too many family responsibilities, maybe you simply can’t afford to work for free), just know that only 1-2 hours per week can go a long way— and you can always talk to your guidance counselor or a CollegeVine student mentor if you’re having difficulty doing it all!
If your weeks are always packed, consider taking on something that you can do on the weekends (or vise versa). If your schedule during the school year really makes it impossible to volunteer, consider doing something in the summer or during breaks when you likely won’t have as much school work to worry about. Many summer camps or programs are happy to have volunteer counselors—again, take a look at the Boys & Girls Club.
There are also short-term volunteer jobs that you can do when your school has winter or spring break, like wrapping presents for senior citizens or going on a service trip with a local church. Ask your guidance counselor and other trusted adults in your community for more information on short-term activities you could do!
If there aren’t many volunteer opportunities available to you or if you’re finding difficulty doing them for whatever reason, you may want to consider starting a volunteer opportunity of your own!
Again, think about your schedule and interests. Maybe you could sell baked goods to raise money for your favorite charity, or maybe you could start a drive for pens, pencils and notebooks at your school for kids who can’t afford them.
In the case of starting your own volunteer effort, you should always start small and think local. Think about the needs and disparities in your specific community and how you might begin to solve them. Maybe your city has a particularly large homeless population— you could get a group of kids together from your school to go volunteer at a homeless shelter. Maybe a local lake or body of water is polluted—you could gather a group of students to get together and clean it up on weekends.
Whatever you end up doing or whatever your idea is, make sure that it is safe and realistic (usually, this just means running your idea by an adult that you trust).
Volunteering can be a rewarding way to give back, explore your interests, and improve your college apps. While you might think of yourself as just a high schooler, you have a lot to offer your community in terms of volunteering — just be sure to think beforehand about what interests you and what skills/advantages you have that might help you be as effective of a volunteer as possible!
If you want advice on volunteering or on strengthening your college applications in general, be sure to check out CollegeVine’s mentorship service program, which connects high school students to successful college kids who will give them advice on everything from academics, extracurriculars, to exploring their interests and cultivating leadership skills!
For more information on volunteering, check out these blog posts: