How Many Volunteer Hours Do You Need for College?
- Is Volunteering Important to Colleges?
- How Many Volunteer Hours Should You Complete?
- When Should You Complete Your Volunteer Hours?
- How to Find Volunteer Opportunities
There are a host of reasons why volunteering is consistently one of the most popular extracurricular activities of college-bound high schoolers—to name a few, it allows them to explore areas of interest, pursue, give back to their communities, and build valuable skills like leadership and teamwork. As an added bonus, volunteering also bolsters their college profiles.
The influence volunteering can have on college admissions, the nearly endless amount of volunteer opportunities, and organizations’ seemingly limitless amount of help needed can leave you wondering, just how many volunteer hours do you need for college?
Wondering about your odds of admission with your current list of community service activities and extracurriculars? Find out now by using our free chancing calculator!
Is Volunteering Important to Colleges?
In general, volunteer work is an important consideration for colleges when evaluating applicants. A survey of 264 college admissions leaders found that 58% agreed that, “A student’s community service experience has a positive impact on his or her acceptance to our higher education institution,” while only 16% disagreed with the statement. Perhaps more importantly, the survey found more than half (53%) believed that community service served as a tiebreaker when making decisions between equally qualified candidates.
While volunteering typically plays an influential role in college admissions, some colleges are more service-oriented than others. For example, the aforementioned survey found that admissions leaders at private four-year colleges view the tiebreaking nature of community service as even higher than the overall average—a whopping 61%!
Colleges assess your volunteer work in the same manner they do with other extracurricular activities and, despite the popular belief that volunteer work is held in higher esteem than other activities, they’re traditionally given the same weight. The four tiers of extracurricular activities are a good guideline for understanding how colleges view your activities outside of the classroom—they categorize extracurricular by their impressiveness to colleges. For example:
- Tier 1 is reserved for the rarest and most remarkable achievements and accomplishments. An example of a tier 1 volunteer activity is founding a regional or national organization.
- Tier 2 is for prestigious activities and significant accomplishments that don’t quite rise to the rarified air of tier 1, such as volunteering in a leadership position or position of influence in a community-focused organization.
- Tier 3 extracurricular activities are more common and stand out less in college admissions. These include volunteer activities like assisting at the local food bank weekly, tutoring after school, and routinely helping out at the animal shelter.
- Tier 4 is the home of the least impressive and lowest engagement activities. For example, periodically assisting at the local soup kitchen or occasionally helping out at church.
How Many Volunteer Hours Should You Complete?
There’s no magic number of volunteer hours that will guarantee you admission into your dream school. In fact, more important than the actual number of hours you volunteer is what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, what you’re taking away from it, and the effect you’re having.
Typically, focusing your volunteer work on a single opportunity has a greater influence on your college admission odds than spreading your efforts across a variety of projects—the higher the tier of the volunteer work you’re engaged in, the more influence it will have. For example, a student who founds a successful non-profit that garners national and regional media attention will get more consideration from college admissions officers than an applicant who volunteers once a week at the library. Some truly impressive volunteer work done by high schoolers include:
- The organization March for Our Lives was founded by survivors—the most well-known is activist David Hogg—of a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
- Noah Rupp was just 14 years old when he founded the Noah’s Ark Project with his father and set out to provide the homeless with waterproof, windproof sleeping bags that reflect 70% to 90% of a person’s heat to those who otherwise wouldn’t have shelter.
- The nonprofit Vanilla Feeds Tomorrow was also founded by a 14-year-old, William Cabaniss. William learned how to make premium vanilla extract at home, began selling it, and donated the profits to a local food bank. To date, he has donated more than $200,000.
Along with exceptional accomplishments, what all the students above found was their spike—a cause that they’re passionate about, dedicated to, and that makes them stand out from the crowd. While not everyone can start a transformational nonprofit, the best volunteer activities align with your passions and interests—it’s something you believe in and the boost to your college profile is an added bonus.
Most colleges don’t require that you log your volunteer hours—they operate on the honor system. That said, it’s a good idea to record them. It allows you to remember what you’ve done, provide colleges with accurate information, earn scholarships, and qualify for school and community awards.
When Should You Complete Your Volunteer Hours?
You can volunteer throughout your high school career, however, there are benefits to starting early. Most notably, you normally have more free time early in your high school career compared to later when activities like college prep courses, standardized tests, and completing scholarships and college applications start taking up considerable space on your calendar. Also, consider that college applications are submitted during the fall and winter of your senior year—which means you’ll want to have logged the bulk of your volunteer time by this point.
How to Find Volunteer Opportunities
There is an abundance of organizations anxiously awaiting volunteers—you just need to find the right one for you. Below are some excellent places to begin your search for volunteer activities.
Look for Online Volunteer Opportunities
A number of great websites are dedicated to pairing volunteers with organizations that need help. A few worth checking out are:
There are also numerous groups that provide online volunteer opportunities, like Translators without Borders, the United Nations, and the Trevor Project. Think the current volunteer websites could be better or don’t see a volunteer opportunity that interests you? This could be your chance to start something that changes the world or your community.
Look for Local Volunteer Opportunities
You’re probably surrounded by organizations that are in need of volunteers, you just don’t know it. Schools, churches, nursing homes, food pantries, animal shelters, libraries, museums, and parks rely heavily on volunteers. Reach out and see what types of opportunities are available.
Create Your Own Volunteer Opportunities
Not everyone wants to join a group or organization—luckily there are also plenty of self-driven volunteer activities. For example, you could identify a need in your community and work to address it, like fundraising for your local homeless shelter, sending care packages to community members in need, starting a toy drive for children in your local hospital, or creating a peer-to-peer tutoring program in your school.
There’s no shortage of things you can do to better your community—your imagination is the limit!