Among the many questions I field regarding the college admissions process, one of them is among the most popular: “Is it important that I do volunteer work while I am in high school?”
The short answer is: Yes, it does matter.
However, like many things in the admissions process, there is more substance to that answer.
Volunteering/Community Service (both can be used interchangeably) as it relates to the college admissions process is very similar to extracurricular activities; they are not the end-all, be-all of the review process when your application comes up for review, but, as an applicant, they can only help you.
Volunteering shows you’re engaged in your community
I would say these days, volunteer work may have a slight leg up on extracurricular activities in terms of “boosting” your application, because many institutions now incorporate Civic Engagement into the curriculum.
For example, at William Paterson University, students are required to complete a Civic Engagement requirement, which, in layman’s terms, is a volunteer/community service task that is tied to the student’s academics. To bring that entire concept full circle, I look for students that are engaged in high school, because it tells me that they are more likely to be engaged when they enroll at WP, which is important to our community.
Also, like extracurriculars, it’s always important to remember that more can actually be less. As an admissions counselor, it’s more important for me to see that a student is actively or heavily engaged in a particular volunteering opportunity — it tells me that they truly enjoy and care about that issue — rather than having a slight involvement with many organizations. Again, engagement is key.
Volunteering demonstrates your time management skills
Keep in mind to always maintain a healthy balance between all of the different activities you participate in. In other words, don’t go running to sign up for every possible community service opportunity and sacrifice your academics in order to do them. This demonstrates that you have time management skills, and you are able to engage in multiple activities without becoming overwhelmed or losing focus.
You want to show colleges and universities that you can indeed manage your time well, doing these great things in your community while also striving for excellence in the classroom.
Quick tip: This is not different than when you apply for a job! Employers will want to see that you can perform various tasks or activities outside of your everyday role while maintaining a high standard with your responsibilities.
Volunteering is the right thing to do
In my book, college admissions aside, volunteering and assisting our communities is something we should all do. Pay it forward so that others can do the same and so on.
Look at it this way: You are doing something you should be doing (helping your community) and, at the same time, improving your resume in a way that will make you a more appealing college applicant. Sounds like a win-win to me, and at the end of the day, the admissions process should always be a win-win for both the student and the institution.