Many high schools have community service requirements for graduation, but do you really need volunteer hours to get into college?
The short answer is no. Colleges in general don’t require community service as part of criteria for acceptance, much less a certain number of hours. But, that doesn’t mean you should completely disregard the idea of logging some volunteer time.
The point of volunteering is to help others and make a difference in your community. A genuine desire to do good is something that can make you a better candidate for college. Admission officers like seeing that students are involved in their communities and working to make a difference.
Find something you’re passionate about and figure out how you can get involved. If you love animals, you might consider volunteering at a pet shelter. Perhaps you can assist in taking care of the animals, but also think about your own unique skill sets. Are you a great artist? Maybe you can make posters or design a flyer template that the shelter can use to advertise events. Use your sewing skills to make beds for the pets, or volunteer to make phone calls to raise money for the shelter. You can even organize a collection event to get vital supplies, like pet food, shampoo, toys, and medicine for the animals.
Don’t focus on logging a specific number of hours, either; think about the overall experience for you and those you’re helping. When you only think about meeting a requirement, even if it’s self-imposed, you’re missing the point. Volunteering can be a meaningful experience for the people you’re helping, and also for you.
If you like to travel, consider getting involved in a service project while you’re in a new place. This can actually make your travel more memorable, and help you learn and grow as an individual. Seeing tangible results of hard work you’ve done to help build a playground at a school or help build a home for a family in need can be an incredibly rewarding experience. And, because you’re willing to help others, they in turn will show their appreciation by inviting you into their lives. Perhaps you get to share a pot of tea with a family in Nepal, or you get to watch excited children play on the swingset you just helped create. Each experience teaches you more about how others live, giving you a greater appreciation for different ways of life.
Spread out your volunteer efforts over time, and build consistency. Logging a couple of hours a week annually or regularly getting involved in summer service trips is more impressive than doing just one big volunteer effort the summer before senior year, so be sure to start when you’re young. Look at ways to incorporate volunteer work in your everyday life, too. Is there someone in your neighborhood who could use some help caring for their lawn? Building a relationship with that person while doing something that improves their lives is a great way to get involved. Volunteering is more than just about building a house or doing work. It’s about building relationships with people who need help and perhaps might be overlooked without your time and effort.
Volunteer experience can also give you the foundation for developing leadership experiences. Chances are, your school offers some service opportunities within the local community, and if not, perhaps you can start a service organization. Interested in raising awareness for a cause? Start a club at your high school and educate others on the cause, raise money to support the initiative, and get others involved. Leadership and volunteer experience? Now that’s a win-win for college applications.
Your service projects can be a great talking point during your college interviews, and shows that your depth goes beyond just a transcript and sports. It makes you a more well-rounded person in general, which can make you a stronger candidate for the college of your dreams.