Top Volunteer Activities that Look Good on College Applications

5 min to read
Two teenage students volunteering to clean up a park

Getting into your No. 1 college is a competition, and a solid, goal-oriented record of community service is an essential part of your college portfolio.

Your record of civic participation gives admissions officers a glimpse into your character, your motivations, and your potential for success. Along with your academic achievements, test scores, and recommendations, those qualities can help your application stand out by showing the college you are:

  • Active. Going above and beyond the classroom and school extracurriculars shows you are committed to having a positive impact on the real world. 
  • Passionate. Focusing your service in an area you care about—volunteering at a hospital if you are interested in pre-med, for instance—conveys your passion and reflects your commitment to it. 
  • Organized. Your ability to juggle your service and keep your grades up demonstrates that you are a productive and efficient time manager. 

The bottom line on volunteering—whether through student-led clubs, days of service, or fundraising for causes you believe in—shows that you are willing to “walk the walk,” not just “talk the talk,” when it comes to making your community a better place. 

Colleges value that principle. And admissions officers give added weight to long-term service with measured impact, as in how much money did you raise? How many homes did you help build? How many hungry people did you help feed? 

What Are the Best Volunteer Opportunities for College Admission Criteria?

A survey of college admissions officers found that 92% value long-term local service more than a short overseas project. “Dedication is the true measuring gauge,” one officer said, noting that applicants who not only take the initiative to effect change but also are deeply committed to it stand out among their peers. 

Volunteering Can Help You While You Help Others

Long-term civic engagement to improve lives and strengthen communities can help fund your college careers as well as burnish your application’s credentials. Some funding sources (and links to volunteer opportunities) are: 

  • The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes honors 25 middle grades and high school students annually for their inspired public service. Its 2021 award recipients included students who founded sustainable hunger relief, environmental, public health, women’s empowerment, and other initiatives. 
  • Segal AmeriCorps Education Award provides scholarships for students who complete AmeriCorps volunteer service in areas such as health care, cultural preservation, economic opportunity, environmental stewardship, and disaster services. 
  • Moreover, volunteering, regardless of service type, has significant personal benefits: It reduces stress, improves mental and physical health, provides a sense of purpose, and deepens existing and new relationships. 

When thinking about potential long-term, goal-oriented activities, consider fundraising. Find a non-profit cause that matches your passion on Charity Navigator, then use the National Honor Society Fundraising for a Cause worksheet to organize your drive, and create an online site to raise money. 

The Connections Academy® Resource Hub is also a great place to find virtual and in-person volunteer opportunities for kids in elementary grades, middle grades, and high school. 

What Other Benefits Can You Gain from the Best Places to Volunteer for College Applications?

Getting involved in civic service can help students gain valuable, future-ready skills. 

Volunteers receive training and assume responsibilities, which help set the foundation for future success. Whether you’re swinging a hammer at a  Habitat for Humanity site, raising funds for an animal shelter, or keeping records at a food bank, that service looks great on an early version of your résumé.

The Best Volunteer Programs for College Applications to Broaden Your Horizons

Community service connects you with like-minded people who share your motivations and passions as well as with others you might not meet otherwise. Some new experiences can be heartbreaking, like serving in hospice, a food bank, or a clinic, but often will inspire a change of perspective, causing you to be more purpose-driven and self-aware.

Volunteering with activists and political campaigns offers uniquely exciting opportunities. Besides getting an inside look at how they run, you will also have the opportunity to make lifelong connections with movers –and shakers who can show you their paths to success.

Going Ivy, a college admissions consultant, includes among its community service ideas for high school students: 

  • Teen crisis counselor. You know better than others that teens are under constant pressure. As one who has learned how to manage stress, showing others how you handle it may help them overcome academic anxiety, fear of fitting in, and family issues. Check with your school for service opportunities. 
  • Charity event host. Leverage and strengthen your leadership skills by organizing a fundraising event for a cause you care about. Finding sponsors, getting the word out, and making sure all the “Ts” are crossed takes a lot of work. It gets easier after the first one and hosting one each year you’re in high school will help your application shine.
  • Environmental researcher. Local and state environmental-services organizations are always collecting meteorological, wildlife, and land-use data. Ask how you can become a storm-spotter or an observer to help them achieve their missions.
  • Mentor. Helping peers develop academic and social skills is an ideal way to serve your community by serving individuals. Your service can help level the playing field. Again, ask your school for ideas on opportunities. 

How Do Students Find Time for Volunteer Programs for College Applications Opportunities?

A rigid school schedule could put the squeeze on the amount of time you can devote to volunteer activities.

Online learning, however, provides the flexibility needed to fit civic service into the learning schedule, ensuring there’s not only time to give back to the community in ways that appeal to college admissions officers, but also to help enrich the learning experience. 

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