At Collegewise, there’s one questions our counselors despise being asked: “How many volunteer hours should I do to be a competitive college applicant?”
Volunteering for the sake of looking good on your college applications takes the purpose out of volunteering. So, yes, while some colleges do look for volunteer hours, it’s not because they want you to check a box. It’s because they want to see that you care about your community, that you’re an involved citizen, and that you’ll bring that passion to their campus.
Bear in mind that no college (that we know of) has an actual requirement of volunteer hours to get admitted – some have requirements once you’re there that they want you to volunteer. And high schools often have requirements to do community service, but there isn’t an admission requirement to have completed community service for any school. It’s largely about if you align with their ethos – if they’re a school who values community service (say, a Jesuit college like Boston College, or Tulane), then it’s likely that you should have done community service in high school (and that it’ll only be a bit for you if you wanted to do that anyway!).
Where to find out college-specific volunteering requirements
So, we’ve just told you that the worst question you could ask a Collegewise counselor is, “How many volunteer hours should I do?” but you’re still waiting for an answer.
We get it. There is endless pressure for high school students today to stand out among their peers, to do everything bigger and better than the classes before them. That said, part of the reason we dislike the question about how many hours you should do is because it’s more about the impact you have. There is no perfect formula to get you into college, but we know for certain that colleges are interested in students who are interesting. This means that while most colleges don’t have a required amount of volunteer hours to be admitted, many will look highly upon students who have done volunteer work with no agenda except to make a difference in their community. So ask yourself: if you’re someone who doesn’t do that sort of thing in high school, why would you want to change in college?
So students who complete 200 community service hours to simply check the box? Fine. But a student who broadens their understanding of serving their community and gets groceries for an elderly neighbors, or teaches English to a neighbor’s grandparents, or starts a composting initiative in their neighborhood. That’s the kind of behavior we encourage in our students.
When it comes to volunteering, the great news is that there is no shortage of opportunities. Asking yourself the following questions should give you a good starting point:
- What are you passionate about?
- What skills do you have that could be useful to an organization?
- How much time do you have to offer? Do you want to volunteer for a few hours each week, or just for an entire summer?
- What are ways you can serve the people directly around you (i.e., neighbors, family, etc)? It doesn’t have to be a formal volunteer opportunity to count as something that will make a difference.
Maybe you love animals and have a few spare hours on Sunday afternoons. Reach out to your local animal shelter and see if you can walk dogs on Sundays from 2-4 p.m.
Maybe you love kids. Reach out to local organizations, like places of worship or YMCAs, to see if they have programs where you can volunteer to play with kindergartners or help in their nursery.
Maybe you’re a bookworm. Most local libraries have volunteer programs to help sort and put away books.
The opportunities are seemingly limitless for any high school student with passion and drive. A quick Google search can point you in the right direction to find the perfect volunteering role for you.
Related: Explore and Give Back This Summer
Quality vs. quantity of volunteer hours
When it comes to volunteer hours, should you choose to do them, quality is always better than quantity. If you can only do 10 hours over the summer, but it’s for a cause you care deeply about and you can speak to the impact it had, that will always be considered valuable experience.
For many students, having the time to volunteer just isn’t realistic. Between taking challenging courses, being involved in school, and maybe even having a job to contribute in your family, there may be no time for you to offer as a volunteer. If that’s the case, don’t be disheartened. Remember that there are many pieces to a college application that admissions officers will take into consideration, and there are many ways to be a competitive applicant.
Why you should consider volunteering
Something we often say at Collegewise is that interests make you interesting.
Like I mentioned earlier in this blog post, you shouldn’t just volunteer to check a box or to be able to put something on your college application. You should volunteer because you’ve found a cause you’re passionate about and you care about your community.
Ultimately, colleges want to ensure the people that they admit to their school will be thoughtful, curious, and empathetic students. They want to have a campus that is made better each year because the student body is interesting and dynamic.
So as you decide where to spend your time volunteering, keep that in mind. And best of luck finding the right volunteer opportunities for you!
About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counseling, test prep, academic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates.