Last week we talked about being academically prepared for college, how taking a rigorous course load not only sets you up to do well in college, but also increases the attractiveness of your college application.
This week we’re covering volunteering experience, and how it can make a college application stand out. While some high schools include community service as a graduation requirement, many do not. If you are one of the many students required to perform community service, utilize the opportunity. Do not fall into the trap of starting your senior year performing the bare minimum hours and spending your hours solely helping teachers after school. If you are not required to complete community service, don’t let this stop you.
Volunteering can be one of the best ways to convey your initiative and enthusiasm for a subject to your university of choice’s admissions committee. For example, for those students considering the pre-med track, volunteering at a hospital is a natural choice. Pre-vets, those that want to continue on to veterinary school, can consider volunteering at animal shelters or rescues. Another possibility is tutoring in the subject area you want to study, whether through your high school, public library or independently; this shows that you have a firm grasp of the material and are willing to aid others in learning. As an added bonus, it is often said that teaching is a great way to learn, meaning the more you explain the material to others, the more you yourself understand and retain it.
Of course, there are difficulties with volunteering while in high school. For one, there are minimum age requirements for many positions. Furthermore, finding transportation to the place and back can be problematic, especially if your family works long hours or the place is not readily accessible by public transportation. Another major issue to consider is safety.
All of these can be discouraging, but the key is persistence. Start searching for places that welcome volunteers as early as possible, ideally during freshmen year. Volunteer with these places long-term, preferably for longer than a year, as this shows your commitment to the cause and gives your supervisor a chance to get to know you, making them more willing to write a recommendation letter for you in the future.
During all of this it’s important to stay safe. Have a trusted adult go with you to visit the place before you start volunteering, and always tell someone when you are there. Make sure you feel comfortable working there, which includes feeling that you can ask questions if you don’t understand something.
Your volunteering record can add a lot to a college application, but if you find the right place, it can also add a lot to your high school experience. It can either help cement your interest in a particular career or cause, or make you realize that it is not for you. Use the opportunity wisely.