Volunteering in High School Matters

by Bethany Goldszer | Last Updated: March 2, 2021
volunteering in high school

Table of Contents

Volunteering in high school during COVID-19

You don’t need me to tell you that volunteering is challenging this school year. Last December, I asked my children, Sydney and Heath, what they wanted for gifts, they both paused and gave me blank stares. Even after prodding, they couldn’t come up with a gift for me to buy for them. Then Sydney just says, “Mommy, we don’t need anything because we have so much already.”

My heart melted. Many kids these days get a bad wrap for being spoiled, and here my two little ages are perfectly content with what they have, which is everything–the latest clothes, iPads, laptops, a PS4 game console, toys, and the list goes on. This is not to brag, and often, I feel quite guilty that I purchase so many items for them. But at the same time, growing up low-income in rural Kentucky, I am super thankful for the ability to buy these things for them, much of which my parents could never afford to buy for me.

Ironically, I’ve had a few of my older, high school students share the same sentiments as Sydney and Heath. I think this is in general a great mindset to foster in children and teens, especially during the year of COVID-19 when so many are struggling to make ends meet and need help.


While giving a monetary donation may not be possible, there’s an even greater opportunity to pay it forward and help others through volunteer work. And as it relates to your college preparation, colleges love admitting students who are doing positive work that impacts their communities. Yet before you sign up for volunteer hours, keep in mind that there’s no magical number to achieve.  According to a survey conducted by DoSomething.org, 70% of admissions officers reviewing applications are looking to see students have spent time giving back to their communities and value long-term projects over short-term ones. In other words, volunteering an hour per week throughout the year demonstrates more commitment than volunteering abroad over spring break.

In this post, I will discuss why volunteering matters in the college admissions process. Also, I discuss how to get started volunteering and provide a snippet of project ideas that you can get started this semester.

2 people volunteering

Volunteering in high school matters in college admissions

Aside from impact, your volunteer service has many positive benefits in the college admissions process. First, volunteering allows you to explore potential majors and career field interests. You can shadow your volunteer supervisor to learn about their day-to-day work. If you launch your own project, you can conduct Google research or explore LinkedIn profiles of people who early in their career launched similar projects and see what they are doing now. I suggest the latter as a great activity to see how to speak about what you’re doing on your resume.

Also, volunteering is a great way to build relationships with people outside of your school and family circle. Volunteer projects bring together people from different backgrounds and walks of life. Although you may have different life perspectives, a volunteer project under one mission triggers friendships, collaborations, understandings, and solutions at a higher level.

Moreover, volunteering demonstrates your skills and readiness for college. By volunteering, you show that you are a leader and can work well with the public. You prove that you are a behind-the-scenes execution master and can make dreams come true. You show that you have a big heart and care about something meaningful that will change the lives of others in your community and the world. All of these qualities align with many colleges’ mission statements that you can find on their websites. Volunteering is the easiest way to show your values and how you fit into the vision of the class that they are trying to build. Your volunteer experience will compound and set up a great opportunity for you to enhance your compelling college application and college essay narrative.

boy student wearing a volunteer t shirt

How to launch a volunteer project

To start volunteering in high school, I would suggest that you start with problems in your community. For example, I had a student who heard on the news that her local food pantry had a food shortage. She created a group to collect can goods at her school and make regular food runs to the pantry. Since March, she can say that she’s helped rescue several hundreds of pounds of food for the benefit of children and families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once you identify what is needed and what problem you want to help solve, you can brainstorm ideas to address the issue. Do you want to provide direct assistance, such as tutoring? Do you want to fundraise so that others can do the work? Or do you want to build capacities through writing, organizing, or other tasks that allow those who do the direct service work to do more for the populations they serve? You’ll need to clarify what you’d like to do and how you’d like to help. It should align with your strengths or skills that you’d like to develop.

Next, you’d develop a plan to implement the project. Your plan would include how you’d recruit additional volunteers, the budget of start-up costs for supplies or website, or 501c3 incorporation if you’re ready for that responsibility. If financing is required, you’ll want to fundraise ad may need to create a plan around that that involves income-generating activities such as selling t-shirts, car washes, or candy sales. Whatever you choose, remember it’s a pandemic, and you’ll have to keep safety precautions in mind.

Sample volunteer projects to launch

Here are some quick launch ideas that you can try this semester to start volunteering in high school:

  • Gather old coats and donate to a local homeless shelter. Or give food to a food pantry in need of donations.
  • Starts a Poshmark.com account to resell old clothes, or eBay.com to sell books, electronics, and other goods that you no longer use. They can then take all the proceeds earned and donate to their favorite charity.
  • Organize a Zoom meeting with young kids in your family or friends network, or partner with a former elementary school teacher to host a session with little kids to read books or teach a special skill like cooking or crafting.
  • You can practice your college essay writing skills by sending letters to troops overseas, kids ill in the hospital, or patients at the Veterans Affairs hospital.
  • Put your crafting skills and teach people with disabilities how to make jewelry, face masks, or soap and donate the proceeds to a charity that helps with their challenge.

Conclusions + Next Steps

The ideas discussed in this post will get you started volunteering in high school to benefit your community and college admissions journey. Where you may get stuck is if you believe that all your volunteer hours must be earned through a nonprofit or your high school. Unfortunately, there is a lot of red tape that organizations must get through to recruit and manage volunteers under 18 years old. You will have better luck and capacity to make a bigger impact by launching your own do-good project using strategies discussed in this post. 

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Bethany Goldszer is top college admissions and financial aid expert. She's been featured in HuffPost, USA Today, Newsday, Queens Gazette, and Official Black Wall Street & voted Best of Long Island. Faced with the overwhelming stress of applying, getting admitted to and financing her University of Chicago education, she started Stand Out College Prep LLC in 2012 so that no student or parent would have to go through this process alone. Over the last 15 years, Bethany has worked with over 1,500 students, helping them and their parents get into their top choice colleges and secure more than $20M in financial aid and scholarships. And each year, she continues to help more students stand out in the college admissions process and their parents navigate financial aid and scholarships.