“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
This is one of my favorite quotes. If
you are preparing to apply to colleges, you understand that your academic and
volunteer activities track record count. However, while your high school may
require you to complete a certain number of volunteer hours, volunteering is an
opportunity for you to accomplish much more than just counting the hours.
Engaging in meaningful volunteer work is also a way for you to prepare for your
As a college counselor, I encourage
students to commit to activities that lead to self-discovery and personal
growth, not just focus on getting into college. College admissions officers
also share that they highly value the experience of a student who has committed
a significant amount of time to projects that are meaningful to them, because
this offers a picture of what kind of contributor they will be within their new
academic and social community. If you approach your volunteer activities with
this mindset, you will also build soft skills that will come in handy in the
future, such as applying for internships and jobs. These experiences will help
you build confidence and competence.
How to Impress as a Student Volunteer
It’s a big first step to take what
you’ve learned in school and apply it to help your community. Some of the more
subtle skills to master are things you don’t learn in a classroom but will
leave a lasting impression about you and your contribution. Here is the
guidance I give all students:
Even if volunteers do not get paid, treat each project as a job
Arrive a few minutes early to your commitment
Dress appropriately for the service you are doing
Greet your volunteer leader with a firm handshake and a smile and do the same when you have finished your work
Leave your phone off while you work
Ask your volunteer host if you can post some good photos on your social media to give that organization a nice shout out at the end of your day
Ask if the organization would like more help in the future
Following these steps will help you
build strong relationships with the nonprofits or people you work with, resulting
perhaps in mentorships, strong letters of recommendation, or even a job offer.
You can also build leadership skills as a volunteer by recruiting and training
other students to join you, or offering to serve on the organization’s board
after you have built a trusting relationship. Take this work seriously for the
You May Even Impress Yourself!
Volunteering can be a lot of fun and bring you the joy of helping others. Volunteering can also open your heart and your mind to a whole new world where you learn more about yourself and how you can have a positive impact on the lives of others—and that’s what truly counts.
Cathy M. Falkenberg is an Independent Educational Consultant and founder of the firm Fit for Higher Ed with and expertise in college applications, performing artists, recruited athletes, and transfer students. She is an active member of IECA and NACAC and loves guiding students to discover their best college options.