On most high school resumes, “Community Service” isn’t even a major heading. But, as we have said before, it should be.

Rather than shoving volunteer work to the bottom of the page along with typing speed and hobbies, resumes that are used in college applications should highlight passionate commitment to the greater good.

Colleges are starting to take more notice of volunteerism, according to reporting by Education Week. Basically, the article says that colleges are starting to emphasize character and interests rather than just GPAs and other stats. Colleges are looking for students who will join their communities and make them a better place, not sit on the sidelines.

The ultimate goal of volunteering is to give back to the community by meeting community needs with service generously and joyfully given. High schoolers with true passions for giving should show their service on their resumes.

Community Service Matters (A Lot)

Rumor has it that people who give are much happier than people who only take. (Even on an educational level, teens who help others learn also learn better themselves.)

In terms of community service or volunteering, young people can have a huge impact on their local, national, and global communities by raising awareness for causes, fundraising, or spending time on work that benefits others. There are countless examples of high schoolers who have materially improved the lives of others—and far too few of them make the news.

The Making Caring Common campaign, a Harvard initiative to promote good works and supportive communities, is at the head of this movement in higher education to celebrate those who have found meaning and fulfillment in volunteering.

You don’t have to want to become a veterinarian to take care of cats in animal shelters.

You don’t have to want to become a third-grade teacher to be a tutor in an elementary reading program.

You don’t have to want to become an oncologist to promote a 5K to benefit cancer research.

And you don’t have to be older than 18 to do any of these things.

Community Service Shows Character

Age aside, community service can build character in any individual or any family. There’s something for everyone from cooking or serving food at a shelter to playing card games at a residence for the elderly.

  • Volunteering can show and develop maturity, social skills, generosity, and an investment in the greater good.
  • The length of time someone has volunteered with the same organization can show commitment.
  • The hours per week someone has volunteered can show reliability and punctuality.
  • Advancement in an organization or in volunteering roles can show character growth and leadership.

Just like having a job or participating in a club—but potentially far more rewarding—volunteering lets college admissions departments know that the applicant is active and involved in the community and in self-improvement.

Of course, while volunteering doesn’t have to be related to career goals, it can be an excellent way to show a continuity of vision.

A pre-med student who volunteers at a hospital and works at a pharmacy has a strong application.

An engineering student who established a humanitarian engineers chapter at her school and has interned with the city has a likewise unified application.

The idea with goal-oriented volunteering is to show that interest in a discipline of study also extends beyond the classroom into personal development and community benefit.

Don’t Volunteer Just to Check Boxes

Here is when volunteering doesn’t matter: When you do it because you think you have to.

If you’ve chosen a type of volunteering that doesn’t interest you, spark your passions, or allow you to grow your character, you’re not benefiting from the experience—and neither is the organization you’re helping. It deserves a committed and invested volunteer.

Colleges can tell if high schoolers are just checking boxes. (Trust us, they really can.)

Worst case scenario, the volunteering hours feel like a waste of time and might actually be wasteful, despite the huge potential to benefit others.

Best case scenario, the volunteering is something you are excited both to do and to share about in your college application. You’ll make a difference, challenge yourself, and appreciate the many blessings you have.

Resources

Where do you start? We think VolunteerMatch.org is a great site. (FYI: Searching requires a login.)

Your local or state government website also has volunteer resources. Religious institutions love to connect volunteers to opportunities, as well. Finally, it’s hard to go wrong with the classics—Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, or Goodwill.

When do you start? Right away. Many organizations are in need of young volunteers who have parental permission.

There are so many great causes and opportunities for students to give their time and talents to make our world a better place. Encourage your student to find a program that really speaks to his or her values and goals.