Type “volunteer opportunities for teens” into Google and you’ll have a plethora of options to choose from. You’ll find list after list of volunteering options at soup kitchens, animal shelters and other non-profits. What’s lacking, however, is a guide on how to choose the right ones for you.
Volunteering can be deeply rewarding and useful for college applications – if done right. Here are five tips to help you achieve this:
1. Know your goals
Different students have different reasons as to why they want to commit time to a cause. It could be because you want to give back, you seek have a sense of accomplishment, you want to learn more about a cause, you’re keen to strengthen your CV or just want to have fun.
These are important considerations. At the end of the day, you want to build a meaningful relationship with your volunteering organisation, so b sure to spend time figuring out your motives.
2. Identify your interests and skills
Like your motives, having your interests and skills fit with the volunteering role will ensure you get the experience you’re looking for. For example, if visiting patients in a hospital doesn’t gel with you, the activity would counterproductive not just to you, but also to the patient and your volunteering organisation.
To identify your interests, start with your passion points. If there are things that make you feel good, that’s a really good place to start.
As for skills, list down the things you think you’re good and bad at. If possible, rope in a teacher or family member to construct a similar list you can compare.
3. Have an idea of what you want to major in
It’s never too early to start thinking about your college application. A broad idea of which area you would like to major in would do, too. Is it STEM? Arts? Humanities?
Asking this question will help you identify your interests. Voluntary experience looks great on college application essays, but having one that veers too far off the major or degree you’re applying for may raise questions. On the other hand, having voluntary experience that matches the major you’re applying for demonstrates your keenness in the subject.
This isn’t to discourage you from volunteering in areas outside your planned major or degree. By all means do so, but be wary of how it could potentially look on your college admission essays.
4. Research the organisation
Once you’ve done all of the above and found a volunteer role that matches your goals, interests, skills and college major, it’s time to get the details about the organisation you’re planning to apply to.
Look at their mission statement, the responsibilities you’ll have, company reputation and so on. The purpose of this is to make sure their goals align with your values.
And don’t just limit your research to Google – ask your friends, family and community about their work and their experience dealing with them. If possible, set up an interview before saying yes to the organisation, as this will let you get a sense of the group’s agenda.
5. Be realistic
Once you’ve found the ideal volunteering opportunity, you’re raring to go. A word of caution at this point: you have to be realistic about how much time and effort you can commit.
This will prevent your supervisor and you having mismatched expectations. As a high school student, schedules can get pretty hectic what with all your classes and after-school stuff, and depending on which role you take, volunteering can be demanding. You wouldn’t want to take on too much so discuss the extent of your commitment upfront with the organisation.
Pro tip: start small and if you like it, you can gradually grow your commitment.