Why Volunteering Matters on Your College App (And It’s Not Just About the Hours)

September 10, 2019

If you’re applying to college, you probably have a preconception about the relative importance of volunteering on your college application. In this blog post, learn the type of volunteering activity that can actually make a difference to colleges and what to highlight from the experts at VolunteerCrowd.

Chances are if you are getting advice about applying to college, a graduate school program, or your first job, volunteering is among the recommendations. Try googling, “Why is volunteering is important for college?” You’ll scroll multiple pages and have reading material for several days.

Will any volunteering project do? No. However, it is a common misconception that volunteering is about the number of hours when it should be about the depth of experience. Make your time count. Create an impact story that is uniquely yours by following these tips:

Personalize your experience.

When it comes to volunteering, it’s all about giving back; but it’s also about you – what experience you bring, what causes move you to action, and what contribution you want to make. Consider the little things too – the location, physical requirements, interaction with others, and learning opportunity. Make sure the project is a good fit for your personality.

Make it relevant.

A high school student who is an aspiring neuroscience major volunteered full time every summer at the National Balloon Museum. “Huh??? How does a stint at a balloon museum translate into an interest in studying neuroscience? Let’s try that again. A high school student and aspiring neuroscience major volunteered junior year helping to conduct basic lab experiments in the University of California Irvine neurology department.

Think about the person reading your volunteer transcript, whether it’s a college admissions officer or future employer. Your service-learning experience should be part of a broader narrative, adding context and color to your academic focus.

Explain why you care.

“After you read dozens of applications, and every student has a 4.6, they start to look the same,” commented one college applicant interviewer for Harvard. Today there is an overabundance of academic rock stars. Colleges want to know what makes you different, specifically what motivates and inspires you. Your volunteer contribution provides a glimpse of the future you. Connect the dots in your personal statement, “I was raised by a single parent and saw my mom struggle to buy nutritious food. I volunteered at our community garden to both learn and teach others about nutrition and food sustainability. I want to study environmental science to take what I’ve learned and help others on a much larger scale.”

So let colleges get to know you, not just the wicked-smart you, but the human being behind those stellar grades and SAT scores. And while you are spreading all that positivity, you just might discover something about yourself.

Unlock this package of 5 students who wrote about their volunteer experiences in their college application essays and were accepted to Stanford, UPenn, Princeton, UC Berkeley, and Cornell.

About The Author

Amy von Kaenel, VolunteerCrowd
Amy von Kaenel, VolunteerCrowd

Amy von Kaenel is the CEO of VolunteerCrowd. Volunteering is one of the best growth opportunities on the path to college and career readiness. VolunteerCrowd gives all middle school, high school, and college students access to meaningful volunteer projects to build a volunteer portfolio. Learn more about VolunteerCrowd here.

Browse Successful Application Files

UPenn ‘22

Accepted to UPenn, Cornell, Northwestern, WashU, NYU, Northeastern, Rutgers

Attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Plan on perusing Finance, Social Impact, and Operations Information & Decisions. If I can do it, you sure can too :)
Stanford ‘21

Accepted to Stanford, Yale, UPenn, Georgetown, UC Berkeley, USC, Notre Dame, UCLA, BC, Brandeis

A Cameron Impact Scholar, aspiring human rights lawyer, committed hiker, and proud tree.
Stanford ‘20

Accepted to Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Washington, UCSD, UC Davis, Cal Poly, UC Irvine

Bay Area Teen with Exclusive Advice about Applying to Stanford
Cornell ‘21

Accepted to Cornell

Hotel Administration Major at Cornell University

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