Volunteering: How Helping Others Helps You

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How Volunteerism Helps Others and You

Volunteering has a positive effect on your community—and it’s good for you too! Ben, a first-year college student who participated in volunteer fundraising, calls it, “a win-win situation.”

"You feel good because you're helping others,” he said, “Plus, the people you’re helping are getting their needs met.”

Reasons to Choose Volunteer Work as an Extracurricular Activity

Giving back to your community is valuable in itself. Helping others also offers you many benefits. For example, it can help you learn more about yourself while exploring new interests. Volunteering in your community can even put you on the path to a career. Read on to learn more reasons to volunteer.

Gain Valuable Life Experience and Skills

Whether you build houses for people with homes or mail flyers for a local politician, you’re gaining real-world experience. In addition, while volunteering in your community, you have the opportunity to explore college majors as well as career interests.

For example, as a first-year premed student, Gregory spent his summer volunteering at a local health clinic. He picked a clinic in a Spanish-speaking area so he could practice his language skills while observing medical professionals. He also took time to ask the doctors questions.

volunteers at a food shelf

Meet Interesting People and Build Contacts

You receive valuable insights from the people you’re helping as well as your fellow volunteers. Also, you benefit from exposure to the different perspectives of the people you work with while volunteering.

Get Academic Credit

Some high schools offer academic credit for volunteer work through service learning. This is a program that offers hands-on learning through service to the community. To find out if your school offers service learning, talk to your school counselor.

Show Colleges That You’re Committed

Your volunteer work showcases your interests and character to college admissions officers. Listing your volunteer work on college applications conveys the leadership skills and value you’ll bring to their campus.

Make a Difference

It’s eye-opening to realize that doing even small things can have a big impact on others. Rhea, a college sophomore, remembers a visit she made to a senior home with her middle school’s choir.

“An elderly man in a wheelchair looked up at me after the last strains of ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and said in a gravelly voice, ‘You’ve made my day. This means so much.’” She recalls, “No one had ever thanked me in such a way for doing something so small, and a stranger no less!”

What to Do Before You Volunteer

To get the most out of your experience, ask yourself these questions before you get involved with an organization:

  • What have I done in the past that I’ve enjoyed?
  • What do I want to do as a volunteer?—And what would I rule out doing?
  • How much time can I commit?
  • What talents or skills can I offer?
  • What kinds of people do I want to work with?
  • What would I most like to learn by volunteering?
  • How can I help my community as a student?

How to Get Involved in Volunteering

Here are some ways to get started:

  • Visit the websites of service organizations in your area to see what opportunities/needs they have for volunteers. Or call programs based in your community to ask if they need help.
  • Visit your town’s website. It may list volunteer opportunities in your area and offer inspiration on how to help others in your community.
  • Contact a local museum or other types of cultural institutions that can point you in the right direction.
  • Ask libraries, religious organizations, hospitals, and community colleges if they sponsor any volunteer groups.

Check out these websites to learn more about causes and to find volunteer opportunities near you:


What kind of volunteering looks good on college applications?

Volunteer work that centers on helping your community looks good on college applications. It’s a good idea to think about how to help others in your community while considering your own interests. If you like to work with animals, volunteering at your local animal shelter is a great idea. If you want to learn more about the medical field, volunteer in a local hospital or medical clinic.

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Do colleges check if you actually volunteered?

Some college admissions officers are more diligent than others about confirming volunteer work on student applications. But if you list volunteer activities you didn’t participate in, you’re running the risk of being caught in a lie. If this happens, college admissions officers are going to wonder whether you have any other false information on your application. A great way to show that your claims are genuine is to write about your volunteering experiences in your college essay.

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What age group is most likely to volunteer?

According to a 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, the group most likely to volunteer are people aged 65 and older. People aged 15–24, which includes most high schoolers, volunteer about half as often as their 65 and older counterparts. By volunteering and helping others while in high school, you're showing a willingness to stand out, both statistically and otherwise, from your peers.

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What does volunteering teach you?

Volunteering can teach you empathy for others and how your unique skills and talents can really help your community. Volunteering also gives you the opportunity to explore your interests and potential careers, as well as learning from professionals in the field. From picking up roadside litter to walking a dog at the animal shelter, your time volunteering can make a difference!

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