By Cole Claybourn
Students can choose from any number of activities to enrich their social and educational experiences while in high school. One that can provide unique benefits is volunteering.
Some high schools require students to accumulate a certain amount of service-learning hours in order to graduate, but students should welcome opportunities to volunteer even when it’s not required, experts agree.
Volunteering presents a tangible way for students to make a positive impact in their community and help organizations accomplish their missions, all while bolstering students’ resumes for college applications and jobs.
Volunteering is a two-way street, with both the high school student and organization benefitting, says Jennifer Bennett, director of education and training for California-based VolunteerMatch. As a student, she says, you should consider, “What could you learn? What could you explore?
Here are some of the many reasons high school students should consider doing volunteer work in their spare time.
Here are the benefits of volunteering as a high schooler:
One of the immediate benefits of volunteering is that it allows students to be in tune with and give back to their local community.
Due to staffing and budget constraints, some organizations rely on volunteers to achieve their mission. And for many teenagers, doing volunteer work is a chance to experience a culture or group of people that they wouldn’t have otherwise encountered.
It’s also a chance to become aware of problems in their community that they may not otherwise have known about. That was the case for Laura Rusk, now a student at Indiana University—Bloomington’s Mauer School of Law. In high school, she volunteered with Indiana Legal Services, a nonprofit that offers free legal services to low-income individuals. For the first time, she saw that members of the homeless community dealt with legal issues and often didn’t have many places to turn for help.
“These are real issues for real people,” Rusk says.
Rusk was also a member of her high school’s student council, which prioritized community service. Those experiences, coupled with ones she sought out on her own, were invaluable during her high school years, she says.
Gaining this perspective can help students become more well-rounded when they enter college and eventually the professional world, says Melanie Keeling, a college and career-transition readiness coach at Warren East High School in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Develop Career Skills and Interests
For high school students who are undecided about a career path or college major, volunteering can help narrow down potential areas of interest.
Students can learn an assortment of skills, from hands-on manual labor to office and administrative skills, says Marie Schwartz, CEO, and founder of TeenLife, a company that helps students in grades 7-12 find community service opportunities. “Lack of exposure is the biggest barrier to success,” she says. “Volunteering is one of those ways to get that exposure at no cost.”
It can also be a “low-risk way” of figuring out what skills students have and want to apply in the real world, says Kathryn Campbell, associate director of editorial policy at the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce.
If students stay engaged with nonprofits or other community organizations for an extended period of time, it can serve the same purpose as a job, experts say. Students learn skills like responsibility, punctuality, and accountability. They also cultivate leadership skills and learn how to delegate tasks to others.
Networking and Mentorship
In addition, experts say the relationships students build during volunteer opportunities can be useful down the road when applying to college or for jobs.
Rusk volunteered on a local politician’s campaign while in high school in addition to her legal volunteering. She credits that experience with spurring her passion for public policy and says the relationships she built there have connected her with internships while in college and law school. Schwartz says she’s heard similar stories from students, as well as from businesses that later hired former volunteers.
Volunteer Opportunities for High Schoolers
While it can be tempting for students to fill their resumes with a lot of different volunteer experiences, experts say it’s better for students to stay focused.
“Hopscotching around,” as Schwartz calls it, might signal to colleges that a student is trying to pad their resume, while “fewer, more intense experiences” allow the student to see a project through and show commitment to a cause.
As students are beginning their search, here are a few practical opportunities that Schwartz suggests, in various fields of interest:
- Teach computer skills at a local senior center
- Help at a walkathon like Race for the Cure or Relay for Life
- Donate food to a local food bank
- Work on a political campaign or at an election day voting site
- Provide social media services for a nonprofit
- Tutor students in an afterschool program
Students can also look to organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, Special Olympics, Best Buddies International, and Big Brothers Big Sisters, many of which have local chapters, for chances to volunteer.
No matter what students choose to do, they’ll grow from the experience, Bennett says. “It gives kids that opportunity to explore the things that they’re passionate about, find those things that matter to them, and then make a difference.”
(Courtesy: US News)