Why Volunteer Work Is So Important in the College Admissions Process

college admissions essay

You probably already know that volunteer work is an important aspect of your college application, but have you ever really thought about why that is? While many students list volunteer experience – almost as an afterthought – after sports, clubs, and honor societies, it’s certainly not an afterthought for college admissions counselors. Here are some of the biggest reasons why volunteering and community service is so important in the college admissions process.


It is a way for you to highlight the causes you believe in.

You can learn a lot about someone by the charitable causes they are involved in. The volunteer work on your college application is simply another chance for you to say, “This is who I am, and this is the stuff I care about.”

Spending your evenings after school tutoring students without the same resources you have can show your passion for solving educational inequality. Dedicating entire weekends to loving on pups at the local shelter can show that you’re a diehard animal lover. Fundraising for feminist organizations can show your desire to end gender inequality around the world. Everyone has something they feel strongly about, and you can make this evident in your volunteer work.

(This is also why it’s so important to get involved in organizations and causes you are genuinely invested in. If you don’t care about the work, it’s doubtful you’ll go above and beyond or have much to say about it on your application!)


Volunteer experiences are often outside your comfort zone.

Unlike clubs, sports, and other school organizations, volunteering will often lead you to places outside your bubble. While the aforementioned extracurricular activities are still extremely important, community service quite often demands that you put yourself “out there” for the good of others. Hanging out with peers while you put together the yearbook is one thing, serving warm meals downtown to the houseless community is another.

Simply finding and joining volunteer organizations can take you out of your comfort zone, too. Unlike showing up for a callout meeting in room 407, you may be driving all over town, working alongside total strangers who share your commitment to the same cause.


It provides you with real world experience outside of the classroom or extracurriculars.

Whether you’re helping build a home for a family in need, packing up boxes of food for a food bank, or working at a fundraising benefit for a charitable organization, you’re going to leave with real world skills that you wouldn’t get otherwise. Just like holding an after-school job can look great to college admissions counselors for this reason, so can volunteer gigs! While giving back to your community, you’ll network with all sorts of people, and you might even pick up professional skills that you may use down the road in your career. In addition, volunteering can offer you some real world perspective that you can’t get in the walls of your school building.


Volunteer work (at least, non-mandatory volunteer work!) demonstrates initiative and passion.

While there’s no harm in volunteering simply to meet a class or honor society’s requirements, going beyond what is required looks highly impressive on college applications. Admissions counselors know that high schoolers are juggling a lot, so giving even more of your free time to helping your local community shows commitment, passion, and initiative.

While we may sound like a broken record, this is also why it’s so crucial you find a cause or organization that really lights a fire in you. When you want to be doing certain volunteer work and you feel dedicated to a cause, going above and beyond the bare minimum is not only easy, but enjoyable.


It’s makes you a better student and overall human being.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” He was on to something. Students who have prioritized volunteering and giving back are often students who know themselves, know what they believe in, and know what they stand for. They know what it means to give generously and be grateful for that they have. They are committed to making things better for the people around them, and want to leave the world better than they found it. In other words: any college would be pretty dang lucky to have them.

It can be hard to prioritize charitable work when getting good grades, playing sports, saving money, and being involved in school activities takes up so much of your time. That said, there are major payoffs to making volunteer work a big part of your life – both in the college admissions process and far beyond. Find something you care about or a problem you want to help solve, and dive in headfirst.