Why High School Students Should Consider Volunteer Opportunities

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? What problem or challenge do you see in your community to be able to make a difference around you, or somebody you might be able to help?”

Here are some of the many reasons high school students should consider doing volunteer work in their spare time.

[Read: What to Do If Your High School Doesn’t Offer AP Courses.]

The Benefits of Volunteering as a High Schooler

Community Perspective

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.

“It gave me a lot of opportunities to meet people from different backgrounds who were having very different lived experiences in this city that I was never even aware of — different community problems and things like that,” 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.

“It shows a certain kind of connection to your community when you do that because you want to give back,” she says.

[Find out why teens should volunteer over spring break.]

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.

“You might think you want to do one thing, but when you’re in a workplace, you might find that you don’t like it in the same way you thought you would,” Campbell says.

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 being accountable. They also cultivate leadership skills and learn how to delegate tasks to others.

Those competencies are attractive on college applications and are things eventual employers look for, Keeling says.

“Many of them are willing to trade off the perfect 4.0 for a person who’s got gumption, a person who’s willing to get teeth in the game, a person who is a self-starter,” she says.

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. In college she interned for a U.S. congressman and she spent this past summer with Lambda Legal, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy group that offers free legal services for LGBTQ individuals.

Schwartz says she’s heard similar stories from students, as well as from businesses that later hired former volunteers.

[READ: Tips for Starting the College Search]

Volunteer Opportunities for High Schoolers

While it can be tempting for students to fill their resume 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.

Organizations like TeenLife and VolunteerMatch can help students and parents to find applicable volunteer opportunities in their geographic region. There are also now more virtual volunteering opportunities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Brilliant Detroit, an organization focused on early childhood development, accepts volunteers to serve as virtual literacy tutors and story readers.

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 walk-a-thon 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.”

See the complete Best High Schools rankings.

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Why High School Students Should Consider Volunteer Opportunities originally appeared on usnews.com

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