How to get into your dream school by doing volunteer work

“Please list your principal extracurricular, volunteer, and work activities in their order of importance to you.” 

On top of the extracurricular section, common application requires you to come up with something worth a while that you did outside of class. Thankfully, college is not only for people with 4.0 GPA and high SAT scores. This section is the potential jackpot that you can hit to get yourself into your dream schools. So now that you have decided to showcase your talent and prove that you stand out from all the other applicants, where do you start?

1. Why volunteer?

The most common activity that high school students engage in is volunteering. However, since all private high schools and most public high schools require their students to fulfill designated volunteer hours, students often take this opportunity for granted. The fact that everyone else is doing the same thing deters students from delving into this opportunity when it can be the hidden jackpot. Here, I’m not talking about occasional office work at the non-profit organization near your house. (Of course, I’m sure your work will help office people in need) But why not utilize your time and chance to make bigger changes? Since most students don’t take volunteer work seriously, this is the chance for you to differentiate yourself. Inspire yourself and you will impress the college admission officers.

2. What kind of volunteering? And where do I start?

So then your question is, “How impressive does it have to be?” I cannot give you an explicit answer to this because it all depends on your personal interest and ability. In the end, your work will reflect your passion. The more time and energy you devote, the more impressive it will look on your application.

First, find yourself an area that interests you the most. Don’t be frustrated if you are already lost. Attempting to find an area of your interest itself will broaden your view. Get off facebook and refrain yourself from playing those video games. Read some news and follow interesting bloggers. You can even visit, or any other popular websites if it helps.

Here are some interesting sites that I recommend.

Next, look for resources that will provide the chance to engage yourself in areas of your interest. Spend some more time playing with google. There are plenty of non-profits in need of people. Some of them may require specific skills or experience but most of them will welcome you wholeheartedly. Start contacting people and ask for directions.

Here is a list of some websites that will help you.

Finally, fully engage yourself and be persistent. If you managed to work for UNV (United Nations Volunteers) go ahead, if you want to exterminate breast cancer from this earth, run a marathon and join the fund raising. Don’t worry too much about its scale. Whatever you do, consistency and longevity are what matter. Believe in the change that you can make, whether it is small or big. If you believe in it, others will too. (And so will the admission officers)

3. How do I best show this on my application?

  On the common application form, you are only allowed to write a brief description of your work and hours spent per week. “That’s it?!” might be your first reaction. Before you fret, look back and think to yourself of all the changes you’ve made and how much you have grown. If that doesn’t satisfy you, grab a pen and start writing. Every college requires applicants to submit at least one essay. While other students will suffer hours staring at an empty white paper, you will be choosing the best moments you have had over the years.

Unfortunately, it may be true that admissions boards read tons of essays with similar themes. As I said before, volunteering is the most common extracurricular activity. However, do not discourage yourself from writing about your great experience. Admission officers are tired of reading boring and tedious essays but they are delighted to read inspiring and sincere ones. When it comes to college essays, topics do not matter as long as the writing is good.

If you want to get a sense of what good writing reads like, refer to the list of books that I have listed below.

  • On writing college application essay by Harry Bauld
  • 100 Successful College Application Essays by Harvard Independent
  • 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays by Harvard Crimson
  • How to Write Better Essays by by Brian Greetham

4. Extra tips

* On your application, 100 hours of service over four years in the same area will generally look better than 200 hours of service in the end of your senior year.

* Build a consistent pattern and then expand it. If you are visiting an orphanage for 2 hours every week, don’t be complacent. Always search for extra opportunities to help them. This is what will look special on your application. Maybe you can form a tutoring group with some friends in school and teach children at orphanage for free. Or you can host charity events to better the orphanage.

*If you already have a certain subject that you want to major in college, focus on that area. (Too obvious? Maybe, but taking some time to come up with a theme that is consistent with your volunteer activities and other extracurricular list is essential)

*Volunteer activity not only helps your college application. More importantly, it is rewarding and you will grow so much along the way. Remember that you are giving back to your local community. Continue your good work in college too. (Volunteer work looks good on your resume too!)


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