Launch Global Education
Sparks blog: I am supposed to volunteer—now what?

by Dr. Ann Wagner

As students embark on their high school years many discover they are required to complete a certain number of community service hours as part of their graduation requirements. Community service is an important element to your growth as an individual and dually serves the purpose of assisting others in worthwhile endeavors. For these reasons (and many others), serving your community should be integral to who you are. Today, let’s look at it through the lens of your college applications and how you can link service to your future goals.

students volunteering

Align to your interests

Your school has arranged for a group of students to work at a food distribution center for needy families over a holiday weekend.  That’s fantastic, and you should do it. However, it isn’t enough to engage in school-planned activities to gather the minimum amount of required hours. The best service for your college resume—and for your personal growth—is service over a long period of time that aligns with your interests and/or career aspirations.  Are you thinking about a medical career? Look into volunteer opportunities for teens at your local hospital. Do you plan to be an elementary teacher? Look for a reading-to-kids program. Even if the service aligns more to your interests than your career ambitions, think about what you are learning in the experience and how you can apply those skills in the future.

hand with tool repairing bicycle

Stay focused

Sticking with something shows commitment. Let’s say you repair bicycles one Saturday a month with a non-profit organization and you continue to do it for over two years—you are showing that you can be counted on and that you are consistent and reliable.  You will also get to understand how things work, meaning you will become trained and capable.  This is good for you—and good for the organization you are serving.

Keep track

It happens all the time.  A student gets called in by a counselor who reminds them of the graduation requirement for community service hours. “But I have like 200 of them!” the student will reply.  But without documentation, you have none!

It is your responsibility to keep track of your hours.  We recommend you do that in three ways.  First, keep a log (paper or digital) of each date you volunteered, the number of hours, the supervisor’s name, and the organization.  Second, ask for a written accounting of those hours from the organization.  Some organizations do it each time you volunteer; others do it monthly or quarterly.  Whatever the process is, remember that it is your job to make sure you have that record, not theirs.

Finally, when you log your hours, briefly journal about the experience.  What did you do that day? What did you learn? How did it make you feel? What more could you do to make an impact? Journaling right after you complete the service does a few things.  It helps you process what you are doing and reveals links to other aspects of your life.  It also helps you keep track of details. These details will be powerful when you write college essays and interview with college admissions officers, especially when you can show how you have changed and grown over time.

student assisting older man

Enjoy the experience

Too often, students approach service hours as simply something to check off the list. Yet it should be enjoyable! Serving others can bring great personal satisfaction.  It can strengthen your independence and skills. And finding something you enjoy doing can bring positivity and meaning to you.

Spend some time thinking about the ways you can work volunteering into your life.  Do some research, and seek the advice of school counselors, family members, and others to find suitable opportunities.  You’ll be glad you did.

Dr. Ann Wagner

Ann Wagner, EdD is a founder and the Vision Engineer for Launch Education.  Dr. Wagner has led international schools around the world and currently teaches at the university level, working with educators earning their master's degrees.