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5 Tips to Help Your Teen Enjoy their Community Service Requirement

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It’s no surprise that entering high school presents many new stresses for your teenager. The average student can be easily overwhelmed with thoughts of their social life, intense homework load, extracurricular activities, and college entrance exams. The last thing on your teenagers’ mind is how they will complete the community service hours that most high schools in the US now require. Community service is actually not very hard to complete considering anything from volunteering at a local food bank to washing beakers in the chemistry room after school can help fulfill the requirement. However, many students put these hours off until their late junior or even senior year, forcing them at the last minute to give their time to the nearest and most convenient cause. But in addition to allowing them to graduate, volunteering is a crucial college resume builder and a great way to find their passion and make an impact on their local community.

The following tips will help your teenager make the most of their service requirement, in addition to leveraging the experience for the college admissions process:  

  • Choose the Right Organization by doing adequate research. Ask teachers, family, and friends about organizations that are making an impact in your community and think about if their cause aligns with your interests. On college applications, it is important to be able to express how the activities in which you participate further your personal mission or are valuable to you in some way. If you choose to work with a nonprofit, make sure the cause is a 501(3)(c); This means it has been government designated as a legitimate nonprofit.  You can check the nonprofit status of an organization through sites such as Guidestar.

  • Reach Out to small nonprofits and even local branches of large organizations. They often do not have large teams and are eager to receive volunteers. Take initiative by cold calling, emailing, or even walking into an office and asking about volunteering. Tell them why you are inspired by their mission and tell them exactly how much time you have to commit.

  • Be Creative in choosing where you would like to do service. Especially in the spring as seniors gear up to graduate, popular service sites may be overwhelmed with volunteers. Admissions committees prefer to see that applicants took initiative to design a service experience that was uniquely theirs. Remember to think outside the box as you consider how you will dedicate your time. What skills/talents/passions set you apart from your peers and how can you mold those into a form of community involvement?

  • Focus on Skill Building by making clear to organizations the ways you could be an asset. For example, if research and writing are your strong suits, ask if they would like help editing or writing documents such a pamphlets or newsletters. If you’re savvy with social media or website building, many organizations may ask that you help manage their online presence. You can even let them know if you would like to gain a new hands-on skill through direct service. Not all organizations are designed with a diverse set of opportunities like this, but it will not hurt to ask! Not only will you have a more interesting and enjoyable service experience, but you will be able to add a valued skill to your college resume.

  • Be Consistent and Start Early. While it is admirable to volunteer at one day opportunities, such as a Breast Cancer Walk, colleges love to see when students commit to certain organizations beginning as early as freshman year and stick with it because they are truly dedicated to the mission. Consistency is crucial. Admission officials prefer to see long term commitment because it tells them that you have had the chance to learn and grow and, importantly, it demonstrates dedication and reliability on your part.

Just completing community service no longer gives applicants a leg up in the college admissions pool. However, with some forethought and a little legwork, your service work could critically strengthen your application and help you to truly stand out!

(For more tips and ideas, click here.)