The Volunteer Advantage

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Colleges and universities LOVE applicants with volunteer experience. These opportunities tell how the high schooler used his or her time, in other words, how the young adult spent his or her hours outside of books and traditional learning environments. In fact, some colleges value community service so highly that they are offering scholarships for accomplishments in service. 

And, some states--like ours--require volunteer service for merit scholarships. 

Knowing what universities look for regarding community service and researching your state's merit scholarship may prove beneficial to your high school learner.

Al Nunez, Director of Admissions at Illinois Institute of Technology, was interviewed for the November 12, 2013 issue of U.S. News and World Report. In that interview he encouraged students to highlight their accomplishments.


Applying to a university is your time to brag about yourself. Talk about all the things that you’ve done, including jobs, including whether you’ve volunteered at your church or did community service.

Why volunteer?

  • Volunteer opportunities offer opportunities for high schoolers to learn more about themselves and impact the lives of other people.
  • Community service may provide leadership opportunities. Colleges and universities are looking for applicants who have taken on leadership roles. 
  • High schoolers preferring hands-on, experiential learning with interpersonal interactions can thrive in these environments. Truly, this can be an area where kinesthetic learners can thrive.
  • Service opportunities can help high schoolers fine tune what they enjoy, how they learn best, and what career field they may want to pursue. 
  • Volunteer opportunities also make great experiential stories for application essays.
  • When the time comes to request letters of recommendation for college admission, professionals and supervisors who have worked with the high schooler through volunteer opportunities may be willing to write on the applicant's behalf, commenting about work ethic, acquired skills, and character.

As evaluators, we've enjoyed the company of high school young adults who've benefited from the volunteer advantage. One particular young lady we know served thousands (no exaggeration) of hours which provided her a competitive advantage and helped her land a $25,000 scholarship. 

Why NOT volunteer?

Service hours are just that, opportunities to serve with a sincere heart. They are not requirements or obligations to meet. Often there are people on the receiving end and those people matter. People are not projects or resume enhancements and they don't want to be served with that type of attitude. When volunteer hours become boxes to check off, they are no longer means by which to serve with empathy and compassion. 

In addition, often community service becomes a means by which the parent-child relationship is strained. We all fall into the nagging "Did you log your hours?" trap at one time or another. Stress and fear will affect our high schooler's attitudes toward service. When we do, it is time to back up and reflect on that matters.

Where volunteer? 

Volunteering, like many other aspects of the high school years, is another venue to build relationship and communication skills. Brainstorm ideas together. Talk about volunteer etiquette. Role play requests or phone interviews.

These ideas may be talking points. 

  • serve at local animal shelters
  • raise and train service animals
  • sort groceries in food pantry or shelter
  • serve meals at homeless shelter
  • serve as a police explorer
  • provide service at local horse barn 
  • serve in local teen court
  • help with registration and water distribution for marathons and fun runs. 
  • deliver Meals-on-Wheels
  • serve with Special Olympics or local Down's syndrome chapter (graduate schools often host these types of events)
  • read to children in children's home or residents in assisted living and memory care facilities
  • create floral arrangements for church altar
  • weed flower beds for non-profit or local recreation center
  • be a safety ambassador for National Safety Council
  • design a website for church or local non-profit organization
  • provide counter or concession help for sports events
  • place flags on grave sites of veterans
  • tutor elementary students
  • collect clothing and non-perishables for shelters and crisis centers
  • work with a political campaign 
  • serve on a building team for Habitat for Humanity
  • be a mentor with Big Brothers, Big Sisters
  • serve as a junior assistant coach for youth sports
  • collect food or other needed items for animal shelters 
  • prepare a meal or care packs at Ronald McDonald homes (usually near children's hospitals)
  • pack meals for hurricane or typhoon relief
  • gather crayons, small tablets, or other items for pew packs to be given to small worshippers.
  • usher at local theater 
  • work at the local library
  • volunteer at local science center
  • serve at wildlife rehabilitation or Audubon center
  • provide musical entertainment or puppetry at assisted living and memory care centers
  • play or sing with church worship teams
  • serve on disaster relief teams
  • sew costuming for theatrical performances
  • construct music or theater sets
  • provide babysitting or childcare for Bible studies, MOPS meetings, or parent meetings
  • plan a birthday celebration for residents at assisted living center

Like many aspects of the high school experience, not all colleges require or put equal weight on the same admission requirements. Princeton ranks admission requirements here. Research and knowledge are important. What is beneficial to one learner will not be beneficial to another. 

Will volunteer and community service benefit your high schooler? 

The answer will be unique to your high schooler and may be only conversations and clicks away. Your efforts will make a difference, not only for your high school learner but also for the people who are blessed to benefit from his or her sincere service.

YOU can celebrate high school! 

 

The contents of this post are meant to share personal experience and are not intended to be legal or educational advice. 

 

 

32 Ways to Learn from Real and Relational

Some of my children love making lapbooks, others prefer unit studies. Still others learn best when we incorporate field trips into our days. And, our middle and high school young adults? They have learned at co-ops, through online courses, and with personal independent study. 

In our twenty-three years of homeschooling, our children have benefited from activities rooted in just about every educational methodology.

As beneficial and pleasurable as these experiences have been, the greatest rewards in retention and relationship have come from incorporating life moments into our days together; discovering God’s creation, serving the needs of others, and engaging in conversations.

In the younger years, we:

  • Watch busy ants carry food to their hills, commenting on their phenomenal strength and work ethic.
  • Till a small garden and sow seeds, watering and weeding with hopes to enjoy the abundant harvest, the fruits of patience, diligence, and perseverance.
  • Build a birdhouse, hanging it in a nearby tree and observing the types of birds that enjoy the shelter.
  • Weed the flower bed, discussing root systems and parts of the plant.
  • Pull out a blanket after the sun goes down and gaze upward, identifying constellations, studying the night sky.
  • Study and sketch the moon each night, pondering its changes.
  • Solve a jigsaw puzzle or play a game, building critical thinking and problem solving skills.
  • Sing together, experimenting with high and low pitches and encouraging vocal giftedness.
  • Sort the laundry, learning the difference between lights and darks while engaging in conversation.
  • Tidy the house, encouraging young helpers to be a part of the family team, doing what they are able.
  • Peel carrots together, strengthening small motor skills while discussing life’s profound questions, like why are bats nocturnal. 
  • Make lunch together, slicing bread into half-inch slices and cutting sandwiches into halves and quarters.
  • Make lemon meringue pie, marveling at how the egg whites change and stiffen.
  • Slice and quarter lemons, stirring in one-half a cup of sugar and filling a pitcher with water to make lemonade.
  • Cuddle on the couch, reading page after page, book after book, traveling to unknown places, meeting extraordinary people.
  • Look through family photo albums, recalling favorite memories and sharing family history.
  • Invite people of varying backgrounds, cultures, and careers into your home, broadening our children’s understanding of the world.
  • Make homemade holiday and birthday cards, sending greetings to those who might need extra cheer.

During the pre-teen, teen and young adult years, we:

  • Discuss theologies, philosophies, and belief systems, expanding our young adult's understanding of how people think and apply knowledge, while building and refreshing our own knowledge base.
  • Learn with our young adults, discerning when to encourage independent study and when to be involved.
  • Embrace our young adult's talents, giftedness, or special interests, offering to help in the discovery and research process.
  • Start a sewing project, learning and creating alongside, shoulder to shoulder.
  • Sweat with our teens, practicing sports and fitness skills, caring for their physical health.
  • Walk briskly around the neighborhood, praying for the neighbors while setting a foundation for life fitness.
  • Complete a task together (cleaning a bedroom, washing a car, mowing the yard), lightening the load of doing it alone and engaging in conversation which may not happen otherwise. 
  • Take our teens on dates (clothes shopping, tea rooms, book cafés, or sports stores), enjoying our alone time together away from the hustle-bustle of everyday life.
  • Read books together, sharing feelings and insights.
  • Sit with our young adults, engaging in conversation, helping them sort through challenges, uncertainties, and frustrations.
  • Strive to be quick to listen, asking questions that help our young adults move through difficult circumstances or relational snags using problem solving and conflict resolution skills.
  • Relax together, watching a movie or discussing a recently read book.
  • Serve at a local shelter, mission, or children’s home, blessing those who need an extra dose of love while encouraging one another to care for the least served.
  • Offer childcare for single moms or moms on bed rest, meeting her practical needs.
  • Go on a mission trips together, experiencing new cultures and serving people whose existence matters despite difficult circumstances. 

As our children move to adulthood and away from home, I often ask what mattered most in their learning and living years at home. By far, the experiences which have impacted them most, shaped their being, are the experiences which involved the real and relational. 

As you move about your day today, embrace the real and relational. Those moments matter and they will impact your family for years to come.