3 Ways to Start Volunteering in High School

There is no doubt that volunteerism is an important aspect of a college application. It shows that you have interests and passions outside of academics. However, it can be tough to figure out where that passion lies as a young adult. Here are three ways to start volunteering while in high school.

By: Soleil Kelly, Mathematics & Economics at Vanderbilt University, 2023

  1. Become a member of a national/international organization

When you think of volunteering, names like the American Red Cross and UNICEF automatically come to mind. This is because they are very well established organizations with widespread networks of service. For many, this is where their ideal form of volunteering lies. Many organizations like the aforementioned have programs in place to allow students to start chapters at their school to raise money for the larger organization. If there is already a chapter at your school you could join it and participate in their programs and fundraisers, and over time you can work your way up to a leadership position within the club. In the case that there is not an already existing chapter, it is very easy to start one with the help of your school’s administration. Also, if you are unable to form a formal chapter or club for the organization, many large nonprofits will allow you to hold drives or fundraisers for specific causes. For instance, a very popular fundraiser held at elementary and middle schools is Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF. Organizing a drive like this is a great way to gain volunteer hours with the insurance that your work is helping people. Other great organizations to look into are Habitat for Humanity, The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, or Feeding America.

  1. Work with a local organization

Working with a local organization is a bit more personal than a large organization and may be a bit more work for you, but it gives you a chance to directly affect your community. You can find local volunteering opportunities using platforms like VolunteerMatch, a database of both in-person and virtual volunteering opportunities. You can also work with local nonprofits, like food banks and churches by working at their locations or holding drives or fundraisers for them. You can utilize your school groups to hold these drives and funds, for instance, you can lead a canned goods drive through your soccer team or you can organize for your acapella group to go sing at the local retirement home. This is a great way to volunteer with your friends or family and can become a tradition for you and your loved ones. When choosing an organization, however, make sure to do adequate research to ensure that it is a reputable establishment, there are plenty of scams that front as charities.

  1. Build something yourself

Although probably the most work out of the three paths that you can take, it is easily the most fulfilling and impressive. Building your own organization, whether that be a club at school or an incorporated nonprofit organization, allows you to have complete control over the work you are doing and who you are affecting with it. There are many ways to go about organizing something from scratch, but usually, this three-step process works best: 1) identify the need in your community that you would like to change, 2) find friends and family with similar interests/passions and who are willing to help, and 3) get to work. There will always be bumps in the road with something new, but working through them and adapting your organization will be a great learning experience for you and give you awesome material for essay writing. I went with this option for my volunteering in high school by founding the first Black Student Union in our district which was based around fostering conversations about race and race relations at our school. My experience of founding a club and all the trials that came with it gave me ample stories to draw upon for college applications. My work with the BSU also allowed me to be recognized for my philanthropic endeavors by places like Princeton University and the Bank of America. If you have a passion or you see a need in your community that you think you can fill, do it!


Remember that there is no point in volunteering if you do not care about the community or cause that you are serving. It’s like watching a football game and hating the players or reading a fantasy novel for your math homework; although the work takes time and effort, it is obvious when volunteer work, though valuable nonetheless, is done for the wrong intentions. Try your hardest to find work that is fulfilling to you and stay consistent. A good goal is to try and shoot for about 40 hours of volunteering a year. When you volunteer for something you care about this work doesn’t feel like work. Also, remember that there are plenty of rewards and internships available for students who are heavily involved in their community. The two I won/participated in were the Princeton Prize in Race Relations and I was a Bank of America Student Leader. There are plenty of other programs like the Prudential Spirit of Community Award or the Comcast Leaders and Achievers Scholarship. Explore these and other opportunities as a potential way for your community service to reduce the cost of college. 

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