Students who want to apply to college will need to work hard in high school in order to make their application stand out. In addition to having a competitive GPA, a transcript featuring some higher-level classes and a strong personal statement, you will also need to demonstrate that you’ve been involved in community service.

What Is Community Service?

According to PrepScholar, community service is “work done by a person or group of people that benefits others.” It’s a way to get involved in your local community to help make a difference. Whether it’s helping younger children with their homework, volunteering at the local animal shelter or cooking at a local soup kitchen, these are many ways to get involved in community service activities in your local area.

Some people like to do community service because it makes them feel good to help others. Others do it because college admissions offices look at how much community service involvement you’ve had. Sometimes, it’s for both reasons.

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Forbes states that 53 percent of admissions leaders argued that community service was a “tie-breaker” between equally qualified students. While it is possible to be accepted to a college based on your academic credentials or involvement in extracurricular activities, the student who is just as good as you but had community service experience would likely get chosen over you.

How Many Community Services Hours Do You Need?

As a high school student preparing to apply to college, there’s a good chance that you already have a lot on your plate. When you’re spending a majority of your time studying for your SAT or ACT, AP exams, regular classroom tests in addition to your involvement in a club or sport, how are you supposed to have time to get involved in community service as well?

According to Prepscholar, if you want to show an "impressive" amount of commitment to doing community service (without it being obvious that you did it one time merely for the purpose of being able to put it on your college application), then you’ll need to do anywhere between 50 and 200 hours. Any less, and you're not showing a true commitment. Any more, and you could be neglecting studying for other admissions factors that matter.

Places to Do Community Service

Wondering where you could do community service? There are so many options, and there are no rules. As long as you're getting involved in something that matters to you and to those you help, then that's the whole idea of community service.

That being said, it's always nice to have an idea of where to start. In most cases, you cannot just show up one day at a place and begin volunteering. Usually, you need to contact somebody that works there and ask about doing community service. Whether you call, email or show up in person, there are a couple of places that are generally always looking for high school students to help out:

  • Hospitals
  • Animal shelters
  • A religious organization, like a church, synagogue or mosque
  • The library
  • Community centers
  • A nursing home
  • Clubs at your school that will likely do some community service projects throughout the year, like Yearbook Club, National Honor Society or S.A.D.D

Community Service Programs

If you're having difficulty deciding where you should go to inquire about a community service opportunity, then you can instead head to a community service organization that can set you up with an opportunity that's a good fit.

There are many organizations whose entire purpose is to help others, and they usually have chapters at high schools where you can get more involved. Some examples of these are:

  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Make-a-Wish
  • Pencils of Promise
  • Jump Rope for Heart/Hoops for Heart
  • Boys & Girls Club of America
  • YMCA
  • Corporation for National & Community Service
  • Americorps
  • March for Dimes
  • Best Buddies

Other Community Service Ideas

Again, there really are no rules when it comes to doing community service. If you're having trouble finding something that really speaks to your passions and your desire to make a difference, then you can come up with your own way to help. In fact, the more creative you get, the more it might stand out in the eyes of the admissions office. And it may also give you some content for your personal statement!

Despite having your own ideas, community service involves helping others in need and without getting paid for it. Therefore, there are a few key options or categories of community service, according to Prepscholar.

These include, but are not limited to, working with children, working with senior citizens, working with the underprivileged, working with the ill and working with animals and the environment:

Working with Children:

  • Tutoring children after school
  • Hosting a fundraiser to raise money for a family in your community
  • Coaching a youth sports team
  • Giving a free music or art lesson
  • Babysitting for a family in need

Working with Senior Citizens

  • Delivering groceries to senior citizens in your community who have trouble getting out
  • Reading or playing games with members at a nursing home or assisted living community
  • Doing yard work for senior citizens on your block, such as raking leaves or shoveling snow
  • Teaching computer skills to the elderly
  • Driving a senior citizen who cannot drive to places they want or need to go

Working with Underprivileged Communities

  • Gathering school supplies to donate to children in need
  • Organizing a book drive or toy drive for families who cannot afford them
  • Volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter
  • Making care bags filled with toiletries and granola bars for the homeless
  • Organizing a winter clothing drive
  • Starting a food bank at your school
  • Becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister
  • Painting a mural at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen

Working with Ill or Disabled People

  • Organizing a visit to the children's hospital in which you do fun activities, like playing board games or doing arts and crafts with the children
  • Starting a fundraiser to help raise money for someone's medicine, treatments or surgery
  • Starting a fundraiser to gather or raise money for wheelchairs, prosthetics or other devices
  • Helping out with students in Special Education at your school
  • Organizing a Special Olympics day

Working with Animals and the Environment

  • Volunteering at an animal shelter
  • Gathering supplies to donate to an animal shelter
  • Organizing a fundraiser to raise money for an organization that helps wildlife or endangered animals
  • Starting a community garden
  • Organizing a park or beach clean-up
  • Planting flowers in your community

What to Consider When Doing Community Service

Before jumping into any community service project, it's important to understand and consider a few things. Too many students do community service for the sake of improving their college application and nothing more. To avoid feeling like this when you're doing your community service, think about a few things:

  • What's important to you?
  • What would you like to see happen in your community?
  • Do you want to do a one-time project or a long-term one?
  • What skills would you like to gain?
  • What kind of impact are you hoping to make?

If you spend time thinking about all of this before making a decision, you'll be able to really immerse yourself in the experience.

About the Author

Hana LaRock is a freelance content writer from New York, currently living in Mexico. She has spent the last 5 years traveling the world and living abroad and has lived in South Korea and Israel. Before becoming a writer, Hana worked as a teacher for several years in the U.S. and around the world. She has her teaching certification in Elementary Education and Special Education, as well as a TESOL certification. Hana spent a semester studying abroad at Tel Aviv University during her undergraduate years at the University of Hartford. She hopes to use her experience to help inform others. Please visit her website, www.hanalarockwriting.com, to learn more.