Last week I began a four part series discussing ways that high school and college students could utilize their summer break in order to make themselves more competitive for the upcoming scholarship season. In Part One, I highlighted the benefits of summer employment. This week, I want to examine a second option available to students with available time over the summer: the opportunity to give back to the community or a cause through volunteer work.

Volunteer

Volunteer work is different than employment in that you do not receive a paid wage for your time spent in assisting the community or organization. Your time is freely given with your objective being to build up the local community through your gift of service. Volunteer work can be found in a variety of different places. If you are looking for a beginning point, local government and non-profit organizations are good places to start. You can shelve books at a local library (local government), help serve meals at a homeless shelter (non-profit), or offer your tutoring services to a homework hotline or organization like the Boys and Girls club (non-profit or local government). You may even be able to tie in your desired future vocation to a volunteer opportunity. Are you interested in veterinary medicine? Try volunteering at the local animal shelter or city animal services department. Do not think the opportunities end there; if you have a skill or a passion, chances are there are people who are in need of your skillset.  What if you cannot find a place to plug in? Might I suggest creating your dream opportunity? Are you skilled in landscaping? Take that skill and help the elderly in your community with their yardwork. Do you enjoy watching children? Ask your parents or your local church if there is someone that could use childcare, but cannot afford to pay. The opportunities for serving others are truly endless and are limited only by your creativity.

As you go about examining where you could best serve your community keep two things in mind: one’s compatibly of values and one’s level of involvement. One critical area to examine as you look at volunteer work is the organization’s vision or mission statement. This is extremely important as you want to be sure that your value systems are compatible. Where there is great alignment you will find a passion for what you do, even in the menial tasks. After finding an opportunity, you want to decide your level of commitment. Here, there are two schools of thought. Some suggest to volunteer at a myriad of places, thus showing your breadth of involvement within the community. The problem here, is twofold. While you may have breadth (volunteering for many organizations), you probably lack depth (a deep relationship with the organization). In addition to a lack of depth, you may lose consistency. Finding time to volunteer in the summer should be relatively easy, but finding time to volunteer once school and all the activities that accompany it are back on your schedule can be difficult. Finding time to help with one organization versus three or four is much more manageable for a busy schedule. Can you really help an organization or demonstrate your commitment if you assist for an hour or two per week, or only every few weeks? Thus, I advocate the second school of thought; find an organization you love and commit your time there. With a brief discussion of community service now complete, the next question I want to answer is:  So, how does volunteering help your scholarship application?

For the purposes of your scholarship application, volunteer experience mimics in many ways the benefits of a summer job. It provides the opportunity for experiences that can be used in your scholarship essays as well as for your professional resume. It is also valuable for developing relationships, which may be a source for future references. Volunteer experience is different in that it reveals a different facet of your life: one that demonstrates a willingness to serve others without compensation. This area is becoming more and more important in the decision making process as scholarship boards are veering away from grades and test scores, and instead are looking for the best overall or most well-rounded candidates. You can highlight your service by including a line in your resume giving the total hours of volunteer work given to a particular cause, volunteer hours given for a particular academic year, or the cumulative hours worked. Volunteer work provides fantastic examples for essays, such as how you went about choosing to work with a particular organization, what attributes you have in common, or what lessons you have learned about serving others freely with your time and how this act of service benefits the organization and the community.

Volunteer work provides an important contribution to the local community, and while it does not provide an income, it does provide numerous benefits for the high school and college student. Of particular importance for the scholarship applicant is resume and relationship building opportunities, as well as valuable experience that can be used in personal essays. While summer does provide ample time for work and volunteer opportunities, your time can also be spent in areas of personal development, which may also assist you in your scholarship pursuits. In my next blog, I am going to discuss some personal development options for students, which have the ability to increase their marketability for scholarship funds.