It seems easy: You help someone or some organization out for few hours and - shazam! - you get to check off another box on that college application, the one for community service.
But a volunteer commitment is much more complicated than a check-off box. What really counts as community service? Why does it matter? What are colleges really looking for?
Here at Lion’s Heart we have the insider’s view of volunteering and why it’s important for your own well-being, as well as college applications
We are a national network of teens in grades 7 through 12 who volunteer in their communities. Working through local chapters, Lions Heart members pick the causes that work with their schedules and are most meaningful to them. They learn leadership and organizational skills and are offered ways to give back without having to fundraise. Lion’s Heart is not faith-based. There are currently more than 75 chapters with more than 5000 members.
So where to start?
1. Understand why community service is important.
Volunteering your time for nonprofit community organizations or those in need gives you a chance to explore an interest, dive into a cause, gain new skills, network with mentors, and practice problem-solving or leadership skills. It lets you practice being in the adult world and research shows it may even help keep you out of serious trouble.
2. Understand what college admissions officers look for in community service.
College admissions officers care much more about a volunteer commitment with depth than scattered short-term efforts – what New York Times columnist Frank Bruni recently called “drive-by charity work.” Your volunteerism should reflect an interest in helping people and/or an interest in a particular cause. It’s not necessarily the number of hours you volunteer each week as much as the consistency and commitment.
3. Understand what counts as community service.
Basically it’s volunteering (that means no pay except for perhaps a T-shirt or free meal) to help people in need, often through an organization.
Here are some of the ways how we at Lion’s Heart break it down for our members:
Volunteering to referee, coach or manage a sports team is community service. Practicing with the team or fund-raising does not count.
Helping a neighbor who is disabled or elderly with chores is community service. Helping your parents with the yard does not count.
Volunteering at a polling place is community service. Helping a specific candidate or political cause does not count.
Volunteering at a hospital or animal shelter is community service. Getting paid to work at a veterinarian’s or doctor’s office does not count.
Babysitting during a church service or helping at vacation Bible camp is community service. Participating in the service does not count.
Performing at a charitable event or for, say, senior citizens is community service. Performing in the school play does not count.
So how can you get involved in volunteering in a way that will help your community, be satisfying (and fun) and boost your college applications?
Lion’s Heart can help you find your niche and, besides, volunteering with friends is more fun. Our members have volunteered more than 550,000 hours and given back more than $12 million in value back to their communities. In addition, more than 80 percent of our members who have gone to college believe their Lion’s Heart experience helped on their application.
So click now to find a Lion’s Heart chapter or learn how to start a chapter in your own chapter. And - shazam! - you’re making a real commitment to community service.