How many volunteer hours should you have for college?

Getting ready to apply for college? Our latest blog explains what college admission officers are looking for when it comes to hours of volunteer work, when and where you should begin volunteering, and the best way to list volunteer work on your college application.

If you are about to start applying for college admission, one question that is probably on your mind is how many volunteer hours should you have for college?

It’s no secret that many colleges consider volunteering an important aspect of a prospective student’s application. But what is the ideal number of volunteered hours colleges are looking for?

This article will explain what college admission officers are looking for when it comes to hours of volunteer work, when and where you should begin volunteering, and the best way to list volunteer work on your college application. 


How many volunteer hours should you have for college?

Being able to list volunteering on your college application can put you at a competitive advantage over other applicants who have similar GPAs and test scores, but no hours of volunteer work. Listing volunteering on your college application provides an opportunity to demonstrate that you are community minded, have skills that will be valuable throughout your time at college, and likely to be actively involved in campus activities.

Colleges generally try to accept students who can add value to the student body and have the potential to become future leaders and notable alumni members. So, although GPA, SAT, letters of recommendation and other scholarly factors are important aspects to consider for admission, colleges are also interested in knowing how you spend your free time. They like to see variety and that you dedicate time to pursuits like sport, hobbies and following your passions. Volunteering gives an insight into who you are as a whole person, not just a student. 

The consensus is that the ideal amount of volunteer hours you should have for a college application is between 50 to 200 hours. With fewer than 50 hours of volunteer work, college admissions officers may draw the conclusion that you were not committed enough to a cause to commit a substantial amount of time to it. It is easier to reach the suggested threshold of volunteer hours when you volunteer for a cause or organization that aligns with your passions and values.

As well as the number of hours of volunteer work, colleges want to know why you volunteered, what you got out the experience, and the impact your volunteering had. 

Importantly, don’t volunteer for the sole purpose of being able to list it on your college application. The main motivator for volunteering needs to be because you want to contribute to a cause that has a positive impact on people and the community. 


What to include when listing volunteer work on your college application

Volunteering experience should be included on your college application under the volunteering section (if there is one), or the extra-curricular activity section. If you are using Common App or Coalition App to submit your college applications, these have the space to list 10 (Common App), or 8 (Coalition App), extra-curricular activities, including volunteering. 

Volunteering can also be used as the basis of your college application essay, or it can be referred to in the essay to help justify and support the statements you are making. The volunteer work should be written in a way that demonstrates your genuine interest in the role and how it benefits other people and the community. School students who participate in volunteering often develop organizational and leadership skills from the work. These are skills that colleges value as they indicate you are likely to be a student that contributes to making your college a better place by building collegiality with other students and staff.

The following information should be included when you list volunteer work on your college application:

  • Name of the volunteer organization
  • Period you volunteered for the organization
  • Organizing donations in a food bank
  • What you accomplished in the role
  • Skills you developed in the role - these commonly include leadership, creativity, communication and organizational skills. 

Just as important as what to include on your application is what not to include. If you reference the volunteer work as being compulsory or mandatory, this is likely to imply that you only undertook the volunteering because it was required. College admissions officers want to see that you volunteered willingly because you wanted to contribute to an organization or cause you care about. 


When to begin volunteering for college?

You are never too young to start volunteering. Students tend to become busier as their high school career progresses, so it is recommended to begin volunteering as early as possible in high school. This helps set up a routine before the busy senior year of high school gets underway. The final year of high school is filled with college prep courses, studying for the college admission test and completing application paperwork. By having a good amount of volunteering hours completed before senior year, you may be able to reduce your time commitment for volunteering and dedicate more time to your studies.

Being able to demonstrate a history of volunteer work can not only help with getting into college, but potentially also with the cost of it. There are scholarships available that can reward you for the dedication, commitment and impact you have shown through volunteering. So, the sooner you start volunteering, the more you will have to show that you would be a worthy scholarship recipient. 

The more time you dedicate to volunteering, the more skills and experience you gain. Not only is this beneficial for college applications, but also for job hunting. Listing volunteer work on your resume can demonstrate to potential employers that you are a competitive candidate for the position they are recruiting for. 


Where to volunteer

Typically, college admissions officers want to see a long-term commitment to a cause or organization that aligns with your passions and interests. This is more valued than having volunteering hours spread across several organizations, simply to reach a quota of accumulated hours to enhance a college application.  

The following list of volunteering opportunities for high school students should help provide some inspiration on where to register to get started volunteering: 

  • Walking animals at an animal shelter
  • Cooking and serving food in a soup kitchen 
  • Working in a community garden
  • English language conversation with those looking to learn the language better
  • Tutoring elementary student

For more ideas on where to volunteer,  take a look at our article on community service project ideas for all ages

It is recommended that having 50 – 200 hours on a college application gives it a good chance of being seen favorably by college admissions officers. However, the number of hours isn’t the only thing colleges consider when it comes to volunteering. Colleges also want to know about your motivations for volunteering and the impact it has had on you, and the community. 

Although your focus right now may be on volunteering to enhance your college application, the benefits of volunteering are far-reaching. Volunteer experience will also  increase your employability and networks, and can help you to secure a job after graduation.  


About Rosterfy 

Rosterfy exists to connect communities to events and causes they are passionate about through volunteer and paid workforce management technology. Our proven end to end technology allows charities, events and nonprofit organizations to recruit, register, screen, train, manage and report with ease, replacing manual processes with automations to better engage and retain your volunteers and paid staff.


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