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5 Great Community Service Ideas for College-Bound Students


Community service stimulates personal growth, benefits schools and communities, and even enhances your college applications. In fact, in one survey of admissions officers, 53% said that community service can be a tiebreaker between two candidates with similar test scores, GPAs, and strength of schedule.

That makes community service an important piece of your college application. But high school students are often unsure where to begin or what sort of service projects to work on. If you need some inspiration for volunteering, start with these five great community service ideas for college-bound students.

But First: How Colleges Evaluate Community Service

Before you can choose the right community service project for you, it’s important to understand how your community service experiences will be evaluated by colleges.

In a 2016 report published by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, a coalition of college admissions officers joined together to make recommendations related to community service. These recommendations included:

  • Choose community service projects based on your interests and passions.
  • Spend at least a year on a sustained service project.
  • Although individual projects are valuable, community engagement projects are encouraged. This means working in groups on a community project, like beautifying a local park.
  • Work on community service projects that deepen your understanding of diversity, not by “doing for” people from different backgrounds, but by collaborating with diverse groups on school and community projects (“doing with”).
  • Don’t try to “game” community service with a set number of hours or particularly impressive service in a faraway place. Focus on building skills and generating ethical and emotional awareness.
Why Community Service Is So Important for College Admissions

In short, find a service project that aligns with your interests and is meaningful to you. Instead of participating in as many projects as possible, choose one or two that resonate with you and commit to them for an extended length of time. When possible, work with diverse groups to solve school and community issues.

5 Great Community Service Ideas

As you read through the list of community service ideas below, pay attention to which ideas complement your interests and passions. Which sound like something you would genuinely enjoy and find important?

And of course, this is not a comprehensive list of community service ideas. If you don’t find something that’s right for you, we hope that the list will spark inspiration and lead you to a meaningful community service experience.

1. Work with students.

Are you passionate about education and/or helping children? Here are a few ideas:

  • Begin tutoring other students in your best subject(s), or even start a peer tutoring program at your school.
  • Become a counselor at a local summer camp or volunteer with children’s programs at your place of worship or community center.
  • Coach a youth sports team.
  • Talk to your local library about reading to children.
  • Contact an after-school program or daycare about teaching weekly lessons on something you’re good at (art, volleyball, yoga, etc.).
  • Mentor a younger child through school or community mentorship programs.

2. Help your school.

Think about problems or areas that need improvement at your school, then consider how you can help. Talk with teachers or administrators for permission and assistance. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Start or join an anti-bullying initiative.
  • Work with other students to pick up trash, plant a garden, paint a neglected area (with permission), etc.
  • Collect prom dresses and suits to be donated to students who may not be able to afford one.
  • Start a food pantry at your school stocked with canned goods and other nonperishables, along with necessities like toothpaste and deodorant, for students in need.
  • Collect backpacks full of school supplies for students experiencing financial hardship.
  • Identify a need, like new books, and ask for donations or organize a fundraising event to address it.

3. Enhance your community.

If you’d like to directly make improvements to your community, consider the ideas below. Choose one or two of the following that relate to your passions, and work with your city or neighborhood council to get permission and coordinate if necessary:

  • Adopt a local road and clean up along it.
  • Help raise funds to repair/buy new equipment for a playground.
  • Plant trees and flowers.
  • Paint over graffiti.
  • Petition for something your community needs, like better lighting along poorly lit streets.
  • Assist in community clean-up after a natural disaster.
  • Plan a food drive for a local food bank.
  • Join existing community projects and initiatives.

4. Care for animals.

If you’re passionate about protecting and caring for animals, you may want to start or participate in a project like the following:

  • Volunteer at your local animal shelter or a wildlife facility.
  • Plant a community butterfly garden.
  • Clean up a local lake or other body of water.
  • Become a volunteer dog walker.
  • Foster pets (with your parents’ approval, of course).
  • Work with service animals.
  • Volunteer to help at a veterinarian’s office.
  • Join an animal advocacy group like the Animal Humane Society, the ASPCA, or the Anti-Cruelty Society (which has several programs specifically for teen volunteers).

5. Help the homeless or economically disadvantaged.

If you’re interested in helping the homeless or the economically disadvantaged, potential service projects include:

  • Volunteer at a local soup kitchen.
  • Host a Thanksgiving dinner for people in need or donate turkeys and other items for a Thanksgiving feast.
  • Organize a food drive/clothing drive or gather and assemble first aid kits for homeless shelters.
  • Join Habitat for Humanity and work on building homes.
  • Ask a soup kitchen if they’d like someone to do activities with or read to children while their parents finish eating or socializing.
  • Participate in or start a program buying Christmas gifts for children in need.
  • Offer free babysitting services to families who can’t afford childcare or need to search for jobs.
  • Join a Big Buddy or mentorship program for children in homeless shelters or from disadvantaged backgrounds.


Consider Your Talents

If you’re not sure what cause is especially important to you, you can also consider how your hobbies and talents can be helpful to others.

For instance, are you a budding photographer? Volunteer to take photos of dogs who are up for adoption at an animal shelter. Offer your services for free to families in need who would like to document a child’s birthday party or another important event. Get creative!

If you’re an artist, donate your art projects to senior citizens in a nursing home. Make beautiful birthday cards or cheerful decorations. See if an after-school program or your local library would let you host arts and crafts sessions for kids.

Make a list of your talents, interests, and hobbies, then brainstorm how each of these skills or activities could benefit others.

How to Find Community Service Projects to Join

Once you know what sort of project you’d like to get involved in, you’ll need to either start it or join an existing group.

Contact a place you’d like to help out, like an animal shelter, school, library, soup kitchen, or nursing home, and see if they take volunteers. If they do, set up a schedule or determine when it’s convenient for you to come by.

If you don’t have a particular place in mind, talk to your school, place of worship, or city hall about potential opportunities. You can also browse the Internet for volunteer opportunities in your area.

See if your community has a volunteer calendar or a group that completes volunteer activities together, like Hands on Orlando in Orlando, Florida.

There are tons of organizations looking for capable volunteers, so finding a placement is easy if you know where to look.

Final Thoughts: 5 Great Community Service Ideas for College-Bound Students

When choosing a community service project, consider causes that you’re passionate about, along with your interests and talents. Search the Internet and call local places looking for volunteers.

Do something that you find important and that you enjoy doing. Try to commit to each project for at least a year. You can also try out a few different community service opportunities before choosing one that you want to stick with.

Finding a community service project that’s a great personal fit can have a major impact on your life. The experience will be more meaningful to you, could lead to a lifelong passion or even career, and has the potential to help you earn a spot at your dream college or university.

Find your dream school

Author: Jason Patel

Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance.