This is one of the most common questions we receive in the college admissions process from students and parents in high school. The answer is that it depends on the college. Over the past six years, we have compiled data from the top 50 universities to answer this question using data. This data is based on publicly available and private data that colleges have historically released and our analysis internally of over 5,000 students.
Why Volunteer Work?
Many people believe that college admissions is a game that can be won. Apply to many schools, write good essays, hit deadlines, and hopefully you get into one of your "reach" schools. For the past six years at Synocate, we have been saying the exact opposite - the way to win the "game of college admissions" is to be yourself.
So the question is, how do you find what you like? This is a question that often takes a few months to a few years to answer, depending on the student. We believe it starts with trying many things and getting outside of your comfort zone or what your parents suggest you do. With 9th and 10th graders, this is what we focus on.
In 11th grade, it is time to focus and get good at something. Usually by this time, students also have a better sense of the overlap between what they are good at and what they like. We help students stand out in this overlap for the last 2 years of high school and in 12th grade tell admissions committees what they stand for and who they are.
Volunteer work is seen as one of the classic indicators of college admissions - something to tick off to gain admission to show you are a good samaritan. This is the opposite of the truth. Find that overlap I was mentioning earlier and volunteer work will fall naturally into that overlap. For example, if you are passionate about medicine and hope to be a doctor someday, find a way to help younger students get excited about science.
So How Much Do Colleges Care About Volunteer Work?
Earlier, I said the answer was that it depends on the college. It does, but first you have to find your area of interest. Doing general volunteer work is almost never helpful for admission to the Top 100 colleges.
So now let's say you found your area of interest. How do you determine how much time to invest into volunteer work for that overlap of interests that you have?
At Synocate, we have developed a series of analysis here - www.synocate.com/profiles to help you see how individual colleges think about volunteer work and 20 other variables.
For example, you can click on a school and see in section 3.1 the last variable on the right "Volunteer Work". This tells you on a scale of 1-4, 4 being the most important, how important volunteer work is for that college in the admissions process.
Let's take a few examples. At Princeton, in this report in Section 3.1, you can see that Princeton rates it as 2 out of 4 (considered but not important). All extracurricular activities are also ranked at 2, so that means Princeton focuses more on your essay and GPA (rated 4 out of 4).
At College of William and Mary, volunteer work is ranked at 4/4 - very important. This is a great liberal arts college that loves to see students who find a specific area of interest and can give back to the community.
These types of insights can help students, counselors, and parents navigate the college admissions process and choose the colleges that match their strengths.
Use this comparative report in section 1.17 to see across schools how they care about volunteer work. You can see the diagram below here:
For more insights on the college admissions process, please visit www.synocate.com.