The Role that Volunteerism Plays on Your University Applications

How Is Volunteerism Connected to University Admissions?

Volunteerism improves communities, provides assistance to those who need it most and in some cases can help save lives. It also looks great on a university or job application.

In today's highly competitive landscape, the reality is that most students have solid grades, impressive standardized test scores, and some degree of extracurricular activities. Volunteerism can help to differentiate candidates.  Furthermore, most institutions today are prioritizing well-rounded individuals, and increasingly looking beyond purely academic metrics like grades and test scores.

Volunteerism is so impactful because it allows candidates to demonstrate a range of relevant skills, such as personal growth and development, time management and responsibility. It also signals to evaluators that the candidate has the capacity to not only be a good student, but one that will make a positive, meaningful contribution to the institution.

After all, admissions boards don't just want candidates that will excel academically, but those that will be active participants in the non-mandatory aspects of campus life. And after graduation, they want strong ambassadors for the institution as alma maters, and volunteerism suggests they're more likely to give back to their communities.

Your volunteer experience says a lot about you

Volunteering can give evaluators a better sense of your personality and priorities, based on the type of volunteer work you choose. For example, working with a religious institution might suggest you have a strong sense of community, working at a soup kitchen might demonstrate teamwork, spending time with the elderly could demonstrate compassion and empathy, etc.

Pursuing unpaid but meaningful experiences also suggests that you are invested in your personal development and growth. While there are many avenues for skill development, volunteerism offers a more direct way to target specific skills for development by allowing for opportunities that may not be as readily available through extracurricular activities or part-time work.

Those who don't take much of an interest in volunteerism, by contrast, signal that they might struggle with time management, or have little interest in pursuits that don't benefit them financially. Of course, there are many who don't have sufficient time to volunteer, such as those working part time in order to pay their tuition. However, individuals who are still able to find even a small amount of time to give back can strike a chord with admissions boards.

Is volunteer experience more valuable than job experience?

Work that is optional demonstrates a higher level of responsibility and commitment. If someone is paying you, it's much easier to maintain commitment and continue showing up. Volunteering is optional, and those who dedicate some of their time to helping others show a greater degree of dedication, especially those who maintain a volunteer role for a long period of time, or continue working with the same organization.

How can volunteerism help address skill gaps?

Traditional work experience often provides an opportunity to develop certain skills, but that is rarely the primary objective of employment. Often other considerations, like compensation, work environment, scheduling, etc. dictate the work opportunities we pursue. In other words, skill development is often a side effect of employment, not the main objective.

While volunteerism isn't always about skill development, volunteers are often able to be more selective with the opportunities they choose. As a result, it is much easier to use volunteerism to help improve specific, targeted skills.

Astroff has identified 13 professional competencies, or skills, that employers and admissions boards are looking for. They include: advocacy, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, empathy, equity, ethics, humility, leadership, motivation, professionalism, resilience, and self-awareness.

Before pursuing volunteer opportunities, consider which of the above skills will be in highest demand in the profession or institution you hope to access in the future, as well as which might be lacking on your resume. For example, you might not have the opportunity to develop leadership skills in school or at work, but can seek out volunteer opportunities that offer leadership opportunities.

Why volunteerism provides strong application content

When you're applying for your next opportunity, whether at an educational institution, dream employer or elsewhere, you're probably going to spend a lot of time and effort fine-tuning  your application materials, such as your resume, cover letter, essays, etc. Even the best application writer, however, can't be successful without substantive experiences to showcase.

We discuss how you present these materials in other blog articles, but at the end of the day, the application is only as valuable as the experiences you can include on it. Every application needs qualitative and quantitative facts to present. Volunteerism is one of the best ways to add strong content.

It not only demonstrates dedication, passion and commitment, but it can also be more effective at filling in specific skill gaps.