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Your Kid Should Be Volunteering. Here’s Why.


Update, May 2016: With summer coming, now is a great time to sit down with your student and plan some volunteer projects for the next few months!

As a parent, you know how stressful and competitive the college search can be. Your son or daughter is almost certainly spending hours a night on homework and activities, keeping their academic performance up and building their college resume. Add in the time they (and you) spend researching schools and seeking out scholarships, and it can seem like there aren’t enough hours in the day.

Even so, it’s crucial for your student to set aside some time for volunteering. Whether they do so by organizing a roadside cleanup, coaching kids’ soccer or spending time at an animal rescue, community service is some of the most valuable life experience they can get as they prepare for college. It may cost them some hours with friends or mean a little later night of homework, but the benefit to both your community and your child is huge. Here are five reasons why.

They get the chance to see new life perspectives.
For students in high school and college, the world can sometimes seem small. They spend long hours at school, at work and hanging out with friends—and that’s about it. By volunteering in the community, your kids can spend some time outside their comfort zone, meeting people and experiencing situations they might not otherwise get to see. Whether they spend a lunch hour delivering meals to the elderly, a weekend doing an overnight fundraising walk or a semester helping their Dollars for Scholars affiliate manage its website, their service will let them spend some important time outside the classroom.

It gives them the chance to travel.
In addition to expanding your student’s horizons at home, many volunteer opportunities also give them a chance to see more of the world for little or no cost, in exchange for helping out people and places in need. For lots of students, these trips are arranged by schools, churches or local community organizations; you can help out by checking with counselors, clergy and groups like Kiwanis or Rotary Clubs. If there’s nothing being organized in your immediate community, plenty of regional, national and international organizations offer free or low-cost travel for young volunteers over spring break, summer vacation or entire semesters. (Some volunteer-travel companies do charge relatively sizable fees, so make sure you and your student know what you’re expected to pay!)

Volunteer organizations need younger voices.
The largest current demographic of volunteers comprises adults ages 35-54, with the 55-64-year-old group just a bit behind. By contrast, just one in every five Americans between 16 and 24 reported spending any time volunteering for an organization last year. As the needs of community service organizations change—and technology and social media become more important for all kinds of nonprofits—it’s important to increase those numbers. Fortunately, your teen’s volunteering can start a snowball effect. According to this 2012 study from DoSomething.org, the most important determining factor for youth volunteering was having friends who also volunteered. Your student can start the ball rolling!

Community service could help them get into their dream school.
Your high school son or daughter’s volunteering has a big impact on the organizations and communities they serve. It also has a potentially huge benefit for you and your kid. By adding volunteer work to their college resume, your student is demonstrating to admissions officers that they’re motivated; that they care about a cause; and that they’ve built important skills outside the classroom. That evidence of character, compassion and self-improvement can be a huge factor in the always-competitive college admissions cycle.

It can also help them pay for it.
When it comes time to apply for scholarships, high school students and college undergraduates who volunteer have lots of advantages. The perspective and experience gained from volunteering will help them write unique, informed essays—and many scholarships also reward service-focused students specifically. Right now, for example, the Kohl’s Cares Scholarship Program is accepting nominations of youth volunteers. If your child is between 6 and 18 years old, has not yet graduated high school and has done great volunteer work over the last year, you can nominate them for a Kohl’s Cares Scholarship up to $10,000 between now and March 13. Visit kohlskids.com for details or to nominate.

That’s only the beginning of the scholarship opportunities out there for student volunteers, and these are just a few of the benefits your high school or college kid can create by working in their community. With your help, they can turn service into scholarships!

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