It’s a new year, a new semester, and the perfect time for students to reevaluate their extracurricular activities and whether or not those activities are really helping them better explore their interests. Students often overlook community service as a way to explore their interests because they tend to have a one-dimensional view of what community service entails. If they’re not collecting cans at a food drive or serving dinner at a local homeless shelter, what other community service is there? In reality there are many opportunities for students to make an impact in their communities with service activities that allow them to explore their interests at the same time.
As we’re said before, colleges are looking to build well-rounded classes made up of specialists. They want to see that students have a few activities that they’re wholeheartedly involved with and are making an impact in these activities. It’s about quality, not quantity. Colleges are also looking for students who are going to contribute to the campus community and make the school a better place – what better way to demonstrate that potential than with service activities in your local community?
On the surface, it may seem that finding community service activities that align perfectly with students’ interests and allow them to make an impact is impossible. It’s important to remember that that are many ways to make an impact, and that community service isn’t one-size-fits-all. Here are some tips to helps students find community service opportunities that match their interests.
First, focus your interests.
In order to find service opportunities that interest you, you first need to identify what those interests are. Many students, especially freshmen and sophomores, might be involved in several different activities or have a number of hobbies, but might not have made a significant impact. This is your opportunity to do so. Focus your interests by identifying a couple of things that you really enjoy and deepening your involvement. For example, if you really enjoy filmmaking, join your school’s media department, create a filmmakers interest club, and research different aspects of the industry. By first figuring out what you’re passionate about, whether it’s filmmaking or something else, you can then begin to form an idea of how you can use that to give back to your local community.
Look in the usual places.
Sometimes it’s easier to find meaningful community service opportunities than you may think – all it takes is some research and outreach. Start your search by checking out the usual suspects – service projects your school or religious community might be sponsoring, the local food bank or animal shelter, your local Boys and Girls club, or other afterschool programs for kids. Reach out to local organizations and find out about their needs, and if there are open opportunities that match your interests. Remember, it’s not about finding the most unusual community service opportunity, it’s about finding something personally meaningful that will make an impact. Colleges want to see students exploring their interests and making a difference. It’s ok to go the “usual” route to fulfill those goals.
Think outside the box.
Sometimes students find that the most common service opportunities or organizations don’t have any readily apparent opportunities that match their interests. Don’t give up! This is your opportunity to get creative and forge your own opportunities.
Let’s go back to the filmmaking example. A local afterschool program might not be looking for someone to teach kids a filmmaking course, but maybe they’re looking for additional mentors. Use those filmmaking skills to help create a video that highlights the organization, what it means to be a mentor, and how potential mentors can apply. Or, organize a fundraiser for a local cause by hosting a screening of a relevant documentary at the local theater. You don’t have to be on the front lines of a service organization to make an impact. Use your skills to help further a cause you’re passionate about and that really helps your community.
Learn to network.
Use connections you’ve made through other activities or internships to learn about potential service opportunities. Networking isn’t just useful for a job search, it’s also a great way to learn more about a field of interest and get information on additional opportunities. Talk with your internship supervisor, activity sponsor, or other connection in a field of interest to brainstorm ideas for a service project that can help an organization you’re currently working with. Sometimes these connections can put you in touch with someone else who can help you realize your vision. Don’t be afraid to network and build relationships – it can help open doors for activities you may have never considered before.
Community service is great way for students to give back, make an impact, and hone their particular skills or interests. Students shouldn’t choose a service activity just because they think it’ll look good on their college application. They should invest their time in activities that they really enjoy and that help them gain better insight into a field of interest or study they want to pursue in college.
Having trouble identifying extracurricular activities or community service projects that match your interests? Our team of expert counselors works with students throughout various stages of the counseling process to help them hone their interests, find activities that match those interests, and help them identify the best ways to make an impact in their local community. Contact us today for more information on our college counseling services.