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Why Should Teens Volunteer? The Value of Volunteering

Some teenagers see volunteering as simply a graduation requirement, and some parents push it as a college resume-builder. But why should teens volunteer, really? Maybe it’s time to take a step back and see what the real benefits of volunteering are.

Why Should Teens Volunteer? Reasons For Volunteering

1. You can make a difference.

Yes, it’s a cliché, but for millions of Americans volunteering really is about a desire to help others in their local community—or around the globe. For these teenagers, volunteer work can be tremendously rewarding, not to mention eye opening.

When Bonnie Nieuwstraten’s son, Ben, now age 15, went to Guatemala to build wells, he was stunned by the process villages use to get safe, clean drinking water that we take for granted.

But, Nieuwstraten emphasizes, you don’t have to travel to another country. Her three teens realized their good fortune through monthly trips to the local homeless shelter handing out socks, sandwiches, and hygiene items.

2. You can explore a career.

Another real-world benefit of volunteering for teenagers? Career exploration, which can help teenagers start to think about prospective majors well before arriving on a college campus.

Kristin Miller, a college consultant in Portland, Oregon, recommends teens focus their volunteer efforts in an area that interests them as a potential career to avoid wasting time (and money) pursuing a college path that isn’t for them. Your teen may think she wants to be a veterinarian, for example, until she volunteers at an animal shelter and learns you don’t cuddle kittens all day.

You can help by finding opportunities where your teenager can explore a field in a hands-on capacity. Whether that’s education, medicine, engineering, social work, or one of the numerous other workplaces, look for where volunteers are welcome.

Meanwhile, if your teenager is only volunteering to impress the college admissions office, here’s a tip: half hearted won’t cut it, so it’s better to focus on activities in which your teenager really is interested. Like any other extracurricular, colleges don’t especially care what the activity is. They care that your teenager was committed to the activity. “Colleges aren’t that impressed with a few volunteering hours” listed on a student’s application, says Miller. “Volunteer efforts must have a real impact.”

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, and mom of three teen boys. Read more about Cathie at

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