Students should rethink values for volunteering, restore purpose over prestige when gaining service hours


Alivia Romaniuk

Our good friend phoebe from Friends once said that there is no selfless good deed. Every good deed yields some return, whether it be a feeling of satisfaction, praise from others or a boosted status. Phoebe’s words ring true, especially when it comes to volunteering amongst high school students.
The third week of April is National Volunteer Week, and as COVID-19 restrictions are dying down, there are more and more opportunities for students to volunteer. When volunteering, we like to believe that we are doing so out of good will, but society’s obsession with status and volunteer hours has made volunteering yet another selfish good deed.
Volunteering looks good on college and job applications. There are prestigious awards for volunteering. Some extracurriculars require a certain number of volunteer hours. The hard truth is volunteering wouldn’t be as appealing if we got absolutely nothing in return. But doesn’t that defeat the purpose?
It depends on how you volunteer, not how much you volunteer. The true value of volunteering lies in the experience, your commitment and dedication to supporting a cause that you truly care about. Volunteering to get a certain number of hours does not carry that same meaning. In fact, it often takes the meaning away altogether, making volunteering a business transaction rather than a genuine good deed.
In fact, college admissions officers tend to agree that the number of volunteer hours is relatively unimportant. A recent report by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education revealed that doing volunteer work that you are passionate about and that enhances your connection with the community is far more important than the number of hours you spend volunteering.
When volunteering, I encourage you to keep in mind that you are supposed to enjoy what you’re doing. Your goal should be to have meaningful experiences, while making a valuable contribution for your community.
Whether it be sports, the environment, books or helping animals, we all have something that we are passionate about. Finding volunteer opportunities that are consistent with those passions will create the most valuable experiences. And talking about those experiences in college applications will be far more meaningful than any number of volunteer hours.
It’s important we take selfish incentives like improving applications or gaining prestige away from volunteering and instead look at the immense benefits they bring us. Volunteering is about finding your purpose and passion in society, so don’t waste it on something you don’t care for.

The views in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of the HiLite staff. Reach Alivia Romaniuk at [email protected]

To see more of Alivia’s work, click here.

To read about a sophomore at Carmel who volunteers with refugee camps she is passionate about, click here.