Interested in volunteering? Volunteering is a great extracurricular activity that looks good on college applications. Volunteering shows colleges that you dedicated your time and effort to helping others!
Not sure what volunteer opportunities are available to you? There are a lot to choose from! In this article, I’ll tell you what volunteering entails, list the types of volunteer opportunities for teens, and give a brief description of each.
What Does Volunteering Entail?
The exact tasks you’ll be doing while volunteering will vary by volunteer activity. However, all volunteering is essentially like having an unpaid job. You’ll be given a specific set of duties (which will vary based on where you choose to volunteer - if you're working at an animal shelter you’ll have different tasks than if you're working as a tutor for homeless youth).
As a volunteer, you’ll be trained for your specific job, and you’ll be required to make a time commitment. Most (if not all) volunteer programs spend time and money training you to be a volunteer. They want to make sure that if they’re going to spend resources on you that you’re committed to them. They expect you to commit to volunteering for at least one shift per week for a few months if not a full year. Again, the exact commitment will vary by volunteer program.
Below, I’ll explain how to find out exactly what your volunteer work will involve and how to sign up to be a volunteer.
6 Types of Teen Volunteer Opportunities
I’ve organized this list of volunteer opportunities for teens into six subcategories:
- People in Need
- Literacy and Education
- Community and Environment
NOTE: Exact opportunities will vary by location. If you live in or close to a metropolitan area (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc.), you’ll likely have access to all of these volunteer opportunities. If you live in a more rural area, you may have access to fewer opportunities.
Hospital Volunteer Opportunities
Thinking about a career in medicine? Being a hospital volunteer is a great way to test out that interest and see if you enjoy working in a hospital setting. Typically, you have to be 16 or older to volunteer, and the hospital volunteer jobs you’ll be allowed to do as a teen will be more limited than hospital volunteer jobs for adults ( i.e. you won’t be allowed to do any jobs that require driving). For more information on hospital volunteer opportunities along with information on how to sign up, read our complete guide to being a hospital volunteer.
Animal-Related Volunteer Opportunities
Love animals? Interested in being a veterinarian or zoologist? Just hoping to play with animals in your spare time? There are several different animal-related volunteer opportunities for teens.
One option is being an animal shelter volunteer (usually you have to be 16 or older). As an animal shelter volunteer, it’ll be work first and then play. You’ll spend a lot of time cleaning up after the animals, feeding the animals, and helping potential adopters through the adoption process. After finishing these tasks, you will get to play with the animals. For more information on what being an animal shelter volunteer entails, along with information on how to sign up, read our guide to volunteering at an animal shelter.
If you’re too young to be an animal shelter volunteer or if you don’t have the time to dedicate to working shifts every week at the animal shelter, consider signing up to be a foster volunteer. This opportunity means taking care of an animal at your house until it is adopted. You’ll need your parent's support and permission to foster animals. If you’re interested in being a foster volunteer, make sure that you and your family have the time to dedicate to caring for the animals you foster.
If you’re interested in working with wild animals (rather than dogs and cats) or if you’re too young to volunteer at an animal shelter, you might want to see if you can be an animal sanctuary volunteer or zoo volunteer. Typically, you only need to be 14 or older to volunteer at an animal sanctuary or zoo. You will only be able to take advantage of this opportunity if you have an animal sanctuary or zoo in your area. If you don’t, the next best opportunity will be being an animal shelter volunteer.
Before starting your volunteer work, most zoos/sanctuaries require you undergo a training program (the length of time will vary). During the training program, you’ll learn about conservation and ecology issues, biomes, and the species of the plants and animals at the zoo/sanctuary.
Why do zoos and sanctuaries make you undergo an intensive training program? As a volunteer, you’ll be assisting with the educational programs offered there. You may even be running some of the lectures by yourself. The zoo/sanctuary wants you to be extremely informed so that you’ll be able to answer the questions you’re asked by visitors.
Note: As a zoo/sanctuary volunteer, you most likely will not be allowed to interact with the animals. The people who work at these places have years of training and experience. These animals can be dangerous and need to be handled with care. You will not be getting the same training and will therefore not be allowed to have the same interactions with animals. Instead, you'll be doing the activities mentioned above (helping with educational programs and lectures).
If you’re interested in signing up to be a zoo/sanctuary volunteer, conduct a Google Search for “[Your Hometown Name] Zoo Volunteer” or “[Your Hometown Name] Animal Sanctuary Volunteer” to find opportunities in your area.
People in Need Volunteer Opportunities
Interested in helping the homeless? Consider volunteering at your local soup kitchen. As a soup kitchen volunteer, you might cook food, help distribute food to the homeless, and clean up the food and plates/utensils.
Note: Soup kitchen volunteering is often not as regimented as other volunteer opportunities. Many soup kitchens allow you to just show up for a shift without signing up in advance. Also, many soup kitchens are only open a few days per week. However, this will vary by soup kitchen.
To find a local soup kitchen and their volunteer policies, Google Search “[Your Hometown Name] Soup Kitchen Volunteer.”
If you’d like a slightly more regular volunteer activity that helps the homeless, consider signing up to be a food bank volunteer. Food banks typically allow volunteers 14 and older. As a food bank volunteer, you’ll help sort, inspect, and repackage donated food items from local food drives and donations. It can be a tedious job, but it’s very important to make sure families in need are getting good, non-perishable food.
To find a local food bank, Google Search “[Your Hometown Name] Food Bank Volunteer.”
Interested in helping the elderly? You should consider volunteering at your local nursing home. As a nursing home volunteer, you might help with meal delivery, cleaning up meals, helping the elderly with daily tasks, or entertaining an elderly person (by reading to them, talking to them, watching movies with them, etc.).
To find a local nursing home, Google Search “[Your Hometown Name] Nursing Home Volunteer.”
Interested in construction? Want to help people in your community find homes? Like working with your hands? Consider becoming a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. As a volunteer, you’ll be assisting in the construction of homes for people who couldn’t otherwise afford a house. You’ll be putting nails in the walls, painting, and more. Habitat for Humanity operates in most of the US. To find an opportunity near you, check out the Habitat for Humanity website.
Literacy and Education Volunteer Opportunities
Love being around books? You should consider being a library volunteer. As a library volunteer, you may organize books, help repair books, help visitors locate books, help visitors use the computer, or help younger students with their homework.
Find out how to sign up to volunteer at your local library by doing a Google Search for “[Your Hometown Name] library volunteer.”
Interested in becoming a teacher or helping other students with their homework? You should consider becoming a volunteer tutor. As a tutor, you’ll help elementary or middle school students with their homework. There are various volunteer tutoring organizations throughout the country.
Consider checking out School on Wheels, which offers free tutoring to homeless youth. It's a great option because you can participate no matter where you live. If you live in an area where School on Wheels operates, you will meet up with the program participants in person and tutor them one-on-one. If you live outside the area in which School on Wheels operates, you can still volunteer by becoming an online tutor, and you’ll tutor via Skype (or a similar program). To become a tutor, you must have a 3.0 GPA or better and must submit a letter of recommendation from a current teacher. To learn more about volunteering through School on Wheels, visit their website.
Do you love writing? Consider checking out 826, which needs volunteers for their free after-school tutoring as well as other programs (field trips/writing workshops). 826 offers free tutoring and other programs to encourage students to get excited about their writing. There are 826 branches in Los Angeles, Valencia, NYC, Boston, Chicago, Michigan, and Washington, D.C.
To explore other volunteer tutor opportunities in your area, Google Search “[Your Hometown Name] Volunteer Tutor.”
Museum Volunteer Opportunities
Interested in someday working at a museum? Have a fascination with art, science or history? You may want to be a museum volunteer. Most museums offer volunteer programs for teens ages 16 or older. If you live in a rural area, you may not have access to this opportunity, or you might be more limited in your museum volunteer opportunities ( i.e. you might only have an art museum to volunteer at but no natural history museum). Find out what museums are in your area by doing a Google Search for “[Your Hometown Name] museum.”
As a museum volunteer, you’ll educate guests about museum exhibits, conduct workshops and demonstrations for visitors, and/or provide administrative support (help with ticketing and directing visitors). Find a museum volunteer opportunity in your area by doing a Google Search for “[Your Hometown Name] [Museum Name] volunteer.”
Community and Environmental Volunteer Opportunities
Interested in helping the environment? Consider signing up to be a beach cleanup volunteer or forest/park/nature cleanup volunteer. Similar to being a soup kitchen volunteer, volunteering to do a cleanup is not as regimented as other volunteer opportunities. You usually just sign up to do one day and then can sign up for future cleanups if you want. You do not need to make a long-term volunteering commitment.
As a cleanup volunteer, you’ll be helping pick up garbage on the beach or in the forest or park. This is an extremely important for reducing pollution and helping little creatures (many ingest or get tangled in our trash).
To find a cleanup opportunity near you, search for “[Your Hometown Name] [beach, forest, or park] cleanup volunteer.”
Do you enjoy gardening? Look into becoming a volunteer in a local community garden. This is a non-traditional volunteer opportunity in that you most likely will not be interacting with people. You’ll likely be given a portion of a community garden that you’re responsible for maintaining. Don’t worry! You don’t need to be a gardening whiz. You’ll receive training and support from the coordinators.
Find a garden volunteer opportunity in your area by doing a Google Search for “[Your Hometown Name] community garden volunteer.”
How Should You Choose Your Volunteer Opportunity?
With so many volunteer opportunities available to you, how should you decide what to do? To pick the perfect volunteer opportunity, you need to ask yourself a few questions.
First, what are your interests? Do you love reading? Consider volunteering at a library. Do you love science? May volunteering at a science museum is the best option for you.
Is there a future career you'd like to explore? Are you interested in potentially being a doctor or nurse? Consider volunteering at a hospital to test out that career path. Are you thinking about being a veterinarian? Consider volunteering at an animal shelter.
What are your favorite causes? Do you aspire to stop climate change? Consider volunteering for a beach/park/forest cleanup. Do you want to help the homeless? You may want to volunteer at a food bank or soup kitchen.
How much time do you have to commit to your volunteer opportunity? Can you commit to volunteering for 4 hours every other week? If you can, great! You can do any of the opportunities listed above. However, if you're not able to commit to volunteering that often, consider trying to volunteer at a cleanup or at a soup kitchen, both of which require no long-term commitment.
What is the age requirement? Most of the volunteer opportunities require you to be 16 or older, so if you're younger, your options may be somewhat limited. If you're under 16, you can volunteer at a soup kitchen, food bank, or zoo. You might be able to do one of the other volunteer opportunities, but you'll have to contact the specific volunteer programs to ask.
Would you rather work with people, animals, or by yourself? Most volunteer opportunities listed above involve interactions with people and helping people. However, you don't have to work with people. If you volunteer at an animal shelter, you'll be working mostly with animals, and as a garden volunteer, you'll work primarily alone.
Take all of these considerations into account when picking your volunteer opportunity, and hopefully, the answers to these questions will guide you to the perfect volunteer match!
Why Should You Volunteer?
Volunteering has many benefits. Through volunteering, you'll get to explore a passion you have (such as literature or medicine). Also, by volunteering, you can support a cause you love such as helping the homeless. You can also meet like-minded students, who share your passion or want to support that cause.
Volunteering is a great opportunity to test out whether you’d like to pursue a specific career (such as medicine, education, etc.). It's great to try and find your passion in high school, so you don't waste time and money during college trying to figure out what you want to major in. If you don’t enjoy volunteering at a hospital, maybe pre-med isn’t for you. If you love volunteering at an animal shelter, maybe you should pursue a career as a veterinarian.
Volunteering is also a great extracurricular for your college application. It shows you selflessly dedicated your time and effort to helping others! Additionally, volunteering is a free experience that won’t cost you anything other than time.
However, there are a few negative aspects of volunteer work. Volunteering can be extremely time-consuming. If you’re passionate about your volunteer work, hopefully, you'll be willing to dedicate 4 or more hours per week (or every other week) to volunteering. If you don’t like your volunteer work, you may find the time commitment to be a burden.
If you don’t have the time to commit to regular volunteer work, consider trying one of the volunteer opportunities with no lengthy time commitment (such as being a soup kitchen volunteer or beach cleanup volunteer).
Some students may find their volunteer work boring. As I said above, at a lot of these jobs, you’ll be doing menial work (cleaning up, answering phones). I still think it's valuable to try volunteering. If you don’t enjoy your initial volunteer work, consider looking into a different volunteer opportunity or looking into an entirely different extracurricular activity.
Interested in learning about other extracurricular activities? Learn more about joining student council or joining a sports team.
Do you want to volunteer over the summer? Learn more about the best volunteer abroad programs.
Interested in doing a pre-college program over the summer? Learn more about Emory Pre-College Program and Boston University Summer Challenge.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.