Looking for the best volunteer opportunities for high school students? Read on to get 7 great ideas for all students. This will also be a great way to add activities to your “holistic” resume for college. You have grades and test scores that colleges will see, but you also need to show that you have other pieces to your character than just being a student. Are you involved in extracurricular activities? Do you “give back” in some way? Either to your community, school, or the earth in general?
Colleges want students that will also give back within their college environment. Many high schools organizations have a volunteer component. I can’t help you get more involved at school, but I can give you some ideas of how to give back. This has to be over and above what is required from the high school organizations like the National Honor Society or Science National Honor Society. Every college knows that you need to have community service hours to stay in those clubs.
1. Food Pantry
Pretty much every big city has a food pantry where you can give your time. Search “food pantry your city” or “food pantry near me”. I can almost guarantee that you will get some places. What will you likely do if you are volunteering at the pantry? You will likely be picking up, unloading, and sorting food donations, and stocking shelves. Check the pantry website for volunteer orientations.
Another idea would be to organize a food drive in your neighborhood. Most neighborhoods have a Nextdoor online community. You could set up a drive on there, have a bin on your doorstep, and collect food for a week. Check the pantry website for needed items and make sure you list them where you post the drive. Make sure you are not collecting items that would be affected by adverse cold or hot weather. I would definitely post that you are having a drive at least a week or so before you start collecting so that your neighbors can pick up items during their normal grocery runs. I hate to say it, but people are not likely to make a special run to the store for donations. However, if they are already at the store, then it’s much easier to just add the donation items to your list.
2. Animal Shelter
Most cities have some sort of animal shelter. These sweet fur babies need socialization. So animal shelters love for people to come and walk the dogs, pet the cats, and of course, do the dirty work like clean litter boxes and such. There is very likely an orientation you would need to attend, so you know if maybe the dogs are color-coded on how easy they are to walk. Some shelters may have you attend additional training to walk the dogs that don’t behave as well on a leash. You may have to start with the easy ones and progress to the harder ones.
Here again, you could organize a drive for cat & dog food supplies. Almost all shelters need more food, blankets, leashes, litter boxes, etc. Check the shelter website for what items are needed then post on your neighborhood Nextdoor website. If your neighborhood isn’t on Nextdoor, put fliers on the doorstep, text your friends and have them text their friends. Have a bin on your doorstep where everyone can put their donations.
Another one of the easiest and best volunteer opportunities for high school students is to be a tutor. This is a great way to help your community and help younger students. I would make a bet that your high school has some avenue for you to tutor students in lower grades. Whether it be tutoring someone else in the high school or it might be tutoring at the middle school or even elementary school.
Look on your high school’s website to see if you can find anything under the activities section. if you don’t find anything there, ask someone in the school’s front office. Or if you see an assistant principal in the hallways or at lunch, ask them. Lastly, if none of that works, make an appointment with the school counselor. They will certainly know if a program exists and if it doesn’t they might just start one since you asked.
Another option to get started is to offer up your free tutoring on your neighborhood Nextdoor page. As a parent, I see posts from parents on Nextdoor looking for ways to help their kids in school. If you aren’t sure if your neighborhood has a Nextdoor page, ask one of your parents. If it doesn’t, then see the neighborhood as an online directory or website where you could post your tutoring services.
Just a note here that is probably obvious, make sure you are getting A’s in whatever subject you are offering to tutor. If you are a great history student but hate math, don’t offer to tutor in Algebra. Make sure you stick to the subjects you love and are good in. If you have parents that are happy with how you are helping their child, likely they will refer you to other parents and you will get more opportunities.
4. Park or Town Cleanup
Most mid-size to large cities will have some sort of organized cleanup options on their city website. You might have to dig around to find it, but likely it’s there. They may also have a cleanup that is on your own time. You might be able to go to a city park, put your headphones on and cleanup trash for an hour or two. Make sure you keep track of your hours, you might be able to earn some rewards with the city. Those rewards will be good to put on a college application. The reward also might lead you to other volunteer opportunities within your city.
5. Race or Running Club Volunteer
If you love being outdoors and being active, you might enjoy volunteering at an organized race or with a running club. The race could be a local race that is somewhat small or a bigger race like a Race for the Cure or a marathon that might draw runners from across the country.
Volunteering at a race might be things like working at a hydration station. Volunteers will set up tables, fill cups and pass out water or an electrolyte beverage to the runners as they pass by on the route. Just so you know…those cups are tiny paper cups and many runners will just throw them on the ground after they finish. So yes, picking up those cups is part of it too. Don’t forget to cheer the runners as they go by!
For longer races like a half marathon or full marathon, there are likely relay stations. Here you would help runners with the relay exchange. These volunteers help coordinate the exchange between runners on each team. This is often combined with a hydration station as well.
Be aware that races usually start early in the morning, 8:00 am is a typical start time. So you might need to be at the race location by 6:00 am. If you don’t like getting up early, you might check in runners as they arrive at the race. This might involve handing out race number bibs or chips. If it’s a big race, many times the bibs-chips are handed out days before with some little goodie bag, often called a “packet pickup”. So working a few days before the race might be an option as well. One other option if you are not an early riser, is to hand out finisher medals. Obviously, the longer the race the later you might be able to arrive. Parking will likely be a little more of a challenge too.
To find races in your area, just search for running races near me and then start drilling down from there. Some 5Ks might not have many opportunities, but the longer races most certainly will love some help. If you are more of a bike-type person…look for bike races. I will bet they have similar types of opportunities. This is such a fun way to give back to the community and can be one of the best volunteer opportunities for high school students.
6. Resale Shops of Donated Goods
There are so many places where people can donate clothes, household goods, and furniture. Think about what needs to happen to all of the things that you or your family have ever donated. Or if you have shopped at a thrift store…think about what it takes to set up that store. All of these items need to be evaluated, categorized, and be ready for sale. You might be changing the signage or pricing of items. Think of all the signs and prices you see in a clothing store. While changing those signs, you might help clean the shelves, etc. Everyone loves stores that look clean and tidy.
There are many of these types of resale shops. Goodwill might be the first thing that comes to mind, however, there are so many additional options. Did you know that Habitat for Humanity has a resale store? Also, many organizations cater to battered women or homeless people. Find an organization that tugs at your heart and look into that one.
I know at one point during the pandemic in 2020-21, some donation places stopped taking donations because they didn’t have enough volunteers to process all of the items
7. Participate in Races for a Cause
Another one of the easiest and best volunteer opportunities for high school students is to actually participate in a race. There are several organizations out there that have walk or run races to help raise money for their cause. Find a cause that means something to you. Maybe you had an aunt that battled breast cancer, a grandfather that battled lymphoma, or a family member in the military.
I would recommend choosing a cause that has some personal connection to you if you can. You will be more likely to stick with it if you do. Once you pick your cause, then find the race. Look for charity walks or charity runs with the current year or check out runguides.com. I’m sure you have probably heard of Race for the Cure benefitting breast cancer research, but there are many others out there that deserve mentioning:
Light the Night Walk – Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Heart Walk – American Heart Association
Kidney Walk – The National Kidney Foundation
Carry the Load
If one of these doesn’t speak to you, then look for something else that means something to you. Many races raise money for so many different causes. From migraines to autism to your local children’s hospital. There are so many options out there. If you live in a fair-sized city, then there are likely many race options in your community.
For most races, you can participate as an individual or as a team. Yes, this is something you and your friends can do together! Just remember you will likely need to get up early on race day, so make sure your friends are good with that before you all sign-up.
You can either make a flat donation when you choose to participate, you can gather donations leading up to the race. Just make sure you do your research of the donation requirements to participate. Most are as easy as just registering to run, however, some require you to raise a certain amount of money to participate. Just know what you are getting into.
Check out runguides.com to find a race near you.
Summary: Best Volunteer Opportunities for High School Students
These are just a handful of the best volunteer opportunities for high school students. Check them out to see if any of them ring your bell. It doesn’t matter to me what you do, but do something, the world needs you. Remember helping others also helps yourself in more ways than one. Whatever you give the world comes back to you. Yes, the hours you spend will help you on college applications, but they will also help you be a better human being.