Rice balls will help my daughter get a job.

'Tis the season of giving (and shopping and eating...) so what better time to talk about volunteering than the holidays.  At my kids' school, one of the core values listed on the homepage is to develop good citizens who contribute to the betterment of our school, our community and society.
I know firsthand that the school makes an effort to get the kids involved in community projects from kindergarten on up through high school.  My daughter (1st grade) will be making onigiri (Japanese rice balls) this coming January to distribute through Second Harvest to the homeless people around one of Tokyo's major parks (yes, Japan has homeless people).

I want my kids to be aware that there are people out there less fortunate than they are. I want them to appreciate the good things they have in their own lives like a roof over their heads, food, clothing, video games, travel. I also believe that once you get your own act together it is good to help out someone else. Dropping off toys at the orphanage or rice balls for the homeless for example. Beyond the obvious benefits to the people who receive our donations, the activities give our kids a chance to practice thinking about someone else's perspective.

But will it help them get a job?

For a high school student, volunteering will certainly add something to their college application. Dosomething.org ran a survey of colleges in the US and found that volunteering ranked 4th in importance among admissions officers.  GPA, SATs, and Extra Curricular activities (sports, music) were 1, 2, and 3.  Volunteering came in ahead of reference letters and the legacy relationship to the school. The survey also showed that colleges prefer a student who picks one cause freshman year and sticks to it all 4 years rather than hopping around to the cause of the month. 8th grade volunteering and earlier seems to be less valuable when it comes to the college application.  There are many interesting points in the survey and if your kids are in high school or close to it you may want to read the complete version here. Note to self, "make sure 8th grade son picks a cause next September."

Volunteering in college also proves to be resume worthy. An easy connection is if your son or daughter volunteers for a cause that is supported by their company or industry of interest.  The cosmetics industry offers a clear example of how this might work.  Most cosmetics firms support breast cancer awareness in one form or another. If your son wants to work for Estee Lauder then getting involved early with the various events will show a mature interest and may also lead to valuable personal connections through the networking that occurs naturally at such gatherings.

Other skills that can be inferred from regular volunteer activities throughout college are:

  • time management - our kids will need to be efficient and energetic if they are going to juggle classes, part time jobs, and volunteering.
  • real world skills - it is often easier to get a job doing accounting, marketing, or logistics when you are a college student if you do not need to be paid for it!
  • team player - volunteering by itself implies an interest in helping others but most volunteer activities also require our kids to interact well with others.  Reference letters later on can verify this.

While you may not be willing to join your kids at McDonald's and flip burgers with them in order to get more quality time, volunteering can be a family activity and a chance to share the interests of your kids for a good cause.  I know that my wife and I will certainly be out on at least one cold weekend in January handing out rice balls with my daughter.

Happy Holidays!

1/18/2015 - Decided to add a bit more from the DoSomething.org survey:

  • "Students should avoid overloading themselves with countless hours and varieties of issues, and instead demonstrate a genuine passion for something that matters to them."
  • 72% of surveyed officers want students to be focused on one issue. "Dedication is the true measuring gauge."
  • Political campaigns are considered just as valuable as other forms of community service.  As long as it is volunteer.
  • Grades still come first!
  • Awards recognized and admired by the admissions officers:
    • 100% Eagle Scout
    • 72% Gold Award
    • 52% President's Service Award
    • 36% Prudential Spirt of the Community Award
    • 32% Do Something Award
    • 28% Jefferson Award
  • "A trip around the world may come across as an extended vacation."
  • "Essays are the perfect place for students to showcase the impact their service has had on both themselves and their individual communities, as well as highlight their motivations and inspirations for getting involved."
  • Power words for describing community service: passion, founder/leader, commitment, initiative, dedication, impact, growth, personal change, internship, coordinated
  • Danger words when describing community service: required, mandatory, Africa, showed up, forced, fun, neat, brief, obligation, summer camp


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