How Volunteering Abroad Helps with College Admissions

Posted March 20, 2013 by
Volunteers passing out food to people

Volunteers passing out food to people. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Experience is one of the most valuable assets you will have when it comes to preparing yourself for your future. In fact, certain types of experience – like volunteering abroad – can make a big difference when you apply to college. Admissions officers are looking for well-rounded students, and volunteering abroad is one way to show the depth of your character.

Why volunteering matters

College admissions officers consider your record of volunteerism when deciding which students to accept. At least one study reports it’s the fourth most-important factor in the consideration process. And if you’re not exactly at the top of your class, having volunteer-abroad experience could give you the edge you need to be accepted at the school you want to attend.

Look for volunteer abroad opportunities that allow you to cultivate leadership abilities, or to develop skills that apply to the career or major you wish to pursue. If you’ve studied public health in Ghana, you’ve already demonstrated that it’s an issue that matters to you, and that may help you achieve your academic and career goals in the future.

Cultural knowledge

You can read all you want about the different cultures around the world, but the best way to understand them is to experience them firsthand. College admissions officers are looking for well-rounded students, not just kids who have a great GPA. When you are willing to step outside your comfort zone and volunteer in a foreign country, it says a lot about who you are as a person, and it makes you a student that recruiters want to have on campus.


The experience you gain from volunteering overseas will prove to yourself and your parents that you are ready to be independent. You will learn to trust your instincts and make good decisions. Learning how to think independently now will help prepare you for when you leave for college, where you are responsible for yourself and your education.

Find the right fit

There are many different volunteer opportunities abroad to suit a variety of interests. Some of these programs include building houses, educating children and helping with environmental projects. Decide what your goals are. Do you want to develop a particular skill, or are you more interested in experiencing a particular culture? A little soul-searching can help you figure out where you want to travel and what type of volunteer work you want to do.

Most volunteer programs overseas will come with a fee that includes airfare, meals and accommodations. But financial considerations may mean you need to postpone your ideal trip until you’ve raised adequate funds. If you’re serious about volunteering abroad, let your family know that you’re trying to raise funds for your trip. Instead of getting a birthday sweater that you’ll never wear again, you may find your generous aunt contributes money toward your overseas travel fund.

While volunteering abroad can be an exciting, life-changing experience, don’t forget to focus on the basics like good grades and being involved in activities at your school. In fact, those basics may help you qualify for financial assistance to travel overseas!

Lindsey is a professional writer living in the Indianapolis area and she writes on education and social media. Currently, Lindsey is completing work on her master’s degree.

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