Admission Process
10 min

What Is Volunteer Work and Why Does It Matter for College Admissions?

Volunteering is not just about contributing to the good of others. It is your opportunity to travel around the world, make new friends, gain experience in various fields, level up your language skills, and even get a scholarship.

Let's find out what volunteer work is, what types of volunteering there are, and how it affects your chances to enroll in foreign universities.

What Is Volunteering

Volunteering is a voluntary activity that one person does for the benefit of another person, a group of people, or an organization. Charity foundations, sports events such as the Olympics, and international organizations always need volunteers.

Volunteers work on an unpaid basis. When working at the Olympics or with NGOs, volunteers may be provided with lodging, meals, and other program benefits. Although there is no financial gain involved for the volunteer, having this kind of experience can be crucial for those applying to get into foreign universities.

Types of Volunteer Work

Social volunteering. This involves working with kids, troubled teenagers, the elderly, and vulnerable groups. Most volunteers work with a certain social category of people. Among other things, they may help these people in their studies and daily routine, raise awareness about certain problems, and organize regional support campaigns. It is a great opportunity to learn the mindset of people and immerse yourself in the local culture.

Environmental volunteering. Local and large-scale environmental projects, environmental camps, and organizations provide vast volunteering opportunities for environmentally conscious young people. You could participate in clean-ups in natural reserves, parks, and river zones. Besides, there are environmental workshops, seminars, and youth conferences. Major international projects could also become an exciting and valuable experience. For example, before the pandemic, the Faroe Islands used to invite 100 volunteers every year to clean and restore local tourist sites.

Volunteering as a professional means you participate in projects or work as a volunteer for companies related to your expert field. You can become an employee of a company or join a research project to gain experience and pick up some professional terminology.

Internships in international companies and research projects abroad would always be a huge plus for your CV. Keep in mind that a certain level of training is often required to participate.

Depending on the company, there are paid and unpaid internship programs. After you complete a program, they may offer you a job.

Sports volunteering. International sports events often involve volunteers. If you like to be in the thick of things and participate in the planning, preparation, and execution of the event, don’t hesitate to apply. For example, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Olympic Committee was recruiting volunteers for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Cultural volunteering. Exhibitions, art spaces, film shoots, and other cultural events often need volunteers. If you are a creative person, cultural volunteering would be perfect for you.

Kinds of Programs To Choose From

EVS (European Voluntary Service) is an international volunteer program where young people between 18 and 30 work as international volunteers with organizations or government agencies in Europe, Africa, Asia, or South America for 2 to 12 months. In 2018, EVS was replaced by ESC (European Solidarity Corps).

The program covers lodging and meals, transportation costs, and insurance. According to the rules, a person cannot go abroad to participate in the program on their own but only be sent by a special accredited organization in their home country.

GVI (Global Vision International) projects are designed to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These programs focus on sustainable development in social, environmental, and economic areas within communities.

Gapforce (Gap Year Programs & Projects) make a positive impact on the regions, countries, and communities they visit. Their focus areas are local business development, community projects, and environmental projects.

Among other popular platforms for volunteers are Projects Abroad and DoSomething where you can select projects by the type of work, availability of time, and your interests. These search and filter tools help you find your perfect project.

What's the Point

You make the world a better place. And become a better person. When you help, you contribute to the good. So if you want to help others but have no idea where to start, just join a volunteer organization.

You broaden your horizons. Volunteers travel to different countries, meet new people, get to know other cultures, and learn the language through immersion while having to pay nothing or just a small fee.

You increase your chances to get admitted. Foreign universities appreciate proactive and eager applicants. If there is a choice between people with similar applications, volunteering can make you stand out.

Here's what UCAS, a UK organization that handles applications to UK universities, says: «Work and volunteer experience is a great way to showcase your enthusiasm, knowledge, and commitment to what you want to do in your personal application».


Elena Khomutova, a mentor in StudyFree and a master’s student at Tor Vergata University of Rome

Before moving to Italy, I was a volunteer in environmental projects "Let’s Do It!" and "Musora bolshe net" (“No More Trash”). Besides, I used to take part in waste separation campaigns in St. Petersburg. In the summer, my teammates and I would go out of town to clean up in the countryside and then sort the trash.

When I was applying to a university, my motivation letter mentioned that I was one of those promoting waste separation in Russia. I believe that volunteering experience is important because it reveals your proactive attitude. Of course, it would be perfect if your volunteer work is related to the major you have chosen.