Volunteer work is not just something that looks good on a college application. It can be a deeply rewarding experience that benefits both the volunteer and those they intend to help. Knowing the best way to allocate your time is key to making your efforts do the most good. With that in mind, we have some suggestions on how to choose the best volunteer project for you.

Know Your Goal

Be honest with yourself. Determining why you want to volunteer will help you determine where you want to volunteer. If you’re just looking to put some shine on a resumé or application, there’s no sense lying to yourself about it. Perhaps you should choose something that’s not going to be as labor intensive or as much of a commitment. Some volunteer work can be physically and emotionally draining. If your heart really isn’t in it, it will likely show.

For those of you who do actually want to make a difference, think about what you’re passionate about and start from there. What are you good at? How can you apply it to an area of need? What even does “make a difference” mean to you? Do you want to help in some specific way, or are you just looking to help at all?

Stay Realistic

Overcommitting and underperforming doesn’t do anyone any good. You have to be realistic about your own capabilities as well as how much of yourself and your time you actually have available to give.

Know Where to Look

There’s no shortage of volunteer organizations floating around out there. From popular ones like Habitat for Humanity to the soup kitchen the church on the corner runs. The internet is probably going to be your best bet. Faith-based organizations and schools are other great sources for more localized projects. Be sure to research any project you’re interested in beforehand, though.

Types of Volunteering

Volunteering is such a broad concept that it can encompass a great many things. Some of the most popular are animal care, community rejuvenation, helping the homeless (via food, shelter, clothing), counseling, free tutoring, campaigning, helping the elderly; the list goes on and on. Even the volunteering opportunities listed here are broad in scope and can use various different types of skill sets and personalities. If you’re looking to help out, there’s no shortage of places in need.

Food for Thought

While it’s admirable to want to help even if you do it on your own, you’ll want to make sure you know the laws in your area. Believe it or not, in more places than you might think, it is illegal to feed the homeless without some sort of licensing. Aside from the community it brings, the major benefit of working with a pre-established organization is that they have typically taken care of all the red tape.


There is a growing trend of people taking trips to countries in need to try to help the locals; it’s garnered the kitschy nickname of voluntourism. While the intentions of those who sign up for such trips are usually admirable, there is evidence that it may not be as helpful for the locals as presented. Like anything else, altruism can be commodified, and it seems that’s what happened here. Voluntourism has become a business. Keeping the business booming and doing lasting good in these communities are ultimately competing goals. You can find more information about the subject here.

It is important to be discerning when choosing a volunteer program. Make sure to do lots of research on any organization you intend to work on. Remember, communities a lot closer to home can likely use your help as well.