Community service hour requirements are quickly becoming commonplace across secondary schools. Many states and school districts have built in a minimum threshold for community service hours into graduation requirements. And, many scholarship and postsecondary funding opportunities use community service completion as a minimum requirement for consideration.
The purpose for encouraging adolescents and young adults to engage in community service opportunities has long been to have them develop the attributes of responsible and active community members. Doing community service at an early age gets students in the habit and mindset that they should contribute to their communities; that they should use their talents and time to help others. It also teaches students that each individual is an important part of the collective whole and that their actions, decisions, and contributions affect others and the overall wellbeing of a community.
In addition to these civic engagement benefits, community service opportunities for students can be a valuable component of an effective college and career readiness plan. With guidance from counselors and educators, students can seek out opportunities that allow for hands-on learning experiences, align with potential postsecondary career choices, and build their confidence and skillset as they go forward
Ways to Connect Service Hours to College and Career Planning
All too often, students wait until an approaching deadline for completing community service hours and take opportunities that they can do quickly and expediently–eliminating many of the potential benefits of the experience. Counselors can help students avoid this cycle and be thoughtful about their community service choices. Use these tips to guide students to make a plan early in the year so they get the most out of these experiences.
- Communicate to students and families that service hours can provide an opportunity to explore passions or try out different types of work. In addition to providing information about the required service hours, include language about the value these opportunities can provide students and how they can relate to postsecondary choices.
- Curate a list of service opportunities that span a variety of career fields and student interests and share these with students throughout the year. Regularly reach out to community organizations, other schools in the area, libraries, humane societies, nursing homes, hospitals, environmental groups, and food pantries to offer student service support.
- Encourage students to consider opportunities that may build experiences or skills that relate to potential career pathways. Students who are interested in careers in education might help at a camp or preschool; or students interested in medical fields may choose to volunteer at the local hospital. This both helps students get a glimpse into these fields and likely inspires more active engagement if the opportunity ties to their interests.
- Consider opportunities that provide students with different dynamics and organizational structures–from opportunities where students work collaboratively with many others, to ones where students complete tasks on their own. This variation allows students to explore and learn their own preferences and work styles.
- Remind students that these service opportunities can help them to make positive connections with others in the community. Encourage them to introduce themselves to those they are working alongside and to find ways to stay connected if they want to pursue similar work in the future.
Building in Community Service to a College and Career Readiness Plan
As students complete service hours, structure ways for them to reflect on their experiences. A quick conversation or brief writing exercise can help students to pause and consider what they gained, how the work made them feel, and what they liked and disliked about the experience. And, encourage them to use these insights as they make plans for future work, college choices, or find additional opportunities for community service. By helping students use their community service to inform plans for their future, community service experiences can become an important tool in a college and career readiness culture.