Last Saturday a Chinese parent talked to me about volunteering work for
building up high-school resume. It seems an almost banal routine item that a
child got to have on their resume if they aspire to any good college. The
problem is – this is far from being enough.
As this parent told me, some awesome, church-attending kid going to all kinds
of volunteering activities with straight-As throughout high school, yet was
rejected by the college he was so ready to spend next 4 years in. “What is it
that they want?” she asked.
What I see in this type of children is they are too conventional, too much of
a product of a routine, going through the motions, without a demonstrated real
passion for something of their own.
For a starter, here are the problems with this church-going kid andhere are some of my volunteer ideas that guarantee to push them to the frontline among thousand of applicants.
First of all, what do you want to show to the world through your volunteering
1) You are unselfish when everybody tries to get something for nothing and
you give something for nothing.
2) You have time to donate to a good cause that you believe in. That’s also
3) You are willing to make all kinds of personal sacrifices in order to get
into your dream college.
If you don’t have anything other than these three reasons, this is almost the
dead end for you. Because (1) it is not a challenge to come up with this; (2) it
shows you are so one of the crowd, so banal, so empty of ideas and creativity or
anything shining that we want to see in a leader that we don’t see the promise
of a bright future in you.
I once heard this saying, somewhere I forgot where. It goes like this: the
highest reward for your work is not what you get for it, but what you become
because of it. An event or experience always means more than what it appears on the surface.
First of all, to the admission officer, the process of seeking volunteer
opportunities reveals more of you than the fact you donate unpaid time to some
place. You should make full use of this opportunity to let your outstanding
character shine through your narration of this process.
Secondly, for volunteer ideas, your mind and soul must be out of the
conventional box. You must believe there is an inexhaustive gold mine in you and search for this wealth inside you. If you don’t have this bottom line
self-confidence, you are better off without any big dream, which is perfectly
okay. After all, not many people have big dreams.
Next, think of anything you can claim to be capable of doing and are willing
to share with those who is so eager to be on the receiving end as long as it is
free. By the time you enter high school, you got to be good at something.
If your parents made you start piano lesson at age 5 or drawing or Chinese or
marshall art or tennis lesson or whatever your mom was fancy of cramming on you at your tender age, after 10 years of hard drilling or by the time you enter
high school, you should be good enough to torture a group of 5-year-olds with
the same tenacity and dead seriousness, as if they paid you a million dollar for
doing that. Trust me the benefit goes far beyond any monetary measurement.
How? Go to a local primary school or library or nursing home, tell them you
have skills and are willing to share them with the children or senior citizens,
free of charge. You offer to organize kid’s club, teaching whatever you can brag
about. People love freebies, especially now when money runs so low. Parents
embrace it when their youngsters are learning something without their having to
pay for it. Don’t forget to hold a performance party at the end of the activity
as a report and showcase to the parents of how great you are.
During holiday season when you hear the extreme boring money-begging bell
sound from Salvation Army, you volunteer to marshal a group of primary school children, teach them some crafts and sell their work. The handsome proceeds go to the Salvation Army.
If you love, say math or English, go to an elementary school and share your
enthusiasm over it by offering free tutoring in math or whatever you are crazy
about. After all, what’s the use of your good math skill if you don’t
put it to good use? Like an investment, the earlier you put your skills to good
use, the higher the return will be.
The key is be creative, be a passionate leader and be daring and
original in a good way. Be one of a kind. Never ever follow the crowd like one
of the mindless herd. Of course, it is always safe to follow the beaten
path. But don’t you hate the idea of being safe among a crowd? I told my
children security is for senior folks, definitely not for the daring youth.
Finally, your volunteer experience can potentially be a great topic for your
college application essay. Now high schoolers, rise to the occasion, make
difference and do something marvelously good to your otherwise boring