Create Passion, Not Mandates: The Problematic Nature of Increasing Volunteer Requirements

Gianna Hutton, Design Editor

With college applications looming over juniors’ heads, students are bound to wonder if they achieved enough academically and in their extracurriculars throughout their high school career to get into their dream college. With highly competitive college applications, students often feel pressured to pack their application with community service hours, internships and a long list of clubs to give them a competitive edge. Increasing required volunteer work furthers this, pushing students to engage in a slew of activities without having any real passion for their work. 

The ugly truth behind required volunteerism reveals how disoriented students enter a world with the expectation they already know their passions and the field they want to study. The need to fulfill a designated amount of community service hours by schools and the fact that it has become a standard on college applications creates a system where students volunteer solely to complete the requisite, dissuading students from finding their true passion. 

Overall, in the US, an estimated 15.5 million youths – or 55% of youth ages 12 to 18 – participate in volunteer activities, according to the Corporation for National Community Service. 19 states allow districts to award graduation credit for volunteering or service learning in 2011, and seven states allow districts to require service for graduation, according to data collected by the Education Commission of the States.

While popular, this system results in the possibility of students volunteering simply to get their hours completed instead of finding something they feel truly driven from. According to research by the University of Pennsylvania Scholarly Commons, 72.1% of youth volunteers did community service to put it on their college application. This illustrates how students do these activities, not out of good-will, but to complete their credits and strengthen their application, producing students with no idea of true civic engagement. 

This systematic volunteerism also negatively affects students who cannot afford to take time away from familial obligations or work requirements. According to Child Trends in 2018, 50% of all youth, ages 16–24, were employed, either full or part-time.

This assumption that all students have the ability to act as unpaid volunteers is non-inclusive and harms students who need to work to make ends meet, or save up for college. 

While this sometimes results in students finding an activity they truly enjoy, the practice of requiring community service quickly burdens apathetic students, defeating the purpose of volunteering and serving no benefit to the community. It also simultaneously hurts students who work to provide supplemental house income, making the conversation of increasing volunteer requirements unethical and not fruitful in creating empowered students.