Volunteering to Build Leadership Skills

Leadership skills are sometimes hard to build while you’re in high school, yet they’re one of the experiences that prospective employers and colleges value most. Unless you obtain a student government position, captain of an  athletic team or hold a leadership position in an extracurricular club, being in a leadership position may not be easy while you’re in high school. While you may possess some innate leadership characteristics, you’ll still want an outlet to hone your skills and gain new ones. One of the best ways to get leadership experience to impress college recruiters and admissions committees is through volunteering.

Leadership characteristics

Noteworthy leadership skills include the following:

  • Motivating others
  • Teambuilding
  • Active listening
  • Managing time
  • Public speaking
  • Giving feedback
  • Communicating effectively
  • Coaching or mentoring others

Consider which of these characteristics you already have and which you could improve, when selecting the right volunteer opportunity to fit your interests. If you’ve never given a speech, you may not want to dive into it by running for student government or canvassing for a local politician, for example. Keep in mind that these and other qualities are looked for by admissions officers when granting admissions to prestigious colleges and universities so it is worth your time to improve in areas where you are weaker.

Ways to volunteer

Global Leadership Adventures offers volunteer service trips targeted toward high school students. Choose from themed trips such as Spanish language skills, poverty alleviation or leadership skills in locations including South America and Africa. Lead groups of volunteers in direct service and in after-service reflection, gaining skills in public speaking, communication and team building. Many of their programs take place in the summer, so you’ll have adequate time to volunteer and travel. Adults can perform similar trips through the National Peace Corps Association.

If you’re interested in a shorter term volunteer abroad experience, many organizations offer Volunteer Vacations. Travel with students from your high school or college to perform service work on Spring Break, Winter Break or another vacation. You may be more likely to clean up parks in Atlanta or clear trails in the Rocky Mountains than empower female farmers in Guatemala, but you’ll also spend a lot less and make an impact.

If you’re more interested in long-term service or local service, find a regular volunteer commitment. Websites like GLA allow you to search for volunteer opportunities near you. If you’re an animal lover or know you want to work with children, you can find a volunteer commitment in that area.

Finding interesting opportunities is easier than ever, thanks to technological resources for finding and applying to volunteer programs. Tech also keeps you closer to home while you’re away, so that you can remain connected to family and friends.


To get the most from your volunteer experience, reflect on what you want to learn or accomplish before you start volunteering. Consider talking to the volunteer coordinator about why you’re volunteering and what you hope to gain from it. If the volunteer coordinator knows that you want to build communication skills, she’ll try to find a task that allows you to work on your communication. Remember that the experience is about you and if a particular opportunity is not what you thought it would be, you’re free to find an opportunity that better meets your needs. You’re volunteering, after all!

Volunteering will build your professional skills, interpersonal skills and communications skills. It also gives you material for your resume or school applications that helps to demonstrate your knowledge, skills and abilities. You just might uncover a new passion or hidden talent by taking the time to volunteer.

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