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How to Choose Volunteer Work for Scholarships

If you’re serious about winning scholarships in grade 12, you’ll need to do some kind of volunteer work.

Why? Because many scholarships require volunteer work. Simply put, you won’t qualify for a vast number of scholarships if you don’t have volunteer experience.

Does it matters what kind of volunteer work you do? Yes, it does. Scholarship funders are looking for applicants who have donated their time to a cause or an organization that they have a connection with. They want applicants who have chosen their volunteer work for a reason.

Volunteering should be more than just checking a box on an application. It should be something you want to do not only for your own personal development, but also to make a meaningful contribution to your community.

Sometimes students contact me, and they have well over one hundred hours of volunteer work on their record. Sounds great, right? Although this sounds great, it may not translate to winning scholarships for two main reasons:

  1. The volunteer work was done with many different organizations and were one-time commitments. There is no demonstration of commitment.

  2. The volunteer work was chosen more for the student’s convenience rather than because the student had connection to the organization. There is no “story” to tell about why they chose this work.

Why is this “story” of connection important? Because scholarship funders will ask you to tell them why you chose to volunteer in the way you did. For example, here is a common essay question on scholarship applications:

Tell us about your most meaningful volunteer contribution. Why was it important to you and to others? What did you learn from this experience?

Even if you have one hundred hours of volunteering, if you have no connection to any of the organizations, if none of them really meant much to you, it would be difficult to answer this question well. Also, if the work didn’t involve you developing new skills, personal qualities, or points of view, then there’s also not much to say about what you learned from those one hundred hours.

Your time would be better spent making a meaningful contribution in your volunteer work. First, take a thoughtful approach to where you’d like to make a contribution, or what cause you’d like to support. Then, seek out a role with that organization or cause. Pitch in and help where it’s needed. As time goes on and people get to know you and you learn more, ask to take on responsibility for something. This extra responsibility will help you to develop some leadership skills and experience and set you apart from the crowd. It’ll also give you great essay content to answer that volunteer question!

Your time is limited, so use it to your best advantage. Be strategic with planning your volunteer work. Doing something you enjoy and that has meaning to you will help you feel more connected to you community. Not only will it give you far more pleasure than just going through the motions, it may also help you win scholarships.

P.S. If you’re in grade 10 or 11 and you’d like my help with finding meaningful volunteer work for scholarships, and advice on developing your leadership skills, please consider joining my Grade 11 Scholarship Prep Bootcamp or hiring me to work with you one-to-one. Here is my services page for more information:

About the author

Janet MacDonald is a Scholarship Coach with mycampusGPS Education Consulting. She is a former Canadian university admissions officer. For seven years, she was the coordinator of a scholarship program at a major Canadian university. Janet has helped her student clients win hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships.

You can find her online at, and on LinkedIn.


Learn more about Janet MacDonald by visiting the About Page.

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