Make volunteering transformative, not about # of hours

Online Q & A sites, like Quora and Yahoo Answers, are packed with young people asking “how many volunteering hours should I have to get into a great university?”

It’s a question that makes me want to cry. In my answer to these questions, I try to explain that number of volunteering hours means nothing to university admission boards or scholarship committees, that, instead, such volunteering should be about engaging in activities that demonstrate your skills in problem-solving, research, networking, persuasive speaking and consensus-building, and that in talking about such, you should emphasize what you learned, challenges you faced, what it was like to work with people different from yourself, etc. – not number of hours completed. I say so as best I can on my web page about Ideas for Leadership Volunteering Activities.

But Richard Weissbourd on the PBS News Hour this week said it better than I can. Weissbourd is a senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the lead author of a new report that calls on colleges to lower the pressure on students to impress admissions committees by racking up achievements and accolades. On the PBS News Hour, he said the goal of volunteering by young people should be “meaningful ethical engagement. It’s being involved in your community, concern for others, concern for the greater good, for the public good… it’s not about doing a brief stint overseas. It is about doing something meaningful, doing something in a diverse group, doing it for a year, nine months to a year, doing it for a sustained period of time. And the chances are greater that you’re going to get something out of that kind of experience, and you’re going to be able to describe in the application in a way that’s meaningful and expresses what was meaningful about it to you.”

Video and full transcript here.

I cheered and clapped. And my dog got scared and ran into her crate. Ooops.

Now, if I could just get the Corporation for National Service, the Points of Light Foundation, the Independent Sector, and others to stop valuing volunteers by number of hours given and a dollar value for those hours…

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