Volunteer/Community Service Hours

Time-consuming, sometimes difficult, and often complained about, community service hours are a notorious section on college applications. For many of us, it pretty much feels like…

But when should you start volunteering? What kind of activity should it be? And most importantly, how will they show up on your college application?

In this post I’ve done my best to create an overview of community service on college applications, as well as several tips to making the most of your community service.

How hours are recorded on applications

Each application has slightly different input sections, but you can bet that community service will show up in one form or another. Below I’ve gone through the two main applications for California students (the Common App and the UC App) but keep in mind that many colleges have individualized applications that won’t look exactly alike.

The Common Application limits you to 10 “Activity” slots, in which you record pretty much anything and everything you’ve done during high school. The drop down options for the first blank listed below should give you a good idea of what goes into these slots:
Volunteer Hours Cassidy Google Docs

  • Academic
  • Art
  • Athletics: Club
  • Athletics: JV/Varsity
  • Career Oriented
  • Community Service (Volunteer)
  • Computer/Technology
  • Cultural
  • Dance
  • Debate/Speech
  • Environmental
  • Family Responsibilities
  • Foreign Exchange
  • Foreign Language
  • Journalism/Publication
  • Junior R.O.T.C.
  • LGBT
  • Music: Instrumental
  • Music: Vocal
  • Religious
  • School Spirit
  • Science/Math
  • Student Gov’t/Politics
  • Theater/Drama
  • Work (Paid)
  • Other Club/Activity


  • One important aspect to note is that they ask twice about how you not only participated, but excelled in your activity. They first ask your “Position/Leadership” and later “Details, honors won, and accomplishments”. These sections are the ones that will really help you stand out amongst the crowd, for example being not only a member of your school’s Spanish Honors Society, but also the winner of a spanish speech contest.
  • It’s also important to notice how the volunteer hours are recorded. They ask how many hours a week for how many years. Which means these numbers are approximate. If you’re keeping a log of your hours don’t worry about that extra 15 min you spent helping a senior to their room, it won’t really make a difference. You’ll just be a good person. What you should keep track of is how many years you’ve been involved with that activity, again trying to rise in the ranks over time.

The UC Application has a slightly different approach to community service hours. Amongst many others, the UC App has two separate sections for “Volunteer & Community Service” and “Extracurricular Activities”. Each has five blanks that look somewhat like this:

Volunteer Hours Cassidy Google Docs

  • As you can see, the UC app also requires you to approximate your hours based on the years you participated and the hours per week, but doesn’t have a section for honors within your activities. There is another five blank section for honors, but there is not as much of an opportunity to display how you excelled.
  • Activity title and description are both type-in blanks, which gives you more leeway in terms of how you describe your participation.


Other Tips on Community Service

1. Pick an activity you love, freshman year. Ideally this is the service activity that you will continue for all four years of high school, so it should be something you’re passionate about. On that track, don’t limit yourself to traditional service organizations or interests. If you like math and want to tutor with your National Honors Society then that’s great, but you can also volunteer at conventions or renaissance fairs, volunteer to take meals to an elderly neighbor next door, or create a club for another service project entirely of your own invention.

2. Try a few different organizations. Even though you will want to show continuous growth within one activity, don’t limit yourself if you don’t like the first one you try. Each organization has their own personality of sorts, and you should find one you’re genuinely excited about volunteering for. After all, passion and enthusiasm in volunteers is easy to see, and if your supervisors like you they can be great sources for letters of rec.

3. Keep a record. You don’t need to log every minute, (as you saw earlier, these are approximations) but you do need to have a good sense of when you did what. If you’re an Leadership junkie like I am, it’s easy to forget volunteer events you’ve done. Once on a scholarship application I forgot that I volunteered at the very same library freshman year! Try to keep a log of what organizations, for how long, and during what months. This will be really helpful during college app season.

4. College verification. I have never heard of any college independently verifying how many service hours a student actually worked for, but it’s a good idea to get a paper recording how many hours you worked total at the end of your service time signed by the person in charge (just in case).

Overall, good luck on your community service! Please comment below if you have any other questions on getting your hours, or how you will record them in your college applications.


Photo Credit: Meme / Gif 1 / Gif 2


Improve your SAT or ACT score, guaranteed. Start your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh SAT Prep or your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh ACT Prep today!

magoosh logo checks


  • Cassidy Mayeda

    Cassidy recently graduated from San Dieguito High School Academy located in Southern California, and is looking forward to studying at Barnard College at Columbia University next fall. She loves pretty much everything from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, to classic American Literature, but above all learning new things and meeting new people. Like her older brother Zack (who also works at Magoosh!), she also enjoys drinking copious amounts of coffee.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

No comments yet.

Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will only approve comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! 😄 Due to the high volume of comments across all of our blogs, we cannot promise that all comments will receive responses from our instructors.

We highly encourage students to help each other out and respond to other students' comments if you can!

If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service from our instructors, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!

Leave a Reply