Any experience giving back to the community will be looked upon favorably by professional school admissions committees. It would be ideal if some of your volunteering were in a healthcare setting. This would combine volunteering with exposure to the field. Get in the habit of tracking your volunteer hours, as most professional school applications will ask for an estimate of the time you spent volunteering. Volunteering ideas can be found on each individual health professions pathway page. Also, check out the Longhorn Center for Community Engagement at UT Volunteers.org. They have wonderful opportunities and a great way to track your volunteer hours.
How many hours do I need?
Unless specifically stated on the website of a particular health profession program, there are no minimum or maximum levels of expected volunteer hours. While many Physical Therapy programs will state minimum numbers of hours spent observing a licensed Physical Therapist, most health professions will expect that you have spent enough time volunteering, shadowing or observing that you begin to more fully understand the profession you seek to enter.
For example, just because you have spent 500 hours observing a dentist doesn’t necessarily mean you can fully articulate a desire to become a dentist yourself. Remember, you will be held accountable for discussing your volunteer and work experience in your essay and ultimately at your interview. Logging hours isn’t going to carry the conversation; true passion and understanding of the profession will.
When should I start volunteering?
Although your first inclination as a freshman might be to start volunteering immediately, it isn’t always the best course of action, or even necessary. You only have one first semester of grades, so make it count. Establish yourself academically during the first year of college; you’ll have time to work your way into a clinical setting later. This first year is crucial for building the necessary skills to make the grades needed for admission to a professional school. Shadowing and volunteering are great, but without competitive grades to back them up, the hours spent around patients aren’t being supported. Anyone can volunteer at a hospital or clinic; only competitive applicants can do it while maintaining a high level of academic performance.