If you are looking for a way to give back while learning something new, this list of 10 volunteer opportunities will give you some great options. Opportunities cover a wide range of fields - from public health and animal care to research and awareness in STEM and non-STEM subject areas.
These opportunities are either free or pay a stipend for work undertaken, and while some have an application process, others are always open to volunteers.
Why volunteer over the summer?
Volunteering can be a useful way to learn about your local community, showcase your leadership, and give back. A word of warning - if you’re volunteering to “check the volunteer box” for admissions - then this isn’t probably the best idea. To be most successful in admissions, you should focus on building a spike - an area of deep interest. Volunteering isn’t always that. But, if you’re passionate about a topic and want to give back, volunteering can be a great summer option.
Should you volunteer with a national or local program?
One question that students might ask is whether they should volunteer locally or with national organizations. While the list we've curated is more national in nature, it’s also a good idea to look at local non-profits. One way to do this is by Googling around your local area and seeing which organizations host events or are doing initiatives that you care about. You can reach out directly to them via email.
10 Best Summer Volunteer Programs for High School Students
While this is not typically thought of as a “volunteer” opportunity, some programs are increasingly trying to achieve a two-fold impact: educating talented students in advanced academics and then leveraging their skills to assist in research. This helps groom the next generation of researchers while allowing them to volunteer their time toward significant research projects.
Located in the New York University Campus, students participate in college-level workshops and lab research in subjects such as civil and urban engineering, mechanical and electrical engineering, and robotics. They then work with scientists on the lab’s existing research objectives. Students are expected to make substantial contributions to these projects which span engineering, life sciences, computer, and data sciences.
Fee/stipend: The program offers a stipend of at least $750.
Application process: Yes. Applications open in November 2022 for the 2023 intake (based on the previous year's schedule)
Program dates: June 28, 2023, to August 12, 2023 (tentative, based on the previous year's schedule)
Eligibility: Applicants must be New York City residents who are completing sophomore and junior years in high school in June 2023, are academically prepared and are highly motivated with a passion for science, technology, engineering, and math.
This is a nationally competitive STEM program for high school students where students work beside NASA subject matter experts. The program is focused on Earth and space research and relies on interns to assist with analyzing and visualizing data - key aspects of moving a project faster. All project teams will present their research during the Virtual SEES Science Symposium. There is a virtual, learning component to the program and then an onsite experience on campus at University of Texas, Austin.
Application deadline: Feb 21, 2023 (based on the previous year's schedule)
Program dates: March-August 2023 with the onsite component in July 2023 (based on the previous year's schedule)
Program selectivity: High
Eligibility: Applicants must be sophomores or Juniors in High school. Must be 16 by July 1, 2023, and have a strong interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Ability to complete online requirements prior to the on-site intern program. Must be a U.S. citizen.
Located in BioBase, Harlem, New York, this is a 14-month paid science research internship program where students with a passion for science exploration gain mentored research and teaching experience. During the first summer, students participate in a summer camp boot camp to gain valuable scientific skills. Students then utilize their training and gain teaching experience as camp counselors during the BioBus summer camp program, teaching and mentoring younger students from underrepresented backgrounds with the aim of increasing representation in STEM subjects! As an added bonus, interns receive training and mentorship from Ph.D. scientists while developing their own independent projects using research-grade microscopes and equipment.
The program offers a stipend, but the amount is not known.
Application deadline: Rolling basis and depending on requirements for interns
Program dates: June 2023 - May 2024 (tentatively, based on last year’s schedule)
Program selectivity: Moderate
Eligibility: Applicants must be NYC high school students with a genuine interest in science and working with younger students on research.
Pro tip: Since these programs require technically skilled volunteers/interns, a lot of them are very competitive. You’ll need to be very skilled to assist scientists in any meaningful way. Be sure to apply for multiple programs and line up alternate options to be on the safe side.
A lot of social impact work is done in the area of public health and increasing access to health care.
The American Red Cross mobilizes workers and volunteers across the nation for an array of healthcare-related activities such as blood donation, disease management, and disaster response. Volunteer with this organization as part of any of these verticals. You will save lives and get a first-hand look into the various healthcare-related problems in the country (and get inspired, maybe?).
The best part is that the database locates opportunities near you based on your zip code so that it is convenient for you to volunteer and even figure out a more long-term arrangement to keep yourself associated with the American Red Cross.
Application process: None, just register on the portal and locate opportunities!
Pro tip: If you like volunteering here, you can eventually pitch yourself for more high-stake ambassador/advocacy projects and showcase yourself as a leader.
Poverty alleviation, humanity, equality, and inclusion
This may strike a personal chord with many of you and there are many organizations that work on different facets of poverty alleviation, humanity, equality, and inclusion. It is a complex issue and requires work on multiple fronts.
This is a virtual volunteer program in which you can provide tutor refugees, recent immigrants and low-income youth in English language and literacy-oriented subjects. They also have projects globally, so be sure to fill in the registration form and see which projects you can be paired with.
Application process: None, sign up at the homepage. They will automatically match you to specific projects (although this is virtual, the projects are identified based on the country and zipcode you enter)
Special Olympics is a global movement that focuses on the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities through programming in sports, health, education, and community building. You can volunteer yourself for an array of roles depending on your strengths: coaches, trainers, officials, event organizers, fundraisers, and managers
Application process: None, just register on the portal and locate opportunities!
This is a very well-known volunteer network in the United States. It has an extensive network of local clubs with multiple volunteer opportunities. Whether it is mentoring younger children, volunteering at the local library or organizing events at a youth center - if you are interested in making your community a better place then be sure to scope out projects here.
Application process: None, just enter your zip code and locate opportunities near you!
Senior / elderly care needs extensive help from volunteers to keep their services running and keep society engaged with more ‘neglected’ segments of the population. This organization serves more than 2.4 million seniors from 60 to 100+ years old each year! So, no matter where you are in the United States, you’ll find volunteer opportunities for yourself - whether it’s assisting in the kitchens, delivering meals or eating with the meal recipients.
Application process: Register yourself here.
Pro Tip: If you are passionate about engaging more deeply with the elderly, then you’ll find that most senior care homes across the country need volunteers to help run programs such as senior game nights, dances, and care provision. If you would like to volunteer somewhere close to where you live, it’s a great idea to look up some of these care facilities and reach out to them directly! They are fairly welcoming to volunteers.
If you love animals, then nothing is more rewarding than rehabilitating animals and getting them adopted or released back into their natural habitat.
9. Humane Society Chapters
There are Humane Society / Animal Humane Society chapters across the United States which accept volunteers. Take, for example, the Animal Humane Society in Minnesota. This program welcomes student volunteers with open arms at each of its three shelter locations in Minnesota. The volunteers can pick either of the following tracks:
Adoption Floor Assistants: Provide customer assistance, help connect animals with potential adopters, and provide animal socialization, which helps keep animals happy and healthy.
Animal Care Assistants: Ensure animals are provided with clean, comfortable housing which leads to healthier, happier, and ultimately more adoptable animals.
If accepted, you pay a program fee of $50
Eligibility: At a minimum, applicants must be entering 10th grade.
Pro tip: Look up Humane Society chapters in your area or generally identify animal shelters. Sometimes it’s easier to customize projects with local shelters - such as revamping their site and social media presence or fostering/rehabilitating animals.
Preserving art and culture
If preserving art, heritage and culture is something that you are passionate about, then consider reaching out to your local museums. Most museums require volunteers for a variety of functions such as: assisting with preservation, curation, logging pieces, designing tours, building social media presence, and fundraising. While some of these programs are positioned as volunteer opportunities, some position themselves as internships because they offer a stipend. The net result is that you learn a lot and contribute in a meaningful way toward preserving art and culture while creating awareness around it.
Located in San Francisco, California, this year-long internship provides unique opportunities and career training for public high school students in grades 10–12. Interns discover Asian art and cultural traditions, learn from local artists and arts organizations, engage in social justice and youth activism, conduct informational interviews with museum staff to explore careers in the arts and develop their leadership skills by creating and facilitating hands-on art activities.
This program provides a stipend (amount unknown).
Application deadline: Closed for 2022. To be announced for 2023.
Program dates: August-May
Pro tip: if you are targeting a history or anthropology major, this can be an excellent opportunity for you!
One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you’d like to also do research, consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 2100 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.