What Students in Ontario Need to Know About Volunteering

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What Students in Ontario Need to Know About Volunteering

While volunteerism is important all year long, April is National Volunteer Month in Canada, representing an exciting time to recognize people who give back to the community. If your child is currently in high-school, it’s also an opportune time to think about filling the summer months ahead with compulsory volunteer hours needed to graduate. You may be wondering where to start. Not to worry, the Teachers on Call in-person and online tutoring team is here to help. Our tutors are certified teachers (including high-school guidance counsellors) who know a lot about student volunteerism and have valuable ideas to share. Read on to learn how to maximize student volunteer opportunities to create meaningful experiences for youth.

Volunteerism and community service is a core value for the Teachers on Call online and in-person tutoring team. We believe deeply in contributing to the communities in which we live, as well as encouraging students to do the same. There are endless advantages for students to start volunteering early on including building self-esteem, new friendships, and experience for resumes. Yet, community service is also a graduation requirement for high-school students to receive their Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD). Since the pandemic, there is some confusion around this community involvement requirement, as well as how to find youth volunteer opportunities. In this blog, we will cover everything families need to know!

Volunteering is Mandatory for Students to Graduate from High-School in Ontario

To earn an Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD), there are specific high-school graduation requirements, which includes students must earn 18 compulsory credits, 12 optional credits, a minimum of 2 online learning credits, as well as complete a minimum of 40 hours of community involvement activities. While the community hours were reduced at one point during the pandemic for students graduating in the 2021-2022 school year, all requirements have been restored for students graduating in 2022-2023 onwards.

But 40 hours, that’s only the minimum! Feel free to encourage your child to volunteer more hours at a place they particularly enjoy or feel valued for their contribution. There are some significant benefits and advantages to putting in more than the minimum when it comes to building a portfolio – as you’ll read on below.

The Ontario Government’s Age Restrictions on Volunteer Opportunities for Teens

There are some kinds of community involvement that students may be barred from participating in due to their ages. According to the Ontario Government, you cannot be a volunteer:

  • Construction project or logging operation if you are under 16 years old
  • Factory setting or restaurant kitchen if you are under 15 years old
  • Other industrial workplaces, such as stores, offices, and arenas, if you are under 14 years old

Where to Find In-Person and Virtual Volunteer Opportunities

If one is looking for general volunteer opportunities, the Ontario Volunteer Centre Network is a great resource and composed of active Volunteer Centres across the province of Ontario. You can visit their website to find the Volunteer Centre nearest you. 

The pandemic also opened possibilities for virtual volunteerism. These opportunities may be more flexible, but also unique, in that they provide volunteer placements that normally would not be possible due to geography.

A principal or guidance counsellor can also be a great resource to get in-person and online volunteer ideas. You can also check your school board website to see what does and does not qualify. When in doubt, be sure to ask, just in case pre-approval is required by the school principal or designate.

Student Volunteer Work Experiences Improve University and College Applications

When applying to universities and colleges (including outside of Canada in the United States), many post secondary institutions look to see where the student has been volunteering to assess skills they’ve learned and how they might have grown personally as a result. In addition to strong mark requirements, many competitive undergraduate level programs require personal statements of experience and reference letters. At the graduate level, there are often final interviews as well, which are opportune times to showcase volunteer leadership examples. Volunteer experiences may also be helpful for scholarship applications.

For example, at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario for the Bachelor of Commerce program, there is a vigorous application process which includes the completion of supplementary essays that are reviewed by an admissions committee. A sample essay question is, “Describe a transformative experience that led to a better understanding of yourself or others”. This is an illustration where a volunteer story may provide a great opportunity to demonstrate personal growth, development, and leadership.

A second example is Western Law at Western University in London, Ontario. They have a holistic application review process, which mentions looking for well-rounded individuals with a variety of experiences and skills, in addition to strong LSAT scores and grades. A personal statement and reference letters are also a requirement.

For a final example at the graduate school level, for applicants interested in the pathway to participate in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario. In addition to strong academic performance, recruitment is focused on individuals who exhibit strong interpersonal and leadership skills and have strong connections to society and their local community. This is evaluated through personal referee assessments, essay responses, and extracurricular activities. 

These are only three examples, however, volunteerism is clearly valued and important.

Examples of Volunteer Opportunities for a Strong Student Resume

It’s always recommended for students to tap into interests. If looking for volunteer inspiration that’s altruistic and may be appealing on university applications, you may want to check out one of these options:

  • Non-profit organization, such as the local chapter of your Habitat for Humanity
  • Charity such as the Canadian Cancer Society
  • Local nursing home or seniors’ residence
  • The Canada Service Corps
  • Nearest hospital or animal shelter’s enrichment programs
  • Your previous elementary school or local library
  • Local YMCA or other local sporting associations

Volunteering Can Help Students Find Jobs and Explore Career Interests

Volunteering doesn’t have to be purely altruistic; it can also be a great means of getting a feel for a career early on. Not only does this experience look attractive to a university, but it also looks great to a future employer, because it may credit you with some experience in the industry. Not to mention, these are also great ways to network and build a rapport with a mentor! In the more immediate future, your supervisor may write you a reference letter or offer to be a recommendation for future jobs. You could even land a part-time job.

Here are some examples of how you can volunteer to “get your feet wet” when looking at career options down the line:

  • Volunteering at your local veterinarian’s clinic or the local zoo (vets, biologists and zoology)
  • Volunteering at the campaign offices or regular offices of local political representative
  • Volunteering at your local museum or art gallery (for careers in curation)
  • Volunteering at an office (for administration, data entry, etc.)

Wherever students volunteer, it’s always recommended to check with the school to ensure their selection qualifies and to understand how to record community hours properly. Feel free to check out the Teachers on Call blog for more enrichment ideas for students. Happy Volunteer Month!

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