If you take part in social action such as volunteering, the skills you gain from it can help with your UCAS application. Helping others is a good thing to do anyway, but you can also use your experience and commitment as a way of showing how your participation has helped you develop. The qualities and personal growth that you get from taking part could really make your personal statement stand out in your UCAS Application.

What is social action?

People define social action in slightly different ways, but what it essentially means is "taking practical action in the service of others to create positive change".

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What social action means to me

Ashish Ramuni, who participated in the National Citizen Service (NCS) talking about how volunteering gave him skills like team work, leadership and communication.

What social action means to me

Chloe Jackson, who participated in the National Citizen Service (NCS) talking about how important she thinks 'soft skills' are when applying through UCAS.

What social action means to me

George Webster, who participated in the National Citizen Service (NCS) talking about how his volunteering helped him articulate what he had to offer at University.

What social action means to me

Max Horwood, who participated in the National Citizen Service (NCS) talking about how volunteering helped him demonstrate his skills in his UCAS application.

What social action means to me

Nairn McDonald, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP) talking about what volunteering means to him and how it allows you to stand out from the crowd.

Volunteering takes many forms. It can be regular, structured activity (like a weekly group meeting) or it can be short term, one-off activities. The important thing is that you are going out of your way to help others.

What is social action?

In 2014, the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) led an investigation called ‘Growing Giving’ which looked at how people of all ages can get involved with supporting good causes. One of the ideas in the final report was to make sure that young people who give their time and effort to make a positive contribution to society get recognition for it. Talking about volunteering and social action in personal statements gives all applicants a great way of demonstrating their character and interests.

"NCS was the perfect way to illustrate to universities that not only did I have the communication skills, time management and the independence to survive university but also that I had the commitment and drive that goes beyond the exam syllabus. It looked great on my personal statement and they even asked me about it in my interview!" Evie Aspinall - holding an offer from Cambridge University
"In my UCAS application I talked about the skills I'd gained through Girlguiding. Volunteering can set you apart – it shows you have skills and interests and that you’re willing to give up your time to help others. I think my Girlguiding experiences made me stand out and was one reason I got my offers. " Emma Gees, 24 from Leeds, studying Medicine at University of Leeds
"NCS has helped me in a number of ways on UCAS. To start with, NCS gave me loads to write about on my personal statement as through NCS I have developed many skills. Also, through my NCS journey, I have had several presentations on what to do/say and what not to do/say in interviews for university which has been very beneficial to me." Emily Farrell- will be applying 2015/16
"My involvement in social action through Girlguiding volunteering formed the backbone of my UCAS personal statement. Transferring the speaking skills I’ve learnt to my University interview gave me the confidence I needed to get through! " Ellie Dibben, 18 from Hemel Hempstead, completed UCAS application and will start university in September 2015
"To me, social action is making a difference through donating your time. At school I volunteered a lot and I reflected this in my personal statement. I included the social action I had done but tailored it to my chosen degree so that it was cohesive and supported my application." Charlotte Hodgson 20, from Bournemouth now studying at University
"NCS is without doubt one of the main reasons why I was successful in my medicine application. Not only did it form a great chunk of my personal statement, it also gave me the confidence and communication skills needed for the notoriously difficult interviews. It also allowed me to demonstrate my leadership skills, compassion and ability to make a real difference to the lives of others." Emeka Obasi – holding offers in medicine from UCL and King’s College
What do you get out if it?

People that get involved with social action such as volunteering benefit in a number of ways. Some key skills you can develop through volunteering and taking part in social action are:

Activities to get involved with

Perhaps you're already involved in social action, such as some form of volunteering, or may want to find out more. Well, the great thing is that there truly is something for everyone. Take a look at the information below and have a think about what you already do, and the skills you get from it. Or if you’re looking to try out social action for the first time, you’ll be able to get some ideas about what might interest you!

There are many ways you can get involved in helping out those in your local community. Some suggestions may include:

  • Setting up or leading a community choir
  • Helping out at a foodbank
  • Volunteering in a care home
  • Helping older people learn how to use new technology
  • Volunteering with refugee support services
  • Recording audio books for people who are blind or visually impaired
  • Reading stories to children
  • First aid training
  • Volunteering in a hospital e.g. in wards or A&E
  • Driving people to hospital appointments or taking someone shopping
  • Doing odd jobs for elderly or disabled people
  • Catering for community events
  • Volunteering at a homeless shelter
  • Helping with things like painting and improving an area
  • Litter picking

Being involved in a leadership role a club, society or youth group is a great way to meet people, learn something new, help others and develop your skills. There will be groups in your area you can get involved in, but if there isn’t one focussing on the issue you are passionate about you can set one up yourself!

There are a wide range of clubs and societies that may exist near you in the local community including faith groups. Some well-known uniformed groups include:

  • Girlguiding UK
  • Scouts
  • Boys' Brigade
  • Girls' Brigade
  • St John’s Ambulance
  • Woodcraft Folk
  • Cadets

There may also be student led societies at your school or college which you could take a leadership role in for example groups such as:

  • Drama society
  • Feminist society
  • Chess society
  • Debating society
  • Music group or band

One way to be an active citizen is to get involved in campaigning, using your voice and representing others. Some activities you can be involved with include:

  • Being involved in your student union or school council
  • Running for election to represent your peers in the your local Youth Parliament elections
  • Writing an article for your local paper or a website about an issue you care passionately about
  • Political activity, like organising local candidate hustings for local, national or European elections
  • Joining a political party and/or the party youth wings and getting involved
  • Volunteering at a local MP’s office
  • Organising a protest

There are many ways that you can get involved in local, national or international environmental projects. Some activities you could get involved with include:

  • Gardening
  • Helping people or local groups with construction for example brickwork, carpentry and joinery, and painting and decorating
  • Volunteering on a farm
  • Setting up a sustainability project
  • Helping to protect the local environment and plant and animal species
  • Setting up local recycling schemes
  • Clearing land and rubbish or dredging ponds

There are over 160,000 charities in the UK so it is very likely that you will find a charity that focuses on an issue you care about. Some ways you can get involved are:

  • Fundraising and sponsored activities like collections of food or clothes for charity, non uniform days, fundraising events, stalls or running in a marathon
  • Bag packing
  • Event organising or stewarding
  • Becoming a trustee of a charity
  • Many charities depend on volunteers to help them with a wide range of office type activities including photocopying, stuffing envelopes, minute taking and reception duties
  • Volunteering in charity shops
  • Helping charities with social media and website development

Supporting other people is a great way to volunteer and help others. You can get involved in this by:

  • Peer mentoring
  • Supporting others in person, over the phone or online
  • Digital volunteering for example forum moderation and online mentoring
  • Providing guidance to a younger person
  • Being a school prefect
  • Training, teaching or coaching others
  • Running skills workshops
  • Teaching a second language
  • Homework help, sometimes in after school clubs
  • Befriending elderly people who have few friends or family
  • Translation services
  • Giving guidance on phone help lines

Many local sports teams and clubs are run by charity or community groups. If you are passionate about a sport or outdoor activity you could consider:

  • Organising a sponsored sports event to fundraise for a charity or community group
  • Being a team leader or captain
  • Providing leadership in sports or dance
  • Running leagues or events to encourage new participants
  • Coaching and providing guidance to younger people
  • Refereeing in a sports league

Do you help to look after a family member or friend? You may be a carer. This is someone who provides unpaid support to a family member or friend who could not manage without this help. If you are caring for someone or have cared for someone in the past you may develop skills that are useful for your application. These may include:

  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Prioritisation and managing time
  • Empathy

You may also be eligible for additional financial, practical and emotional support at the university or college of your choice.

Find out more about how you can talk about your caring role in your UCAS application here.

If you want to find out more about Carers Trust and how you can get support for your caring role visit www.carers.org

How you can find our more

You should be able to find something that is right for you. Click on the links below to explore what is available and begin your volunteering and social action journey.

Discover cross-sector pledges to the campaign & research on benefits of social action.
Visit iwill.org.uk
Girlguiding is the leading charity for girls and young women in the UK.
Visit girlguiding.org.uk.
The Scout Association offers life changing adventure to over 445,000 young people across the UK.
Visit scouts.org.uk
vInspired gives under 25s volunteering and social action opportunities, improving their life skills and employability.
Visit vinspired.com
NCS is for 16-17 year olds. Make new friends, experience new activities and learn new skills while challenging yourself and contributing to your local area. Visit ncsyes.co.uk
Volunteer Now encourages young people to seek opportunities and to recognise the skills that they gain through volunteering (NI only).
Visit volunteernow.co.uk
Student Hubs inspires student engagement with social action across 10 universities in the UK.
Visit studenthubs.org
ASDAN provides a structured curriculum for Volunteering (certificated) and skills-based qualifications with UCAS tariffs.
Visit asdan.org.uk
Do-it.org is the UK's home of volunteering, search thousands of opportunities for a role near you.
Visit do-it.org

Know of an organisation that should be listed on here, or want to tell us how you’ve benefited from your social action journey? Let us know by emailing campaigns@cafonline.org or on twitter @cafonline