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Volunteer tutoring

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One common activity for high schoolers to engage in is volunteer tutoring. Tutoring can improve one's communication skills, can help one connect with one's peers, and can feel good. However, the social value connected with volunteer tutoring is lower than it might initially appear:

  • Because college admissions is a zero-sum game, doing things that help some students get into college makes it harder for other students to get into college. Thus, by helping some students improve their grades, one has an indirect negative impact on other students.
  • A lot of what's taught in school isn't used later in life. For example, most adults who have completed college don't use high school math. Furthermore, if a student is struggling with a subject, he or she is relatively unlikely to go into a career that uses it. So whether the knowledge imparted has lasting value is unclear.
  • When people find something useful, they're often willing to pay for it. Students whose families can afford tutoring are not in genuine need of volunteer tutoring. Some students' families can't afford tutoring, and volunteering tutoring can be conceptualized as helping people in financial need. But there are people in much greater financial need than high school tutees, who one can help instead by earning to give.