Students Doing Good: The 10 Top College Service Projects


Older generations have always trotted out the perennial stereotypes about young people being apathetic, lazy, and self-absorbed. However, the Millennial generation now occupying America’s colleges has gone a long way toward defying that old chestnut. Indeed, this cohort of youngsters can often more accurately be painted as being so earnest and well-meaning that it’s almost creepy. Whether it’s mission trips, charity walks, or food drives, there’s no end of good deeds being done by today’s students. Here are 10 of the most impressive service projects being carried out on campuses across the country:

  1. Givology at University of Pennsylvania

    In 2008 a group of students at Wharton, Penn’s renowned business school, launched a website by the name of Hunger and Homelessness Auction at Yale University

    For the past two decades, Yalies studying to become health professionals have orchestrated this annual charity event to raise money for the indigent and destitute population of surrounding New Haven, which, despite the presence of one of the world’s leading educational institutions, has long been an economically troubled region. The night features both live and silent auctions of donated items ranging from VIP Red Sox tickets to chauffeur service to a string quartet performance.

  2. The Big Event at Texas A&M University

    This March will see Texas A&M’s 31st annual Big Event, designed as a way for students to embody their appreciation for the community (the towns of Bryan and College Station) their school belongs to. Efforts are concentrated on maintenance and improvement of homes and outside areas, with local residents invited to make job requests. Last year over 17,500 students participated for at least four hours as individuals, groups, or organizations. The Big Event describes itself as “the largest one-day student-run service project in the nation” and is run by a well-organized volunteer staff.

  3. One World Global Health at the University of Central Florida

    Second-year UCF medical student Erin Purdy started this 501(c)3 charity on her own. It’s another crowdfunding platform, this one for low-cost medical interventions that save lives globally. OWGH’s first initiative is the Pneumococcal Vaccine Challenge, aiming to raise $10,000 for vaccinating children against four preventable diseases. All proceeds go to the UN’s Shot at Life foundation, which spends 95% of the money directly on administering vaccines.

  4. Undie Run at San Diego State University

    This tradition has spread to colleges across the country and even attracted sponsors like Axe Body Spray, but don’t hold that against it. The Undie Run began at SDSU, but some of the largest runs are at UCLA, Arizona State University, and the University of Texas at Austin. Students often show up loaded with multiple layers of clothing, as they will be shedding it all to donate to local charities before running in their skivvies.

  5. Chuck it for Charity at the University of Virginia

    Each May, at colleges across America, untold amounts of stuff are abandoned or thrown away: clothes, furniture, appliances, electronics, and even the occasional Fathead poster or beer bong. Some schools are doing their best to minimize waste and encourage students to reuse and recycle. UVA has one of the best-organized such programs, Chuck it for Charity, which partners with local groups to accept reusable goods at multiple locations on campus, to save useful stuff from being thrown in a dumpster. There’s also the side benefit of making the move-out easier and more convenient for students.

  6. THON at Penn State

    THON is short for the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, which bills itself as “the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.” The yearlong drive to raise money for pediatric cancer culminates in a 46-hour dance marathon, a stunt originally cooked up in the Great Depression, as portrayed in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? … although this version is a bit more cheerful, being danced by hale and hearty college students for charity instead of by the desperate, destitute, and dizzy. The THON has been around since 1977, and raised an unbelievable $10.7 million last year alone.

  7. Bucks for Charity at The Ohio State University

    For the whole second half of the fall semester, OSU conducts a massive fundraiser for 10 different charities, including multiple United Way chapters in the area. Dollars are solicited from Buckeye (thus the punny name) students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The campus-wide donation drive raises over a million bucks every year.

  8. Serving Your New Community (SYNC) at the University of Idaho

    This clever initiative puts incoming freshman to work each fall in the town of Moscow and the surrounding area. Much like the Big Event at Texas A&M, SYNC is a hands-on way to establish a grateful symbiosis between town and gown. Students spend the day on “tree planting, watershed restoration, park care, energy and water conservation efforts and much more!”

  9. Radiothon at Northwestern University

    This year marks a quarter-century for the Radiothon, which was created in 1988 to honor William Arnold, a Northwestern student who died of cardiac arrhythmia. The event raises several thousand dollar each year, which is split between the American Heart Association and the equipment fund at the Communications Residential College, the dorm for aspiring broadcasters where Arnold was serving as equipment manager at the time he died. It’s a 50-hour telethon featuring “an hour of phone-in mad libs, an hour of ‘happy’ songs and an hour of ukulele covers,” and culminating with an epic sing-along to “Piano Man” by Billy Joel.

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