Many students will grudgingly go along with doing volunteer work to simply “pad’ their resume. Maybe you did this in high school in order to make your college application look better. Well, let me tell you that this is the wrong reason to be doing volunteer work.
How can volunteer work in college create career opportunities? By opening doors to a world you may have otherwise not known existed. Volunteering can also force you to stretch yourself in ways you didn’t know was possible. This is what can lead to success in a career.
Volunteer work is truly a win-win scenario. It allows you to gain much needed experience that will contribute to your growth and development as a college student. In return you will be helping others by giving back as a volunteer.
When you take money out of the equation as a reward, work can take on a whole new meaning and you will have a different perspective. You will see the value of doing the work and the benefit it is bringing. All too often we see work as a means to make money and that is all.
I strongly believe that this new perspective will change you and your outlook on what a career can be.
Keep it Professional
Being a volunteer doesn’t mean that you have the flexibility and choice to do whatever you want when you want. It’s important to mention that this is the real deal and you need to act like it.
This means that you must be a professional at all times. You show up on time. You treat people with respect. You show commitment by following through with what you say you’ll do. You go the extra mile. You stand out in a good way. You follow and give directions. You take any required training seriously. And you take and give constructive feedback.
By doing this, you are setting yourself up for a career. When you graduate college, you will be expected to be a professional in your career. I don’t care what it is that you’ll be doing, all of those professional skills I just mentioned are a part of any profession.
It’s best to practice these skills as much as you can now so that you are that much more polished when it comes time to enter the real world.
Find Something You Believe In
When seeking volunteer opportunities, look for something that you believe in. Something that you can get behind and fuel your passion and energy. It doesn’t have to be something that will save the world, it just has to be something you feel a connection to.
I recommend that you start with looking into opportunities related into your desired career and connect them to a cause you believe in. If you want to be in marketing and you have a passion for helping children, look for a volunteering opportunity at a local children’s hospital to volunteer in the marketing department or at a boys and girls club.
Often when I coach college students I talk about stretching yourself. You see, there are goals that most people will set and then there are stretch goals. These stretch goals almost seem unobtainable when you set them. But that’s the point. You need to stretch yourself to make it happen.
This can certainly be applied to volunteering as well. And, I believe that you need to shoot for the moon in the volunteering space and test the waters before going full on in a career and fail.
Which, failure is a part of the process by the way. It’s a good thing. It’s how we learn. But it’s how you handle the failure that is telling. Is your reaction to immediately do an about face and never want anything to do with what you failed in again? Or do you feel even more motivated to succeed after failing at something? If it’s the latter, then you’re on to something.
Don’t ever let fear or the feeling of being vulnerable stand in the way of you volunteering for something. Go for it! You may surprise yourself.
There may be times where you need to temper your enthusiasm with volunteering. What I mean by this is that you are probably a very busy person already as a college student. Adding volunteering on top of your already busy schedule can sometimes create problems. You just can’t do it all given your schedule.
Be sure to not overcommit yourself in the process of doing volunteer work. Make sure it can realistically fit into your schedule. How many hours a week will it require? If there is true flexibility in the number of hours you can work, then only commit to a realistic amount for you.
Are there any travel requirements or is the work all done off campus and you don’t have reliable transportation? This is another point to consider.
It’s important to think of any potential obstacles and time constraints before fully committing to volunteer work.
Use your Breaks
A perfect time to do volunteer work is during you summer or winter breaks – or both! The scheduling conflicts we just discussed shouldn’t be as much of an issue during your break. And, because of this you can invest more of your time and get fully ingrained in the opportunity.
I would also suggest that if you have another part-time job during your summer break, that you still try and find a part-time volunteering opportunity as well. Talk about serious resume material! Employers love this level of dedication by college students!
But keep in mind, you still don’t want to overcommit if you truly can’t handle it all.
Volunteer Early and Often
There is no wrong time to volunteer and gain valuable experience. However, the earlier you can start the better. I encourage students to start as soon as possible. I’ve seen students spend their summer break after graduating high school and before they start college volunteer. If you can swing that, then swing away!
Your freshman year is the best time to start volunteering. Many freshmen don’t qualify for internships yet, so they may feel they just have to wait to do any kind of real work until later. Nope! You can get started right now doing volunteer work.
You may even find that doing volunteer work helps you with the transition into college. Many freshmen feel overwhelmed in the classroom, and rightfully so. There’s a lot to absorb. But also, just meeting new people and making friends can be hard. Getting out of the classroom and spending time with others volunteering is a great way to take a break from the books and meet new people.
Volunteering and Personal Development
To be clear, the type of volunteer work I’m advocating for here is work that will help you along your chosen career pursuit but doesn’t have to directly related to what you’re studying. Look for areas you need personal development in.
Think along the lines of soft skills here. Skills that you should be developing for any career. This is how you will get real value towards your career plan when doing volunteer work.
For example, if you volunteered at Habitat for Humanity and were responsible for the coordination and scheduling of the volunteers, this can add real value to you developing people and your organizational skills. Even though you’re studying to be an engineer.
Don’t force yourself to work with money or data in some capacity if your studying to be a financial analyst. Find other ways to grow and develop yourself personally outside of what you’re already learning in the classroom.
How to Find Volunteer Work
Volunteer work is everywhere. You can start by asking around on campus or even asking your college advisor and professors.
If you need more specific direction, I’ve included a list below of ideas and organizations you can start with.
Church or house of worship
If you are affiliated with a church or house of worship, you can inquire into volunteer opportunities there. Most will have some options for you to consider.
Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity can go beyond just building houses, but you should start by helping to build a house at least once. It’s a great way to have some fun and do things you had no idea you could do.
Check out your local library. They will often have volunteer opportunities there in the library or at times will advertise opportunities elsewhere.
ASPCA & Humane Society
Retirement homes can be quite lonely for the elderly. Volunteering your time at these homes can add some light into both their day and yours.
There are food pantries everywhere. As with above, you can start with your church or house of worship first.
Look for local chapters of a professional association related to your career pursuit. A good place to start is Career One Stop for a listing of associations.
Tutor or Mentor (upper classmen)
If you are a Junior or Senior, being a Tutor or Mentor is a great way to volunteer your time. Check with your career services department, your school’s office or professors. Otherwise, if you simply here that someone needs help, offer to mentor them.
There are a variety of non-profit organizations that support veterans. All do offer volunteer opportunities. Here are a few to start with:
Volunteers of America
Volunteers of America is a program that helps in a variety of ways. They are always seeking volunteers.
Big Brothers Big Sisters
Big Brothers Big Sisters offers volunteer work for those that have a desire to mentor children in need. It’s a great opportunity to make a huge impact on children’s lives.
I found this list of children’s hospitals on Wikipedia. Many of these hospitals will offer volunteer work for college students. If you think you’re having a rough time in college, give a visit to a children’s hospital and it will change your perspective.
Be a Coach
At the least you can give blood with the Red Cross. You can also get involve in other events and activities including local blood drives.
Doing volunteer work as a college student can be a very rewarding experience personally and will certainly create career opportunities as well. You may find that you have a certain skill and passion in an area that was uncovered while volunteering. This could be the tipping point that leads you into a very fulfilling career.
It’s important to follow your heart when thinking about volunteering. Find something you believe in and try and stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone. When you do so, you may find yourself energized like you’ve never been before. Then find a way to turn this newfound energy into a career!
Anthony lives in Indiana with his wife and 3 daughters. His passions (besides his family) in no particular order are making and listening to music that pleases his ears, taking pictures (still & moving), avoiding crowded places and good writing. He also happens to be the Founder of Career Energy.