Volunteering has a meaningful, positive effect on your community. It can have many benefits for you, too. It can help you give back to society, break down barriers and even have fun.
Helping Others Can Help You
You may have heard that volunteer experience is a plus on your college applications. Keep in mind, though, that colleges are not just looking for a list of organizations and dates. They want to see a complete picture of you, and real examples of your commitment, dedication and interests.
Reasons to Volunteer
Gain Valuable Life Experiences and Skills
Whether you build houses for the homeless or mail flyers for a local politician, you can experience the real world through hands-on work. You can also use this experience to explore your major or career interests.
Meet Interesting PeopleVolunteering brings together a variety of people. Both the recipients of your volunteer efforts and your coworkers can be rich sources of insight. For example, maybe you'll learn about the legal profession from a former lawyer you visit at a convalescent center.
Get Academic Credit
Some schools and colleges offer academic credit for volunteer work through service-learning. This teaching method integrates hands-on learning (through service to the community) into the curriculum. To find out if your school offers service-learning, talk to your school counselor.
Send a Signal to Colleges
Colleges pay attention to your life inside and outside the classroom. Your extracurricular activities reveal a great deal about you, such as what your interests are, whether you can manage your priorities and maintain a long-term commitment, what diversity you'd bring to the student body, and how you've made a contribution to something.
Keep in mind, colleges are not interested in seeing you do it all. It's more meaningful to colleges to see your dedication to one or two activities than to see that you've spread yourself thin.
"Community service, which was required at my high school, was a big wow with interviewers. It's even better if you can match your service with your career interest. For example, volunteer at a hospital if you're planning on med school," says Faith, a college student.
How to Get Involved
There are many people, places and organizations that need volunteers. Here’s how to get started:
- Look for programs based in your community. Call and ask if they need help.
- Visit your town’s website. It may list volunteer opportunities in your area.
- Contact your local United Way, a local cultural arts association, your student organization, or similar associations that can point you in the right direction.
- Ask libraries, religious organizations and community colleges if they sponsor any volunteer groups.
- Check out the following websites to learn more about causes and to find volunteer opportunities near you.
Before You Volunteer
It's important that you enjoy the type of service you choose and that you have the time to stick with it. Ask yourself these questions before you get involved with an organization.
- How much time do I have to commit?
- Do I want an ongoing regularly scheduled assignment, a short-term assignment or a one-time assignment?
- Am I willing to participate in a training course?
- What talents or skills can I offer?
- What would I most like to learn by volunteering?
- What don't I want to do as a volunteer?
- Do I want to work alone or with a group?
- With what kind of people do I want to work — both in terms of who is receiving my services and who my coworkers might be?