The Benefits of Volunteering in College

When I step back and look at what types of activities help lead to success for students in college, I am struck by how many of the most successful students have done volunteer (community service) work while they were in college. This volunteering is quite varied and includes disaster relief, working in a church daycare center, helping on a cancer ward, being a server in a soup kitchen, tutoring, working at a rape crisis center, being involved in a political campaign, etc. Before getting into the benefits of volunteering I need to be clear that volunteering, by definition, is doing work for free. Thus, if you are unable to work for free or feel that your time is too valuable to not get paid, then you will have to think of other activities that can help you succeed in college and beyond. I also want to add that it is great if you can volunteer with some organization that is related to your ultimate career goal, but any kind of volunteering has its benefits.

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As far as numbers, Google reported that “In 2010, 26.1 percent of college students around the United States volunteered, about on par with the overall percentage of Americans who volunteered that year. College student volunteerism peaked at 31.2 percent in 2004, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.”

It would be great if more students volunteered, and I hope this post gets more students to see that volunteering can be beneficial in so many ways. So, here goes:

1) Volunteer work stands out in your resume. Given that only about a quarter of college students volunteer your resume will likely increase your standing relative to your peers. It indicates a certain type of motivation that many other students will not be able to show.

2) When you volunteer, you are doing work that benefits the community and will make you feel good. Whether it is working at a food bank or picking up trash in a park you are improving your community. There is a great deal of self-satisfaction knowing you have helped others in your community.

3) Volunteering shows that you have good time-management skills. You are able to show that you could take on an unpaid position at the same time you are taking classes and participating in other activities.

4) Often, volunteering shows that you can be part of a team. This quality can be very important, especially to employers who expect their workers to be able to interact with others in the workplace. I should note that there are a number of companies that do volunteer work in the community. If you already have volunteer experience, you will likely stand out compared to other applicants.

5) Certain scholarships require community service to apply. Thus, volunteering may boost your ability to get financial aid.

6) When you volunteer you are almost certain to build networks among the people you meet. As you might imagine, these contacts can be an excellent resource when you are looking for a job or need a letter of recommendation. In addition, wherever you volunteer you will form social networks with people who have similar interests.

7) You are able to build on existing skills and develop new skills in a volunteer situation. For example, you might have some computer skills, but in your volunteer position you might learn new ways of using computers. In addition, there are often times when you volunteer when you need to think in new ways. You may have a meager budget but big obstacles to overcome. This can get you to think in creative ways to solve problems.

8) Volunteering offers you the opportunity to explore career options. You are able to check out different activities to give you an idea of what career path might be best for you. In addition, volunteering may let you know that a certain path is really not what you thought it would be.

9) When you are in a volunteer situation you often learn to lead. Although you might not think about this when you start volunteering, many organizations rely on volunteers to get things accomplished. Given the large number of volunteers, it is pretty common for someone (it could be you!) to be made the leader of a group. This may not be what you wanted when you first decided to volunteer, but keep in mind that gaining this leadership experience is a real positive.

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To find out where you can volunteer you just need to:

  • Talk to others
  • Check out http://www.volunteer.gov
  • Contact the Career Center on campus
  • Contact any non-profit organization or charity
  • Contact the Red Cross if there is a natural disaster (e.g., tornado)
  • Ask a religious leader

Also, you might consider volunteering with a friend so that you can make a difference together. In the end, I am confident that you will feel great about volunteering. Not only will it lead to a stronger resume, but more important it will lead to a stronger you!

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Connect With Your Academic Advisor

The end of the semester is already here for some of you. For many others, it’s finals week. For those with finals, I hope everything goes well. Here’s something to think about once you’re finals are done: interacting with your academic advisor.

All students should have an academic advisor—either a staff member or a faculty member (I’m an advisor myself). How should this advisor be helping you during your time in college? If you get on your college’s advising website you will likely see a mission statement. These mission statements generally boil down to two points: an advisor is there to (1) help you develop a plan to make sure you take all the classes you need to graduate and (2) help you move forward with your personal and career goals. The latter can involve presenting certain course options that may be important to your goals as well as providing you with important resources about your plans after college.

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Always keep in mind that advisors are there only to help. Students too often think that advisors are there to make final decisions. This is false. In the end, it’s you, the student, who must make any decision, whether it’s about what courses to take or what career path to follow, even though these decisions can sometimes be quite difficult. Your advisor is there to help you get all the information you need to make these decisions.

Some students don’t understand how valuable an advisor can be. I’ve heard some of them even say that they avoid talking their advisor. I would like to appeal to all students to think about their advisor in a much more positive way; your advisor can help you in so many ways. Here are a few quick pointers to keep in mind when you interact with your advisor:

 1) Try to get to know your advisor by meeting with them more often than just around registration time. Because money is tight on most campuses, your advisor likely has more advisees than they should, and has to meet with many of them to talk about registration. Therefore, if you want to have a meaningful conversation with them, it’s best to arrange a meeting at some other time. Also, don’t think that you’re being an annoyance to your advisor by setting up a meeting. This is what advisors are paid to do.

2) Plan what you’re going to talk about with your advisor. Advising is a two-way street. If you meet with your advisor and only they speak it really is not going to benefit you. You should always have some questions for your advisor when you sit down to talk.

3) Remember that advising involves BOTH course requirements and career planning. Make sure to talk about both of them with your advisor. It’s easy to get too preoccupied with the courses you need to take. Career planning starts as soon as you get into college and all of your advising meetings should involve some career discussion.

 4) Your advisor will have a lot of information for you, which will be up-to-date and accurate. For this reason, I’d be very wary of getting advising help from other students, siblings or your parents. All of these people want to help you out, but that doesn’t stop them from being wrong. I’ve seen students who told me that their sibling said that a certain class was required when they went to school—but that information was out of date.

5) If things aren’t working out with your advisor, consider switching to a different one. Sometimes we have a tough time interacting with certain people—the dynamics we need just aren’t there. This may be true between you and your advisor. Also, some advisors might not be very good at giving you information about your classes and future career. Switching to a new advisor can help you get back on track.

I hope these pointers are helpful, and that you will have a great working relationship with your advisor. Enjoy the Holiday Break and I will be back with a new post at the start of 2016!

Special Guest Writer–Dr. Diane Snow: Combine and Conquer – Using Peer Groups to Achieve

This past Spring, I had the great fortune of traveling to China with numerous UK faculty colleagues. There were so many interesting, yet unfamiliar and daunting experiences.

I was awed and amazed by the Great Wall, and imagined what life must have been like when people roamed the endless steps and towers through their normal daily lives. There were places where the slope of the steps was negligible and climbing was easy. I barely had to pay attention to where or how I was walking, and discourse with others was relaxed. However, there were places where the steps were not adequately deep, forcing me to climb with only my toes to progress. In some cases, the rise of step after step was enormous, and I had to use of all four limbs and a lot of attention to the task to make the trek—truly demanding work.

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It occurs to me now these steps could be seen as a metaphor for the transition from high school to college—an unpredictable and variable journey. Having been a “big fish in a small pond” in my high school, I found the workload unremarkable, and my effort was commensurate. Getting an A in each class did not make me winded. But all of a sudden, there appeared in college a much steeper climb. Courses no longer required just the reading of a chapter by the end of the week, but the reading of a book and a reflective paper in that same span. There was no longer an emphasis on introduction, but a focus on depth, breadth and integration.

While I found this challenge exhilarating, and stepped up my game, this new world view was daunting and presented a paradigm shift. Although early college days are long in my rearview mirror, I still remember the way I coped with this trial of increased volume and demand—networking and team-building. I intentionally reached out and met new people, studied with them, and learned with them. We tested the new waters as a team. We divided up the work, talked about each of our contributions, learned from one another, and solved problems together. We helped each other during triumphs and “face plants” as well, and somehow, we all made it—together. The task felt more manageable when others were facing the same challenges, had the same vision, and agreed to work through it step by step in a unified effort. Likewise, the accomplishments, when they came, were a shared victory and an award that made us stronger and more capable for the next challenge.

So as you’re climbing your Great Wall, don’t feel you need to be a weathered and independent traveler just yet. After all, in a tourist spot like that, there are thousands of friendships just waiting to be made, and so many worthy journeys to take!