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.

volunteers-601662_1280

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.

volunteer-global

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!

Advertisements

Decisions, Decisions…Choosing a Major

          The Spring semester is ready to start and for many of you it is probably time to start thinking about choosing a major, or if you already have a major, deciding if your major is best for you. Just to be clear a major involves the concentrated study of a specialty area. These specialty areas are referred to as “disciplines”. Psychology is a discipline. Similarly, disciplines include English, Hispanic Studies, Economics, Mechanical Engineering…I think you get the picture! It is possible to have two majors–a “double-major” for those who have two primary interests.

student&computer-15812_1920          It would be nice if I could simply tell you what to major in, but that decision has to be yours (no matter how much your parents think it should be their decision!). For some of you choosing a major will be relatively easy. Let’s say you want to be an accountant, you will major in Accounting. In this example, your major allows you to enter a profession upon graduating. This example is what we call a “vocational major” and it involves an applied career. Other vocational majors include Nursing, Education, Architecture, Engineering, and Journalism.

          There may be some of you who are also clear on your professional career goals in other fields. As examples, you may be interested in Medicine (not just being a doctor, but a physician’s assistant or physical therapist), Dentistry, or Law. You should understand that there is not a major (e.g., “medical doctor” major) for any of the careers just listed. If you have one of these career goals you will typically choose a major in a discipline directly related to Medicine (e.g., Biology or Chemistry), Dentistry (e.g., Biology or Chemistry), or Law (e.g., Political Science). After graduating with your undergraduate degree, you will then apply to a specific “professional school” to get a graduate degree. For example, if you want to be a doctor you will hopefully get into a medical school and graduate with a graduate degree—an M.D. (Medical Doctor). All of these fields have changed quite a bit in recent years and you do not necessarily have to major in a directly related field. In fact, you can major in anything as long as the courses you take meet the requirements of the medical school, dental school, or law school you would like to attend. As an example, I can tell you that there are an ever-increasing number of Psychology majors who apply to medical school and law school.

          Unlike the examples of specific careers above, it is important to keep in mind that most majors prepare you for a range of job opportunities and professions. For example, if you decide to major in History the job opportunities include: advertising executive, analyst, archivist, broadcaster, campaign worker, consultant, congressional aide, editor, foreign service officer, foundation staffer, information specialist, intelligence agent, journalist, legal assistant, lobbyist, personnel manager, public relations staffer, researcher, and teacher. For many students, having a major with multiple career options is a real advantage.

          If you really do not know what to major in, try to keep calm about it. You will start college as “Undeclared” or “Undecided”, but you will be fine for two reasons. First, at most four-year colleges and universities, you are not required to declare a major until the end of your sophomore year. Second, it is important that you take the time and effort necessary to make an informed choice. This way, in the end you will be rewarded with a major that will help guide you to a successful career. Exploring different majors will require some research, including reading about different majors, talking to others students and faculty and even taking a course in various majors. Other ways to help you decide about majoring is searching the Internet, reading about different majors, talking to your academic advisor, talking to your parents, going to the Career Center on campus, attending meetings of student organizations and clubs, and reading campus bulletins. One thing I will add about taking classes in different disciplines is that while all students seem to know what certain majors are about (e.g., Biology and Psychology), until you take an Anthropology or a Geology course you may not really understand what career possibilities there are in these lesser known majors. As a student said to me, “When I came to college I didn’t have my major chosen and I would  advise    people to explore. Say you do know what your major is, still explore different classes. That’s what your first two years are for. Then if you don’t like your major you’ve already found out. You don’t want to find out your senior year.” A faculty colleague also said to me: “Shop around! Take a broad assortment of classes and see what is the best fit. Don’t be afraid to try out a class that you think you might hate. Make sure that you pick a major that will help you think about the world in a new way.”

          There is one final point to make about majors: Changing your major is not the end of the world. On the one hand, it is OK to change your major because it is critical that you decide on a major that is best for you. In fact, some students will change majors several times before deciding on a good fit. On the other hand, it is important to understand that when you change majors you always risk delaying your graduation date, hopefully by just a little but possibly by a lot. This may occur because certain courses you need for one major do not fulfill requirements for another major. In addition, your new major may require additional courses to be taken. Of course, you should check out all requirements for a major you like and discuss the implications of switching majors with your academic advisor.

Special Guest Writer–Jenny Wu (post grad): Lessons From a post-Grad

Do you have an approach to college? Have you thought about what your goals for college are? I didn’t. For those of you who are just starting to apply, who have just stepped on their campus of choice for the first week of classes, or who have just switched their major for the first time, remember this: you must be bold in college. When signing up for classes, meeting new people, or deciding what to do in the summer, be bold.

I was frantic the last two years of my high school life: writing essays, deciding whether to apply to 7 colleges or 12, traveling on the weekends or breaks to tour college campuses with my father who was probably just as stressed and anxious as I was about what my decision would be as I was. I never asked myself when I made my college decision about what I wanted my lifestyle to be like or what I wanted to do after college and whether the colleges I was considering would be able to help me get there. The phrase “professional development” never crossed my mind. I can confession now that I made my decision based on branding, on reputation, and on the affirmation of my parents and high school teachers.

Throughout college, I had the traditional experiences and then created many of my own. I went to classes, did my homework, crammed for my exams. I pulled all-nighters, went to parties, slept over in my friends’ dorm rooms. I lived in dorms, moved out of dorms, work-studied, got a real job. I had a great time doing these things, but upon graduating, I realize that those years and months when my life revolved solely around the campus and my classmates actually taught me the least out of all of my four undergraduate years. The best thing that ever happened to me is when I realized I was bored going to the same house parties, bars, classroom buildings, and club meetings.

I became bold. I had started academic and social activities on campus since the first month of my freshman year. I found my own internship the spring semester of my sophomore year through cold calling and finding connections/references. I sought a good research mentor my sophomore year: took a whole semester e-mailing professors and graduate students and going to interview with them until I settled on working in the lab of the professor I have now worked with for almost four years. I completed a minor outside of the college of Arts & Sciences, which my major was in. For all of these experiences, I had to hassle administrators for overrides or to enroll in independent credits after the add/drop period. I had to cudgel faculty members to sign my paperwork for my internship as an advisor. The entire struggle to create my college experiences outside of the structured programs at my university taught me more about myself and being an adult than anything else did at the time.

So be bold going into college. Be bold while you’re a college student on campus and off-campus. Don’t start your adult life after graduation. Start it now.

View Jenny Wu's LinkedIn profile View Jennifer Wu’s profile