Many high school students spend time volunteering or participating in community service activities as part of their high school graduation requirements. Those who are not required to participate by their school often participate in order to bolster their college applications.
Volunteering, or participating in activities to help others, is always a good thing, whatever the motivation. However, one negative outcome of this requirement is that many students, once they get to college, feel they no longer “need” to volunteer since the school no longer requires participation and their college applications are done. Like participation in extracurricular activities, some students see these activities as a means to an end (college admission) and may not realize many of the other benefits.
Talk about giving back
Help your student think about why volunteering or donating his time to a worthy cause might be a good thing to do. Aside from the benefit to the organization, he will gain much himself.
Discuss some of the benefits your student might gain from volunteering during the college years:
- Your student will gain experience and may learn new skills that will be directly transferable to his chosen career. Skills such as working as a team, problem solving, speaking to groups, interpersonal communication skills, and responsibility are things best learned through direct experience rather than in a classroom.
- Your student will have an opportunity to try his wings and gain confidence in his abilities.
- Your student will have an opportunity to work with others who may be different from him. Working with people of different ages, backgrounds, cultures or values will help him learn both about others and about himself and prepare him for a diverse workplace.
- Your student will make new friends.
- Your student will have an opportunity for networking and getting to know people who may help him connect with others when he is ready to begin his job search.
- Your student may make connections with people who would be willing to write a reference for him. Having a reference from someone who knows and has worked with your student outside of the classroom, and who may be able to speak to his work ethic and responsibility, could be invaluable.
- Your student may have an opportunity to volunteer for something related to his chosen career. This will allow him both to explore the potential career field, and also gain experience that will strengthen his resume.
- Volunteering relieves stress as your student spends a few hours each week thinking about and focusing on others.
- Your student will be sending a message to future employers that he lives his values, that he goes beyond the minimum required, and that he is willing to work for causes in which he believes.
- Your student may find that he has a lot of fun.
- Your student will feel good about himself as he works to do good, to change lives, and to make the world a better place.
Fitting it in a busy life
Most volunteer opportunities are part-time and can be managed around your student’s class schedule. Your student may also gain skills in time management as he works his schedule to be able to fit in time for his volunteer work.
If your student needs to travel off campus, he can ask others to join him and may even be able to make arrangements for the college to help with transportation.
Volunteering should be just that – volunteer – so don’t insist or pressure your student. But have a conversation about the values and benefits of spending some time working for the good of others.
What to do?
College students who choose to spend time in volunteer activities may do so for many reasons. Some students find or believe in a particular cause and want to do all that they can to further that effort. Other students may want to give of their time, but they are not sure what they want to do, or they are not sure what options exist.
Some colleges have an office or a designated person whose responsibility is to help students find and manage meaningful volunteer or community service opportunities. If your student’s school has such a resource, this may be the best place to begin. Your student may also talk to faculty members or other students (particularly upper class students) about opportunities.
Although you may know less about the available options at school, you do know your student. If he asks for your advice, one good approach may be to simply ask some questions that will help him make decisions about what he would like to do. You’ll have your own questions, but here are a few to get you started:
- Is there a cause that you believe in or a need that you have recognized that you would like to address? If so, is there an organization (or several organizations) that address that need?
- If you have found an organization that interests you, what opportunities do they offer for volunteering? Are any opportunities local? Have you checked their website?
- What do you enjoy doing? What kinds of activities would you enjoy participating in?
- Are you willing to do anything that is needed or do you have specific things that you hope to be able to do – or that you would be unwilling to do?
- How much time can you commit to volunteering?
- Do you have transportation?
- Are there opportunities available on campus?
- Are there other students who might be interested in joining you?
- What particular talents or skills can you offer? (Don’t dismiss anything as too small. Many organizations are happy to have willing volunteers even if they don’t bring many skills beyond their enthusiasm.)
- What kind of people are you interested in working with? Do you hope to be able to interact with people who may be different from you – perhaps in age, background, gender, ethnicity?
- What do you hope to learn or gain from the experience?
- Are you able/willing to invest any money in the experience?
- Are you looking for a short-term opportunity or something ongoing that you can continue doing?
- Why do you want to do this?
As your student explores his answers to some of these questions, he may be surprised about what he discovers about his interests and options. Finding a good match between your student and his “cause” will help him continue to be motivated and interested – and help him benefit from his experiences.
If your student chooses to move ahead and volunteer, he may be pleased to discover that, although he is working to help others, he is benefiting as much as anyone.