Being overwhelmingly busy is the nature of the college beast—it can be tough enough to find time for ourselves. But taking the time to do volunteer work is definitely worth the effort. Firstly, because helping other people is one of the best uses of our time—being kind is worth it for its own sake, plain and simple. But it also allows you to grow as a person, acquire perspective (which isn’t always easy) and—not for nothing—it looks pretty great on a resume. College may actually be the time when you can volunteer the most. It can be pretty difficult to find the time to volunteer when you’re working 40+ hours a week, particularly if you also have a family. So check out some of these ways that you can give back between classes and socializing.
This is perhaps the most obvious form of volunteering, and one of the most impactful. Whether your organization of choice is for animals, the environment, children, the homeless, veterans, those with Alzheimer’s, or whatever other cause interests you, charitable organizations are always looking for spare hands to help with events or even just around the office at local branches. Check out the websites of some national organizations to see how you can get involved, and make sure to check in with local groups, too—smaller organizations often need more regular hands-on help.
If you take a walk around campus, it can seem like there’s an event or fundraiser going on every day. They’re put on by student organizations, university offices, academic departments, or any number of other groups on campus. Whoever organized these types of events, the important thing is that it’s oftentimes students who are running them. If the English department is hosting a talk from a writer, then the department may ask some of its students to volunteer to set up the event or take tickets. The career center, when putting on a job fair, may need students checking people in or providing directions. Alumni events also frequently require student assistance and participation. Asking around at the different groups on campus and checking out bulletin boards in common spaces are surefire ways to get some leads for helping out with campus events.
Get Involved with Youth Organizations
College students can find various opportunities with the local youth. Big Brothers and Sisters is a common volunteer program on college campuses, and mentoring opportunities can often be found through your college or local schools. Working as a Girl Scout or Boy Scout leader is another great way to dedicate time to the community and share your talents with local kids, particularly if you’re the outdoorsy type. Places of worship also frequently need help with their scripture studies and youth programs, if that is an area of interest to you. These kinds of opportunities will give you a regular, scheduled activity that will make a big difference in kids’ lives and also provide a nice breather from your studies.
Election season is heating up, and it’ll stay heated until this time next year (and probably after that, too). Whichever side of the aisle your preferred candidate sits on, working on a political campaign is a unique and rewarding volunteer experience. Campaign fundraising goes a long way, but candidates need boots on the ground to knock on doors, distribute pamphlets, and encourage people to vote. (Fun fact: America’s voter turnout in 2016 was about 55.4 percent—which means there’s room for an almost 100 percent improvement rate in 2020.) This is a point in time that you can make a tangible difference in the 2020 outcome, as young voters come to represent more and more of the voting population. So check out the local campaign office for your favorite candidate to see what opportunities they have for you to be part of the political conversation.
Right now, you’re receiving an in-depth education on a subject that (hopefully) greatly interests you. This is an immense privilege, one that I hope you take the time to appreciate every now and again. Tutoring is an amazing way to share the knowledge you’ve gained with those who may need help learning it. All kinds of subjects can be tutored, from math to reading, and at locations from after-school programs at elementary schools to adult literacy programs. Tutoring programs are often held through your campus’ library, your local library, after-school programs, and privately—as in a parent seeking a tutor directly. Check out these resources, and see if your skills would be useful.
College campuses can be something of a bubble—it’s easy to forget that the campus sits within a larger community. Connecting with that larger community is an amazing way to give back, and there are so many ways to do so: volunteering at a soup kitchen or food bank, manning a table at a 5K downtown, organizing a trash-pickup effort in a park or alongside the highway, spending some time with the elderly at a nursing home, shelving books or reading at story time at the local library. Being a member of the campus community is important, but so is expanding your perspective to your town or city at large.
Alternative Spring Break
Alternative spring break is perhaps the pinnacle of college volunteering. It’s a program through which a group of students and professors spend their spring breaks working on a service project. Many colleges have programs like these, and even if yours doesn’t, there are independent programs that can sponsor your alternative spring break, too. As a bonus, many of these service programs require some kind of travel, sometimes internationally. Projects can include building low-income housing, disaster response efforts, and many more. Ask around campus to see if this is something your school offers, and look online to see what independent organizations you can spend a week with.
Finding time to volunteer can be a challenge, particularly in a time as hectic as college. But finding that time is so important, both to the people your efforts help and to your own personal growth. We’re just around the corner from Thanksgiving, you know—’tis the season for giving back.