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Where Should I Volunteer in College?

Figure Out What Kind of Experience You Want Before Committing to an Organization

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Knowing that you want to volunteer in college can be an easy choice; deciding where to volunteer in college can be a bit more challenging. Being a good volunteer and finding a good opportunity often starts with knowing what kind of volunteer you'll be.

First and foremost: Figure out what kind of work you'd like to do. Do you want to get your hands dirty? Do you want to be outside most of the time? Do you want to work with lots of people? With kids? Do you want to do something that supports America's servicemen and women? Do you want to teach others? Do you want to work with animals? Do you want to simply have some quiet time while doing paperwork? Knowing what you're looking for in a volunteer opportunity can greatly help you as you narrow your options.

Second, consider what amount of time you can reasonably expect to give. Sure, you'd love to commit to volunteering somewhere every Saturday morning, but will that realistically work into your schedule? If you're going to volunteer somewhere, you owe it to the organization and the people/causes it serves to reliably show up when you say you will. After all, the last thing you want to do is create more work for the organization you're volunteering with. Think about your weekly schedule, your workload, and your natural Circadian Rhythms (e.g., are you a morning person?) before committing to any schedule.

Third, think about what skills you have to offer. Are you a track star who could help inspire a love of running in kids? Are you an amazing botanist who could show others how to make their backyard gardens thrive? Are you a patient lover of literature who could help inspire a love of reading in adults who are illiterate? Are you great at explaining math and interested in helping with an after school program? Are you empathetic, patient, and good with older adults, kids, people recovering from an illness, or animals? Think about what comes easy for you that may not come easy for others; realizing what you have to give is an important part of becoming a good volunteer.

Fourth, figure out what makes your heart sing. Think about what makes you feel truly amazing after you're done. Have you never felt better than you did in high school when you helped start a community garden? Do you love hearing stories from residents living in a shelter? Having your heart in the right place is only one of the factors you should consider when exploring college volunteer opportunities. You may, for example, love working with animals, but volunteering in a rescue shelter might end up being too heartbreaking for you -- meaning you won't want to return, might burn yourself out, and will otherwise become a less-than-ideal volunteer for that particular location. Think about what kind of work makes you feel rewarded, proud, and excited to return after you've spent time volunteering.

Lastly, think about what you'd like to gain from volunteering. True, volunteering in and of itself is incredibly rewarding; just think how awesome you felt after finishing up your last volunteer project. That being said, it's okay to go into a volunteer gig with some personal goals of your own. What skills would you like to learn or further develop? What do you hope to get out of your volunteer experience? What do you hope to learn from those you're helping? How will you realize that your volunteer work is a worthwhile and rewarding project for you? What can you take away from your experience that will further empower you to help others in the future?

Volunteering in college can be one of the highlights of your time in school. You'll break out of the bubble that often surrounds college students; you'll meet new people; you'll get some great experience; you'll make a difference in the community around you. The new perspective you gain, too, can greatly help when the stressors of college just seem too overwhelming. More importantly, of course, than deciding where to volunteer is being able to decide what kind of place will work best for you -- meaning you'll first have to figure out what matters to you as a volunteer.

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