Volunteering – An Additional Required “Course” for College Students
College students lead busy lives. Classes to attend, reading and other coursework assignments to complete, essays and papers to write, exams to study for, a social life to manage, and possibly a part-time job fill their lives. And so, when they are told that volunteering is an another important activity for them, it is not surprising that they wonder how they can fit it in. But fit it in they must, because both the short- and long-term benefits are just huge. If you are hesitating to become engaged in volunteering, think again. Here are 4 big benefits for you if you do.
Happiness – It’s a Part of Mental Health
Recently, a Harvard Health Publications article reported on a study by the London School of Economics of the relationship between volunteering and happiness. In general, the conclusion was that the more people volunteered, the happier they reported themselves to be. The factors in this happiness were listed as the four big benefits that volunteering will bring you.
1. You Will Make Unique Connections
Volunteering provides emotional connections to others and to a community. Even small efforts can better people’s lives and entire charitable/non-profit organizations. Consider, for example, just a once-a-week visit to an elementary school and spending an hour or two reading with children who struggle with that skill. Those kids will begin to connect with you as you connect with them – building relationships that can be truly meaningful for those kids. There are other connections to be made too, as well as side benefits.
• If your volunteer activity occurs with other volunteers, you also make connections with new people, sharing a common purpose. Lifelong friendships can be made when people share a common purpose.
• You will improve your social skills. When you volunteer, you will learn to communicate and develop a rapport with people who are very different from you in socioeconomic status and demographics. This will serve you well in an increasingly “smaller” world in which a variety of cultures and priorities within those cultures must co-exist and cooperate.
• You serve as a model for those you are helping. You may be working with underprivileged kids or with handicapped people. When you help them, you are also teaching them that it is a good thing to help others.
• Even volunteering digitally can develop connections. Suppose you decide to engage in online tutoring for kids who are struggling with a subject in which you have solid skills. You can use Skype for more personal contact; you can help with daily assignments and study for tests. You can point your tutees in the direction of the best websites to get help in other subject fields. You can, in fact, become a mentor in many ways to the students you help, even providing guidance in social issues they may be facing.
2. Volunteering Makes a Healthier You
There is a definite link between mental and emotional well-being and physical health. Here is how volunteering can promote your mental well-being.
• It provides a respite from the rigors of academic life. By volunteering, you can get a break from the focus on hard studying and intellectual challenges – a relief for your brain. You will experience less stress and anxiety too.
• Volunteering can reduce depression. This is a common ailment of college students. They are away from their normal support systems of friends and family back home. They are adjusting to being more independent and self-responsible. It’s a difficult transition for many. Getting outside of oneself in a helping mode can be a great preventer or reliever of depression.
• You will gain self-confidence. When you volunteer, you will see your accomplishments and the results of your work. This will result in pride and a strong sense of identity. You will feel great about yourself and ready to set higher goals for your future. It will also improve your positivity.
• You may find a new sense of purpose. Many a volunteer has become so enamored with their volunteer work that they have made decisions about their future life’s work based upon that work.
3. You Can Refine and Advance Your Career Goals
Whether you have decided on a career or not; whether your volunteer work is related to your major field or not, this work will develop a number of soft skills that employers value and that you will never learn in a classroom environment. Picking up skills such as communication, team work, leadership, problem-solving, and organization are all possible through volunteerism. These will add to your confidence as you enter your career. Here are other career-related benefits:
• Getting some real career experience is possible. If your major is IT, you can volunteer for a non-profit organization and help to set up or improve its systems. You can help train employees and other volunteers. If you are in pre-med, then volunteer in that field; if you are going into education, volunteer in schools.
And as you engage in this career-related work, you may make some good connections, may develop some great references for the future, may be exposed to professional associations and organizations.
• You may pick up some “hard” job skills too. Perhaps you may be an art major and volunteer in a museum. You may work in the painting restoration department and gain some saleable skills for the future. If your major is marketing, your volunteer work in writing content and maintaining social media pages for an organization will be great inclusions in your resume.
4. You Become More Fulfilled
There is something about volunteering that will bring out empathy, compassion, openness, and that “feel good” sense that most humans want and need. We need to believe that some of what we do benefits others, especially those who are struggling.
When we can develop these passions for helping others early in our lives, we tend to develop them as a lifelong commitment. And as we move into leadership positions during our careers, we can encourage others to do the same. Our passions for being of service to others can be contagious, and the ripples of doing good expand as a result.
Your Butterfly Effect
Years ago, a physicist put forth a principle related to air currents and weather patterns. As an example, he noted that when a butterfly flaps its wings, it moves air. That moving air, in turn, moves more air. Ultimately, large air currents are formed that impact weather. He laughed off of the stage. Years later, his principle was proved by others.
An author, Andy Andrews, took this principle and applied to human lives. the question he asks of us is this: If you never existed, how would the world be different? The point he was making was this: Your life has meaning; it matters. You have impacted many people in beneficial ways – and these events would never have occurred if you had not lived. Translating this to volunteerism, the principle applies too. When you engage in volunteer work, and you start in your young adult life, you will begin to impact lives in meaningful ways. And those lives will impact other lives. Consider what that might mean, over your lifetime.