Can You Use Volunteer Experience To Earn Credits?

Sep 5, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

In its 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, the United Nations recognized the eradication of poverty as the “ the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.”  Enter the International Day of Charity -- celebrated every September 5th. 

While the greater purpose of this initiative is to lift up the world’s poorest and most vulnerable through “spirit of strengthened global solidarity” and being part of this effort is more than cause enough to get involved, many students also gain the additional benefit of earning college credits along the way. Here’s a closer look at how you can make the most of your own volunteer experience.

 

Why Volunteer?

From the chance to change the world to strengthening your own community, there are an abundance of reasons to volunteer. And while we often think of the benefits of volunteering as outward-facing, they are inward-facing, as well. Acquiring new skills, gaining professional experience, meeting new people, and enjoying enhanced personal growth and self-esteem through giving back are all ancillary upsides of volunteering.

However, not only do few college students actually volunteer their time, but many also fail to realize that doing so could earn them college credits.  Not only that, but more than a quarter of four-year colleges and universities and more than half of community colleges offer formal service learning programs, according to USA Today.  And what better time to step up and start making a difference than today?

 

Five Tips for Earning Credits Through Volunteering

Which begs the question: How can you earn credits through volunteering at your own college or university?  A few simple steps can help you make sure your volunteering efforts are eligible for college credit, including the following:

1. Verify the requirements.

All universities have different rules and requirements when it comes to service learning programs and volunteering for credit. Your academic advisor should be able to point you in the direction of the best person to talk to regarding whether your college bestows credits for volunteering and/or if those credits are transferable.

2. Understand the costs.

While volunteering may seem like a cheap way to earn college credits, the reality is that participating in some volunteer work -- particularly international programs -- can be costly. On the plus side, many do offer financial aid. Understanding these costs can help you make sure you don’t end up paying more for than expected for your volunteering credits.

On the flip side, some volunteer programs, such as AmeriCorps, the National Health Services Corps, the Peace Corps, and ROTC may even help cover your university tuition fees. Be sure to read the fine print, however, to make sure you know exactly what will be expected of you in return for the financial support.

3. Make sure your volunteer work is relevant to your field of studies.

In order to fully benefit from volunteering -- across everything from earning credits to increasing your marketability with employers in your chosen field -- seek out volunteer work that is directly related to your major.

4. Document your work.

Earning credits for volunteer work isn’t a way to gank the system. Rather, it’s a way to learn in a real-world setting while making a much-needed contribution to an important cause. Maintain a log of your volunteering duties to provide concrete evidence of your progress. Additionally, many students who volunteer for credit write research and/or reflection papers to get even more out of the experience.

5. Work with a mentor.

An advisor, team leader or other mentors can offer invaluable guidance and oversight while simultaneously positioning themselves to report on your achievements.

One last thing to keep in mind? Your career prospects will also be brighter with volunteering on your resume.Today’s employers don’t underestimate the value of volunteering, and you shouldn’t either. According to a report from the New York Times, 41 percent of employers consider volunteer work experience to be as important as paid work experience, while 20 percent report having hired candidates based on their volunteer work. Said LinkedIn spokeswoman Krista Canfield following the professional networking site’s addition of a field for volunteer work on member profiles, “It was the most requested field. People realize that one way to nudge ahead of the competition is through volunteer work. In this economy, you don’t have to sit on the couch. Go find a nonprofit that needs help and build a skill set while doing good.”

Ultimately, the best reason to volunteer is to do your part to improve society -- whether in your own backyard or all the way across the world. However, earning college credits -- and positioning yourself for a better job in the process -- while serving this higher purpose makes pursuing service learning opportunities a win-win-win.

 

 

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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