Being a college student is an incredibly busy and stressful time of life. You have to juggle classes, work, and extracurriculars, so why would you want to add any more to that list? Well, I’ll tell you why. In college I had 18+ credit hours every semester, up to 6 jobs (yes, really), and was involved in 4 extracurricular activities (mostly honor societies and other clubs that looked good on a resume), but I had two volunteer positions that started out as easy ways for me to add some cheesy stuff to my resume and quickly became life-changing experiences that were non-negotiable when it came to cutting activities out of my life to make more time for myself. It is very possible to overwork yourself in college to an unhealthy point, but volunteer activities were not an “extra load” for me, they were a rewarding, rejuvenating part of my week, and I would encourage any crazy, stressed-out college kid to add just one more thing to their to-do lists: volunteer.
I joined two volunteer programs my freshman year of college in order to fulfill a community service log requirement for a class. One was an after-school elementary tutoring program that met twice a week and another was an adult ESL class that met on Wednesday evenings at the church I started going to. These started out as volunteer jobs that I was interested in, but not necessarily looking forward to since I was already feeling overwhelmed with coursework and my many campus jobs. When I signed up to get the volunteer credit, I fully intended to quit at least the tutoring job by the end of the semester so that I would have more time to myself in the following semesters. Instead, I stuck with both of these programs all the way through college, and they were the most difficult parts of my college experience for me to let go when I graduated and moved away. Here’s what I have to say about volunteering your time in college:
Find a volunteer job in an area related to your major as soon as you can.
I was an English Education major with a second major in Spanish and a minor in ESL. The elementary tutoring job was a stretch for me, but it was a literacy-based program that worked with 1st-6th graders in a low-income district who had already fallen significantly behind in reading and were at risk. The program was designed to help these students learn the skills they needed to increase reading fluency. I felt it affect my profession directly when I learned that statistics show kids who cannot read by 3rd grade are likely to drop out by sophomore year of high school. There is also a direct correlation among reading fluency, drop out rates, and the number of incarcerations each year. Prisons design their rooms and add beds according to how many sophomores are not on track to graduate. Predictions about graduation rates can be made as early as third grade, all according to reading fluency. It’s astonishing, and my summaries do the research no justice. I felt a sense of urgency rise inside of me as I was paired one-on-one with a young 3rd grade girl who could not even read at a 1st grade level. Going to tutoring twice a week was no longer a burden for me, an “extra item to cross off my to-do list.” I did not think twice about the fact that I was spending 3 hours a week with this girl for no pay, when plenty of tutoring jobs in other areas pay really well. I didn’t care. This girl could not read, and that fact may determine her ability to live a successful life. This volunteer experience taught me more about the ins and outs of education than my textbooks did. I was able to learn more about my field by getting out and getting involved in it. Many college students do not volunteer their time because they work, but they cannot find paying jobs in their fields because they are not yet qualified to do the work. Unpaid volunteer programs teach you the skills you need to do a small task related to their program and allow you to learn by doing. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.
Volunteer experiences will change your perspective and your attitude about life.
When I worked at the tutoring center, I was constantly reminded to be grateful for the opportunities that I had. There were times when college had me so stressed out, but then I would work with these kids from low-income homes like I came from, and I’d be reminded that I was living a dream that seemed impossible for me and seems impossible for many low-income families. It also reminded me why I wanted to go into education, so that I could encourage other students to seek higher education or steady career paths and break cycles of poverty. There were plenty of days that I did not want to go to the tutoring center and wished that I had that extra time to work on projects that were due the next day, but I never regretted going. I always left feeling a refreshed sense of purpose, and my priorities were always realigned. I realized that it did not matter if I had to carve a little extra time for my projects somewhere else because these kids were more important in the grand scheme of things.
Teaching adult ESL had a similar affect on me. I worked with several adults who had dreamed of coming to America, but now were stuck in a culture that they did not feel comfortable in and trying to learn a difficult language that was unfamiliar to them. These adults had families and jobs, but they made time each week to come to my class. They were driven and determined to accomplish their goals, and I was so grateful to be a part of that. I would sometimes dread going to class and feel incapable of helping them, for I was still a student after-all, but I left each Wednesday night so proud of my students, so joyful that I had the opportunity to help them better themselves and reach their goals. My roommates would frequently point out to me that every Tuesday night I complained about Wednesdays and how they were my busiest days, but every Wednesday night I would come home so happy and excited about the day. They’re right. Volunteer work can be hard sometimes, but it is always worth it. I needed those frequent reminders that there’s more to life than papers and projects, that there’s a whole world of people out there that would benefit from what I was learning to do-teach.
In the end, you’ll never question whether it was worth your time.
During the second semester of my junior year of college, I developed some pretty severe anxiety and depression that only got worse as senior year started. I was extremely reluctant to go to counseling because I knew they were going to tell me to cut back my schedule, and cutting out volunteer activities would seem like a logical place to start. I explained to my counselor that these activities, though they would be the easier and more practical to cut out than jobs or courses, were what was holding me together. They were stressful in their own ways, but they were rewarding to me. She understood completely. It’s common for volunteer work to be a way to release stress, and she even encouraged me to remain in the programs. I did have to learn to balance my free time better and to manage my stress in healthy ways. The bottom line is, college is going to be stressful no matter what all you take on, and you can manage the stress in healthy ways and still be involved in plenty of extra activities, including volunteer work. After four years of college, my volunteer experiences are what I reflect on most. They taught me more than any course could have, and they changed my outlook on life. They gave me purpose in hopeless times, and made me smile on stressful days. Volunteering in college changed my life entirely, and I’d encourage any young college student to do the same.
Welcome to Learn-Grow-Teach-Go! I’m Rachel. Join me as I explore what it means to be a life-long learner and begin to live out a more full, balanced, and simplistic lifestyle. I am currently a high school English teacher, and I enjoy traveling the world and adventuring in my spare time. Whether you’re looking for advice on living minimally and simplistically, teaching ideas and lessons, or travel tips and trips, you’ve found the right place. Glad to have you here!