With summer officially here, you might be trying to find ways to fill your time with activities like sports, theater, music and just about any campus club you can join. It's a great idea to immerse yourself in activities you love and know will look great on your college applications. But, don't overlook one very important opportunity not only to help others, but also to help yourself — volunteer work. Maybe it's that second word (work) that scares you away. It can be hard to imagine giving away your precious time for free. What is important to understand is that volunteering pays you back in a myriad of ways, and many of those rewards are more valuable than currency. Here are five reasons why it’s worth the time and effort.
1. Work as a Team
In college, you will inevitably have to work on a group project. If you're lucky, most of the students in your group will care about what they are doing and actually pitch in, but that’s not always the case. This is where volunteer experience can pay off. When you volunteer for an event or at an agency, you don’t always know what you will be doing or who you will be working with, but you know that the job needs to be completed on time. Working with complete strangers will actually teach you how to play to their strengths in order to obtain the best results. Everyone has something to contribute, but you cannot expect it to be an equal amount of time or work every time.
2. Learn to Lead
If you lack confidence in yourself, volunteering will likely change that very quickly. Since many organizations rely on their volunteers to get things done, it’s not uncommon for you to be bumped up to a leadership position when working on a project. You can go from helping at a registration table to managing 500 volunteers in a matter of weeks. It can be frightening to take on that much responsibility, but when you know your actions have a direct impact on others, it is empowering. Your confidence will grow and others will look to you for guidance, which will definitely serve you well in college and your future employment.
3. Embrace the Unfamiliar
In high school, many students tend to gravitate to others of a similar mindset. We surround ourselves with people who share the same beliefs and cultural backgrounds. When you head off to college, you may find yourself rooming with someone from another country or someone who has completely different values. It can be a definite shock to your system. One important thing you can learn from volunteering is never to judge someone by his or her appearance — get to know the person first. You never know what they have experienced or where they are coming from, so it’s important to listen to and learn from each person you encounter.
4. Think Outside the Box
Volunteering for a nonprofit organization will increase your ability to think outside the box. You will need to be resourceful and come up with creative solutions for many issues, especially when you are working with a minimal budget to get the job done. Volunteering prior to college can give you the skills not only to help you find alternative ways to pay for college expenses, but also may help you stretch your boundaries within the classroom. Once you learn to look at things from different angles and try something less conventional, it opens your world to a myriad of possibilities. It can effectively erase the word ‘cannot’ from your vocabulary.
5. Win Scholarships!
Volunteer work before and in college has an added bonus that you may not anticipate — scholarships! You may be able to earn several awards for volunteer work as late as your junior and senior year in college, but if you start volunteering in high school, you could earn even more. Companies, such as Coca-Cola, offer large awards for community service. Many other private scholarship providers and local civic groups/organizations offer generous awards for volunteering, as well.
Don't make the excuse of, ‘I don’t have the time to volunteer.' Honestly, it may not be that you don't have the time, but that you just didn't make the time. Don't let the opportunities pass you by. Once you participated in your first volunteer activity, you'll come to realize how amazing it feels to help others. The smile from a child battling cancer or a hug from a homeless veteran is worth so much more than any paycheck. One person can truly make a difference — and that person could be you!
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