Planning Your Future
Your life is busy. You have to juggle school, work, family, friends, extra-curricular activities and somewhere in the mix you need to start thinking about your future. If you’re like most college students, you begin asking yourself, “how will I stack up against all the other people in my chosen field when it comes time to get a job?” This is a valid concern. Don’t wait until a few weeks before graduation before giving this some serious thought. According to a Monster.com recent post a major mistake college job seekers make is “not being proactive enough.” Even college freshman should keep in mind their long-term career goals. The key thing to remember don't panic – PLAN! Do the one thing that can help you stand out from the crowded field of college graduates looking for a job. Become a volunteer.
Benefits of Volunteering
Volunteering can help you in so many ways. Hans Hanson, the owner of Total College Advisory, works with students from across the nation. He says, “Employers look for ‘substance’ from their applicants, meaning do your interests coincide with your career goals?” Have you been proactive when it comes to learning about your chosen field? For example, one of the students Hanson worked with wanted to become a doctor, so he volunteered at a medical research facility near his home. Hanson also says volunteer experience can sometimes offset a less than stellar GPA.
Volunteering is also an excellent way to find out if you really want the career you think you want. Something may look great on paper, but you won’t know if it’s right for you until you are “in the trenches.” It’s much better to discover something is or is not your passion before you’ve invested years of your life and thousands of dollars.
Beth Draper, volunteer coordinator for the Jewish Home and Care Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin says, “Volunteering helps students of all ages gain exposure to job expectations in the real world, and students have the opportunity to learn about work ethics.”
Perhaps volunteering during the school year is difficult because of academic demands, work responsibilities, and extra-curricular activities. Consider being a summer volunteer or intern. Basically, an internship is something that you choose to do in order to develop your skills in a profession. Volunteering can also serve this purpose, but the driving force is your desire to help out. You may receive only a small stipend, but it is an excellent investment in your future.
In most colleges, there are great opportunities offered in the form of “service learning.” Service Learning is an approach to teaching and learning that integrates meaningful community service with academic courses such that the community service enhances the learning and vice versa. For example, students at the University of North Texas in Denton Texas were recently required to provide some type of employment assistance to individuals with disabilities and/or chronic unemployment in order to pass a class in the Rehabilitation, Social Work and Addiction department. Together, they contributed over 350 hours of service to the community and social change.
At Fairfield University in Conneticut students in an accounting, course are working with local organizations to implement the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program that provides free income tax filing services to low-income individuals.
Students from the Yale School of Art designed and executed a one-day fund-raising and advocacy event called, “A Day Without Art” centered around the issue of AIDS. The event included student created remembrances of artists who have died of AIDS-related causes. Readings, performances, and exhibitions were presented.
Melissa Quan, Director of Service Learning at Fairfield University says, “Service-learning courses provide students with critical experiences that prepare them for the workforce, expose them to career opportunities and provide them with the knowledge and skills to contribute meaningfully to their communities.”
According to the University of Minnesota Community Service Learning Center website, service learning “Tests out your skills, interests, and values in a potential career path, connects you with professionals and community members who you will learn from and helps you grow a professional network of people you might connect with again later for jobs.”
How to Be a Good Volunteer
Follow your passion. Find a group or cause that matters to you and make a commitment to take it seriously. Even though, you aren’t getting paid, treat it like a real job. Show up on time and ready to work. Have a positive attitude. Don’t act or look like you’d rather be someplace else. Volunteer coordinator Beth Draper believes good volunteers are also “open to new experiences, willing to go beyond their comfort zones, can take direction well, and take initiative to try out their leadership skills in a safe real-world environment.” If this sounds like you, the next step is to find the place that is right for you.
Finding the Right Opportunity
Your school counselor or faculty advisor can point you in the right direction. There also leaders in your local church or house of worship who know of people and organizations needing help, and, of course, there is a wealth of information on the internet. Here are just a few websites to help you start your search.
So remember, when it comes to your future, don’t panic – make a plan. Consider volunteering as an important part of that plan. Stand out from the crowd. Help others and help yourself. Become a volunteer!