In college, you’re going to be very busy, probably the busiest you’ve ever been in your life.
Between classes, club activities and obligations, your booming social life, and designated “me” time, you might not think you can handle the time commitment of regular volunteering, even if you were actively involved in your community in high school.
College is largely about broadening your perspective. Who you were in high school is probably not who you will be coming out of college, because you’ve had four years of unique experiences that have hopefully challenged your viewpoints, made you a little more understanding of others’ backgrounds, and made you more certain in what you do believe in.
But personal growth has its limits in the classroom. If you’re in college, you and your classmates have a certain amount of privilege that, unfortunately, a lot of people lack. In the bubble of a college campus, it’s very easy to forget how differently the real world operates.
Volunteering your time and energy to your community as a whole, not just your college community, is a meaningful opportunity for you and as much as it is for others. You’ll gain a little more understanding of how the world outside the education system works and have the personal gratification of giving back to the community that supports your education.
Regardless of your personal interests, there is going to be an opportunity for you to provide worthwhile service to others wherever you live.
Look into local public schools; most are perpetually understaffed, especially for after-school programs, and will accept whatever help they can get. The more “disadvantaged” the majority of the kids are, the more likely they are to need a mentor like you to encourage them most basically just to love and believe in themselves.
Fostering confidence in others contributes to your own self-confidence, and understanding what it’s like to grow up in poverty if you come from a middle- or upper-class background builds empathy and hopefully a stronger sense of civic duty.
Homelessness is also an issue in any sizable urban community; Habitat for Humanity, local soup kitchens and shelters are always looking for volunteers. Many of the individuals you will serve suffer from physical and/or mental illnesses, often exacerbated by their living conditions, and need the support these services provide.
Listen to their stories. They’ve lived through a lot more than you have in your short lifetime, and while they get to feel the relief of finally getting to share their struggles and triumphs, you get the educational experience of gaining their second-hand wisdom.
Get in contact with a local hospital or nursing home and help deliver food and water to patients and wheel them to their appointments. Many will be parents and grandparents. You’ll remind them of what it was like to be young and what it was like to watch their own family grow up.
Again, listen to their stories. Say hello and smile when you walk in the room, and be willing to talk about silly or stupid or mundane things. You’re providing the much-needed human contact many patients lack, despite having worked decades and decades to build a home and family and contributing to the community you’ve grown up in.
These are just a few examples, but there are dozens of ways to be involved in the community at large, both during the school year and on breaks. Your college will likely have clubs and other resources for finding sites specific to your location. If you really are too busy to volunteer during the school year, Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is a program at many colleges that helps students travel both nationally and abroad for spring break by volunteering in the communities they choose to spend their vacation in.
In addition to gaining life experience, you’ll likely find volunteering to be a grounding experience. It’s tempting to get caught up in the obligations of daily life—-get yourself out of bed, put your game face on, pay attention in class, study, run a meeting, don’t forget to eat, help out a friend, smile even though you’re stressed—-and forget about life as a decade-long experience.
Despite what you’re told, college is not going to be the best four years of your life. You have so much to do and learn and give for the entire length of your existence, not just up to your mid-twenties. In ten years, you won’t remember the little things that seem like the end-of-the world in the fast-paced life of college.
You certainly won’t remember them once you find yourself at the end of your years, and a young college student is bringing you water in bed, and you smile back at them because what you do remember is having done the exact same thing, years and years ago. Now, you finally understand just how meaningful that was.