Volunteering alongside your studies: What can you get out of it?

As a final year student, I thought I would share my experiences of volunteering, as well as some of the benefits of volunteering alongside your degree.  If your degree is anything like mine, you will have a lot of spare time on your hands – I noticed that I should probably be undertaking extra activities with the other 162 hours of my week (and not just eating and sleeping!).  I now feel like I’ve made my years in Sheffield much more fulfilling and rewarding, as I’ve taken part in lots of projects within the university and in the surrounding community.

Firstly, volunteering looks incredible on your CV.  You’ve taken part in a project, charity or institution because you genuinely wanted to help out, rather than for finance purposes.  It shows that you’re enthusiastic about a particular cause, and that you want to put something back into the community (potentially a part of it that once helped you at one point!).  You’ve probably gained team-working, time-management, communication, and adaptability skills, and you’ve probably stepped out of your comfort zone at least once.  I’m currently volunteering at the Cathedral Archer Project for homelessness and doing just that – I’ve never worked with vulnerable people before and volunteering here is a great opportunity to do something I had never thought of doing.  Just reflecting on some of the skills and experiences you’ve gained can be extremely helpful when applying for future jobs and answering questions in interview situations.  You’re taking part in specific activities and helping to make a change within that company/institution, and so you have specific examples for your applications.

Secondly, volunteering gives you the opportunity to step out into the Sheffield community.  Like I mentioned earlier, you might not have thought about doing a particular activity, and you may just learn something about yourself.  I am currently working on a Linguistics website (All About Linguistics) with a student-led team in the School of English, which provides information about the scientific study of human language for prospective students, or for anyone that is interested in finding out more.  I’ve learnt to be much more information literate, and now know that I have the capability to edit and contribute writing for a website, which looks good for job applications that are looking for these specific skills.  It is easy to get involved just by going to the volunteering office and having a look at what is available to you.  You may want to get involved in something you know you’re good at, or you may want to develop skills you don’t currently have!  You’ll also gain new friends by meeting people from a range of different backgrounds and cultures.

Finally, volunteering can help refine your career options.  If you’re unsure on what you want to do in the future, volunteering on a new project might just help you on the way to finding out.  Getting involved in Student Mentoring has made me realise I probably want a career with mentoring/giving advice attached onto it, as I have felt comfortable doing this and am enthusiastic about it.  I now know I would like to work with older students as opposed to younger ones, something which I had my heart set on during A-Level.  Even if volunteering shows you what you don’t want to do in a future career, it is still beneficial to you in refining your choices.  Additionally, you know you have helped make a change to the company you have volunteered for, no matter how small that change may be.

Hopefully I’ve made some convincing arguments for getting involved in volunteering alongside your degree within this short post.  You’ll never know if you’ll have the opportunity to do it in the future, so why not give it a go while you have the time to do so?

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