Volunteering: How and why to give your time freely

20 Feb 2018
By Unite Students, Staff writer at The Common Room

Deadlines for placements and internships are coming thick and fast. But it’s worth considering another type of work experience that’s often overlooked: volunteering.

Find the right opportunity and you can load your CV with impressive skills and experience - plus lots of the character traits employers want.

A third of all students in the UK volunteer.

Here’s the low-down on volunteering.

Why should you become a student volunteer?

78% of student volunteers do it because they want to help people or improve things. That’s well over half a million people going out of their way to make the world a better place. For free.

Remember that next time you hear somebody giving your generation a hard time.

So let’s look at four benefits of volunteering as a student.

1) Confidence and well-being boost for you

We all benefit from a sense of purpose and the feeling we’re doing something worthwhile. Sharing these feelings with new friends makes that even more rewarding.

Altruism is also a brilliant way to understand the challenges people face, and understanding is always the first step towards overcoming.

2) Better relationship between your uni and community

Some local communities and student populations exist in complete isolation from each other. It’s a horrible expression, but the ‘town vs gown’ divide can be very real. A sense of mistrust and misunderstanding can hang over a place.

A third of all students in the UK volunteer.
What better way to bring people together than for students to support local causes?

3) Compassion and life chances for others

Much of the essential work charities do just wouldn’t get done if they didn’t do it. And charities rely on good people to volunteer their time for free.

As well as being another pair of working hands, your fresh, enthusiastic and inquisitive mind can bring exactly the kind of innovation they need.

4) Skills and experience for your CV

Two thirds of students who volunteer do it partly to learn new skills, whether they’re for future employment or general life. That motivation is nothing to be ashamed of. Doing good can - and should - be good for you too.

You develop the ‘soft’ skills recruiters want (communication, leadership, team-working) and employers get work-ready graduates. Win-win.

What sort of volunteering should you do?

There are far more ways to give your time and energy to good causes than we can list here. But, generally speaking, there are two types of volunteering you’ll want to consider.

1) Do something you’re interested in doing as a career

Considering an office-based career? Networking and building relationships are essential. Action and Medical Research for Children is looking for a volunteer Business Ambassador in Leicester.

Studying photography? Parkinson’s UK wants a volunteer photographer in Newcastle.

Perhaps it’s your dream to work for Lego. Why not help Exeter Cathedral build a scale model of itself in Lego?

Whatever you want to do when you graduate, you’ll find a volunteering role to help you gain the skills employers need.

2) Do something you care deeply about

Care about eradicating food waste and hunger? Take a look at Olio. These amazing people have made a free app to connect neighbours and local businesses, so surplus food can be shared instead of binned.

Fitness fan who hates working out alone? Check out Good Gym. They’re all over the country and they can help you combine sweaty endeavours with charitable work. Why not run to a lonely elderly person’s for a cuppa and company?

If there’s a cause or campaign that’s close to your heart, that’s as good a reason as any to give your time.

Why don’t more students volunteer?

First of all, 725,000 of them do. That’s a third of all university students in the country. And plenty more said they would volunteer if they weren’t faced with the following obstacles:

1) Study pressures

A full workload and the desire to graduate with the best grade possible means many students feel they have to focus on academic work, in order to make themselves as employable as possible in the future.

2) Financial worries

Nearly half of all students do paid, part-time work during term time to meet the cost of living. Add to that the huge financial commitment involved in going to university, and many students feel they can’t afford to do unpaid work as well.

3) Family responsibilities

Around 7% of the full-time university student population are parents, and 3-6% are carers. Having family commitments on top of lectures, seminars, coursework, revision and exams leaves little spare time for volunteering.

The average student volunteer gives 44 hours of their time in a standard 32-week year.

These are all valid reasons, and only you know whether you want to or can volunteer. But if time is the issue, consider this:

The average student volunteer gives 44 hours of their time in a standard 32-week year. If we allow for 8 hours’ sleep a day, that’s just 1.2% of their total term-time hours.

Where can you find a volunteer job?

You’ll realise quite quickly just how many people need voluntary helpers. But here are three good places to look while you’re a student.

1) At your university

Thankfully, universities are realising that more students will volunteer if the activity is linked to their studies. And more are building opportunities for voluntary work into their courses.

If that’s not an option for you, there are others. Almost all universities have a dedicated volunteering service to help you. Just look at the volunteering options available at the University of Manchester.

2) At your SU

Just like the universities themselves, most students’ unions have got a volunteering committee who can point you in the right direction.

Whether they want a one-off gig or a regular commitment, Sheffield Hallam students have got a wealth of options. Speak to your union to get involved.

3) Online

If you’d prefer to step out of the university comfort zone altogether, there are plenty of places you can go. Start with the Do-it Trust and Volunteering Matters.

In Scotland? Check out Volunteer Scotland’s website.

Best of luck if you do get involved, every hour you give makes somebody’s life better.

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Staff writer at The Common Room