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Volunteers help make a difference in their communities by putting the needs of others above their own.  Students who volunteer not only say they are filled with a sense of purpose when they devote some time to the causes they care about, but they feel more prepared for their career after college by acquiring skills you won’t find in the classroom.

Here are some reasons you should start volunteering and some tips on making the most of the experience.

Prepare yourself for your future career.

Dedicating your extra time to volunteering might be challenging at first, but what you will gain from the experience is invaluable. It goes far beyond just giving back to an important cause. First, it can boost your resume — especially if you stay with the organization more than a year. Employers like to see that you stay committed and can manage your time.

You can also develop skills that will help you in a job. Put the skills you already have to work, like working with children, designing artwork, administering first aid, taking photographs or video, organizing social media, or creating computer files. The great benefit of volunteering is that it doesn’t always have the pressure of a job. Many organizations will take whatever help they can get, so it’s a great place to learn new skills as well.

Explore your career options and make connections.

If you haven’t heard it yet, creating a network is so important to finding a position after graduation. Look for volunteer opportunities that relate to what you want in a career. If you are interested in teaching, search for opportunities in after-school programs. Check your local hospital for volunteer opportunities related to health care. Youth leagues usually need help on gamedays for sports majors. You might find your interests change once you spend some time in the industry as well, and that is why volunteering is a great way to “try out” your ideal career.

You will also connect with so many people along the way that might be able to help you in the future. Make every opportunity count by being friendly, working hard, and staying in touch. You never know who might have offer you a job or think about you when they hear about an opening. You don’t want to make a negative impression though, so make sure to follow through with your commitments when volunteering.

Volunteering is a break from the stress of college.

It can be hard to think outside of the stress of studying and living away from home, but dedicating your time to a cause you care about will give you a change of perspective. Even though some issues seem so big, starting small can make a real difference. You’ll realize quickly the impact just one person can have with an organization. The power of doing good can help to propel you through the tough times of your own and give you something else to focus your energy on.

Fallen Patriots scholarship recipient Madison Swisher is working toward her future goal of becoming a psychologist through volunteering.  She wants to help diagnose children who are developmentally disabled.  “When I was younger, I had some developmental problems that lead to occupational therapy that helped me get to where I am today,” she explained.  “I volunteer at my local preschool because I am passionate about children and would like to see them reach their full potential.”  After Madison graduates from University of North Carolina and Chapel Hill, she plans to pursue her PhD.  “My Dad would be proud of how I push myself to my full potential in order to achieve my goals,” she shared.

Start where you are and do what you can.

There are many opportunities out there for everyone. An easy place to start is your college’s volunteer center or with the resources available through a career center. A simple web search will show local opportunities as well. If you don’t want to commit long-term, start with just volunteering at one event to see if it’s an organization you could see yourself committing to.

There are many ways to get involved on-campus as well, like student clubs. This is a great place to start because you’ll be surrounded by like-minded college students that might inspire and motivate you. If you’re already involved in a club or organization, propose and organize a group volunteer effort. Bonus: this is a great leadership opportunity you can document.

If you’re looking for something more adventurous, many organizations offer “alternative spring breaks” or summer assignments targeted to college students around the world.

The first step is just to get started. You might have to step outside of your comfort zone, but what you receive in return for volunteering will be well worth it.