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Image by Natesh Ramasamy, Flickr

Image by Natesh Ramasamy, Flickr

With the season of giving over for the year, many have turned their minds to less charitable past-times. However, students would do well to not discount giving and charity altogether. Volunteering your skills and your time can, in the short and long term, help you achieve your educational and professional career goals. Following are the benefits of volunteering:

Mental Health

Mental health, like physical health, is a state that students should be pro-actively nurturing. Depression among college students is a very real danger that has the potential to decrease your ability to do as well as you need to. According to a study conducted by UCLA, nearly one in ten incoming freshmen reported they regularly felt depressed. In another study conducted by the American College Health Association, nearly 30% reported feeling so depressed it was difficult to function.

Volunteering on a semi-regular basis can help students ward off depression. According to Wake Forest University’s counseling program, volunteering not only lowers the chance of depression, it also lowers stress, increases self-esteem, and increases happiness. When so many students are in danger of experiencing depression that could cripple their ability to handle their workload, earmarking an hour or two a week seems like a small price to pay for mental health.

Meet New People

Volunteering can be a great way to begin new friendships. Many freshmen, thrown into a new environment and potentially without family and friends, must face down the deceptively easy task of developing new friendships. Yes, college students should be past the stage where they feel the urge to pick up a cutesy children’s book to walk them through how to make friends — but for some, getting up the nerve to approach new people can take a lot of mental fortitude. Failure to form new friendships can lead to social isolation, and social isolation can easily lead to depression.

Volunteering on a regular basis can aid students in building new friendships. Regularly volunteering at the same place and with the same people can lend well to the gradual development of new relationships. For the more introverted, that slow and steady development of new friendships can be the easiest way to form new friendships.

Build Professional Relationships

By the end of a student’s college career, students should have interacted with at least one or two professors enough to ask them for a recommendation, although this can be harder than it sounds. As a student, interacting with professors doesn’t always come naturally. I know that as a student, I never really had any questions or issues with my work that would lead to the regular one-on-one conversations with professors. That became a problem in my senior year, when I needed to begin asking professors if I could use them as a reference.

Regularly volunteering throughout college can help you form professional relationships which you can utilize after graduation. By volunteering at locations and events that allow you to utilize the skills of your future profession (i.e. nursing students volunteering at a hospital), volunteers can make non-academic professional references hold more weight.

The decision to volunteer can help students achieve their career goals, maintain good mental health, form new friendships, and cultivate lucrative references. And the earlier you start, the less time you will need to invest in volunteering per week. If one hour a week can be the ticket to success, why not invest that time?

This article was contributed by guest author Samantha Stauf.