As we all grow older it’s easy to become self-absorbed in our own needs and desires. Managing the stress of college, finding the proper career path for your future, all while still leaving time for your friends and social events can prove to be extremely challenging. What if on top of that you were required to volunteer in your community? Sounds like one more thing to add to the long list of things you need to do, but in reality, it could actually be just what the doctor ordered.
Community service, also known as volunteer work, is an unpaid act of service for a group or organization that benefits people, animals, or even an entire community in need. Research has shown that volunteers reap benefits such as mental and social health along with developing career readiness. I believe every college student should be required to complete community service throughout their college career.
Mental health awareness has become an increasingly popular topic of concern during the last few years.
Anxiety and depression can easily stem from high amounts of stress or the heavy workload that is so common with earning a college degree. A study by experts at United Health Group have found that “78 percent report that volunteering lowers their levels of stress, leading to feeling better than adults who do not volunteer.” The reason behind this being that putting your attention into another person’s wellbeing disrupts the stress building pathways in the brain. In fact, many volunteers report a major rush of endorphins that plateaus into a sense of peace and overall satisfaction after doing a selfless act for another person or group.
Now, an altruistic act that you decided to do for another person has also carried over into your overall happiness and wellbeing. It’s a common complaint from students that after beginning college they begin to feel like one of many instead of an important individual. To understand that you, one person, have the power to change someone or even a group of people’s day instills an undeniable sense of purpose. Feeling this level of importance along with the appreciation from those who you’ve helped establishes a positive mental image of your life as a whole during the difficult college years.
Most college campuses are substantial in size and have an enormous number of students, it could even be one of the most diverse environments you will be introduced to during your lifetime. These social settings can be extremely overwhelming for a lot of students to adjust to initially and even over the long term. The American College Health Association reports that “a 2017 survey of nearly 48,000 college students, 64% said they had felt very lonely in the previous twelve months.” Among those only a shocking “14% said there was a very good chance they would seek counseling in college.” Through required volunteering students get a push to get out of their typical social routine but are still allowed the freedom to choose something enjoyable or of interest to them. When a group of like-minded people are brought together strong support systems can be built that lead to positive future connections and comradery. The Institute for Volunteer Research, or IVR, found that “74% of students experienced a wider range of friendships through volunteering.” Developing these relationships is crucial to self -esteem levels and feelings of inclusion. Once students feel that their peers are relatable they are far more likely to be comfortable, confident, and excel in their classes as a positive side effect.
The entire college experience is centered around one mutual goal, to develop your knowledge and skills to begin the career of your choice. Although classes are essential to achieving this goal, it can be argued that not all skills can be obtained in the classroom. The Corporation for National and Community Service found that “volunteering is associated with an increased likelihood of finding employment for all volunteers regardless of a person’s gender, age, ethnicity, geographical area, or the job market conditions.” When the time comes for students to choose a volunteer organization they can go one of two ways. The first option being something they are familiar with. Familiarity is a comfort zone for many students but may lead to developing advanced skills and thriving in that specific area of interest. On the other hand, a commitment towards an unknown area of volunteering could yield a new interest or even a skill set that has been untapped for many years. When volunteering for an organization, students receive the opportunity to work on some highly coveted qualities in the work force. Businesses searching for potential job candidates want leaders, team players, and someone who can demonstrate professionalism in tough situations. It’s key that young adults be able to show future employers that they have these skills and have had the experience properly utilizing them. Time Bank, a volunteer organization, ran a study on the correlation between community service and employer/employee relations. 80% of the employers highly valued seeing volunteer work on an applicant’s resume. Additionally, 50% of hired employees felt that volunteering was a primary reason they were hired into their job or field of work. It’s clear that if students donate their time to any non-profit, charity, or volunteer group it would greatly increase their chances at entering their desired field of work already a step ahead of those without this experience.
The facts undeniably show that while benefiting your community and those in need, volunteer work also contributes a plethora of advantages to students that would otherwise not be obtained. Mental and social health are crucial to students excelling in their line of study and developing the desire to continue on to achieve higher degrees. Along with this academic success comes occupational advantages. These could be as slight as getting bumped to the top of the candidates list or simply landing a job because of your impressive amount of experience. While yes, these could hypothetically happen without your volunteer background, why would you leave your future up to chance? In this day and age, we need to develop all aspects of the qualities that will set us apart from our peers. I’m certain that the requirement of community service for college students would be wildly beneficial to all of those involved.