August 4, 2010

Volunteer Benefits in the News

Before we round out the Visa Series, I wanted to share with you an article that I came across in Saturday’s New York Times.

We have focused on things like types of volunteer jobs, logistics of volunteer jobs and great places to volunteer abroad, and while we have touched upon the benefits a bit, we haven’t gone into detail about how to leverage a volunteer experience for things like getting a job or getting into college.

The article “The Benefits of Volunteerism, if the Service is Real” focuses mainly on high school volunteering and college admissions. Tugend reiterates an excellent point – the best volunteerism is consistent volunteerism. But this is much easier to do at home – most volunteer jobs abroad are short-term, and can cost the volunteers money. And some colleges and universities may not see a very short-term trip as a service experience, but as a vacation. As the articles states:

“We’re not idiots,” said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. “We know the price of an air-conditioned hotel and a plane. It’s an act of affluent tourism masquerading as community service.”

That’s a bit harsh, but something to be aware of as it’s becoming more popular to combine volunteering and tourism. That certainly doesn’t mean that short-term “voluntours” don’t have their benefits. But those benefits probably don’t include impressing and admissions officer or potential employer.

But there is a flip side, and once again, it comes back to consistency.

” A 2008 survey of admissions officers from the top 50 colleges and universities by the organization, found that admissions officers consistently put a higher value on continuous volunteering over several years at a local place than a short-term stint overseas.”

As a volunteer, you should be looking beyond resume building to what you want to accomplish, be it building a sense of personal civic responsibility, helping your community, or a combination of both.

Choose your volunteer activities with these goals in mind, and your resume second. Commitment to a cause is what impresses people, not a flashy job or organization.

So what if you want to volunteer abroad, but still impress colleges?

You should! But think about ways to tie your volunteering abroad to your community service at home. For example, if you are working as a tutor for 3rd graders, plan a volunteer abroad vacation that involves tutoring 3rd graders. Involved in environmental clean-up? You can do that in a foreign country as well! This will show college admissions officers and employers that you aren’t spending money just build up your credentials.

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