Want to explore an interest? Volunteer!

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When you hear about volunteering as a student, you may be thinking:

“But… volunteer opportunities aren’t paid!”
“It’s impractical to volunteer so much time for an interest”
“It would probably be better for my resume to have paid experience instead”.

Although these are easy to believe because you’ve heard them so often, they aren’t always true. Read on to find out why volunteering is a great way to explore your passions.

1. It gives you the opportunity, flexibility, and freedom to try the thing that interests you

The primary difference between being an intern and being a volunteer is pay. Telling students with differing socioeconomic circumstances to accept an unpaid internship can be next to impossible, but they may instead be able to gain experience in a field that interests them by taking opportunities that offer flexibility.

For instance, local and community volunteer organizations often run programs on weekends with varying hours. If you’re working during the week and want to relax and decompress on weekends, looking for opportunities that require minimal time commitments on weekends may be more optimal to you, and luckily, these opportunities exist!

You can contact your school or local community centre who would be able to direct you to volunteer organization databases and resources in your community, which usually list or advertise opportunities that may work with your schedule. Although the work may not be paid, it would give you the opportunity to see if you really like the general work in your organization of interest and help you develop a plan of action from there. You can also check out CharityVillage or the Volunteer Section on TalentEgg.ca.

2. It provides mentorship and connection opportunities that are sometimes not possible at internships

Since most organizations offering volunteering opportunities are aware and grateful for the time you’re giving them along with your intrinsic motivation to do good, you will meet similar individuals who are equally passionate about the work and also treat volunteering as an important part of their personal lives. This is vastly different from a workplace where people may or may not want to create separations between their professional and personal lives. These relationships can create opportunities for mentorship and networking that will help you in your future endeavours.

3. From open opportunities come enhanced skills

Oftentimes, volunteering at an organization means more flexibility not just with time, but with your duties as well. While an internship might come with a definitive set of responsibilities, the flexibility that volunteering offers means that you’ll likely be able to learn different things, work with different people in the organization, and gain a good set of versatile skills.

For instance, if you work at a mentorship facility, part of your duties may involve working both as a mentor and directly alongside your program organizer. Automatically, this experience translates into the ability to work with a diverse range of individuals, gain great communication and interpersonal skills and adapt your communication style to best suit whoever you’re speaking to. Volunteering expands your skills and allows you to grow in different directions.

4. Turn your interest into paid experience

Finally, this is a spin on the popular conception of volunteering as a mere “CV enhancer”. Volunteering is a lot like working on something for fun versus working on something for a school assignment. Why? There’s less added pressure, stress, and more intrinsic motivation. You’re inclined to do better, be more passionate, and form meaningful connections with those around you. These experiences, especially allowing others to see you in your element, can open doors for more opportunities, such as paid positions with the same organization or connections that help you get into paid opportunities for similar work. Volunteering becomes an investment, which is something that’s not always true with other things you may be doing to enhance your resume.

Volunteering will open many doors for you – not just professionally, but also doors to happiness and fulfillment! Think about some interests or passions you’ve been wanting to try, and see what organizations are out there and looking for someone, just like you.

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About the author

Aakanksha Sharma Aakanksha is a 4th-year student at the University of Waterloo, studying Political Science and Economics. Outside of writing, she is passionate about a range of things — politics, philosophy, reading, eating, hip-hop, and travel. She loves to talk about anything with anyone, and is fundamentally interested in human experiences and perspectives. You can ask her anything, if she’s allowed to ask you anything in return.