Most of them.
We students have far too much going on, right? Between waking up on time for class, making time for meals, studying and sometimes even working, where could we POSSIBLY find time to add anything to our schedules?
Yes, I realize that it would look good on my resume, but what is the concrete value of any of these experiences? What am I getting out of it? Is it worth getting out of bed on a Saturday morning to volunteer at a campus program or community event?
This is the way I thought throughout most of my undergraduate career. Don't get me wrong, during those four years, I maintained an above-average GPA, became captain of the women's basketball team, tutored for the disability center and held a part-time job (about 10 hours per week). It may seem like a lot, but now that I've begun to actually read the emails being sent by my mentors, I am realizing how much more I could have done with that time and how many connections I probably missed.
When I graduated with my undergraduate degree, I knew nothing about what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I enjoyed writing. I knew that I enjoyed working with people. That's about it. I did my senior internship and didn't completely despise it, so that's where I ended up after graduation. It wasn't until I finally began embracing and seeking out new opportunities that I found my real passions and could start pursuing the life that I wanted rather than the one I fell into.
Regardless of the specific opportunity we choose to pass up, we are potentially denying ourselves personal and professional connections. College is a time to discover strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and passions. By getting stuck in a 4-year routine consisting of the same types of jobs, classes and social networks, we are being exposed to a very limited set of experiences and therefore, simultaneously prolonging the process of discovering what type of career, lifestyle and education is worth pursuing.
Here are a few of the advantages I've found to seizing opportunities, even if you aren't sure if they're "for you" or if you think you can handle the addition to your schedule:
- Connections: Meeting people is everything! I cannot place any monetary value on the friendships and mentors i've gained through my volunteer experiences. I have connections across the country with people who can, not only help me professionally, but who have been wonderful personal supports and networks.
- Compensation: While volunteer opportunities never offer big bucks for your participation, they do often provide things like travel costs, meal expenses and hotel accommodations. Don't be afraid to ask if any out-of-pocket costs are covered by the organization or institution before you travel too far and break your bank.
- Experience different types of jobs: If you have an idea of what field you want to work in, use this as a chance to observe it on different levels and on various levels. You might find that you're more into the production side of things rather than being the front-(wo)man or vice versa. See what other people do in order to get a better idea of where you can see yourself.
- Sorting through the garbage: the more you know and understand, the more you can discard what's NOT for you.
- New places: Even if the position or job title isn't something you see yourself doing long-term, take advantage of opportunities that will allow you to travel. You might find that you really enjoy (or really don't want to end up in) certain places that you had never thought of before! Volunteer programs are great chances to experience different countries, states, cities and venues.
- Respect: Professors, advisers and peers usually admire the fact that you're willing to take chances, which makes them more likely to throw more opportunities your way in the future! You may miss some classes or need to ask for extensions, but I've found that 95% of the time, faculty values the experience you're gaining and are more than willing to work with you as long as you communicate your plans appropriately.
- Set yourself apart: While steady positions, degrees and long-term experience are definitely important, I am finding more and more that potential employers like to hear about my "unique" experiences and excursions even more than my schooling or day-to-day routines in my full-time positions. Those stories could be what helps them remember your interview after a day full of qualified candidates!
- Open up future opportunities: There is real value in relationships. Others can offer support, advice and direction based on their own unique experiences. The more you volunteer for, the more people you meet. The more people you meet, the more opportunities they can present you with as you move forward!
- Even if you hate the actual "job" you end up doing, most of these positions are part-time and temporary. Really, there's not much to lose. You never know what you'll discover when you stop ignoring those emails! Maybe even your future... Just go for it!
— Alyssa Meyers is obtaining a graduate degree in Counseling and College Student Affairs (CSA) at Bloomsburg University, where she holds a graduate assistantship in the Student Activities Office. There, she assists in overseeing Bloomsburg's Program Board, Concert Committee and other groups and committees related to campus-wide event and activity planning.
Alyssa also holds a part-time position at Penn State University's Hazleton campus, where she is the Assistant Coordinator in the Office of Residence Life. In this position, she oversees a 10-person student Resident Assistant staff, works with the full-time residence life staff and participates in on-call or "Duty" responsibilities.
Prior to starting her career in student affairs, worked as a caseworked at Columbia County Children and Youth Services. She gained experience in crisis management, community health, and strength-based intervention strategies. Last summer, Alyssa moved to the Los Angeles area and worked with the Student Life and Engagement staff at Marymount California University. The focal point of her summer was designing an LGBT Safe Zone training manual and additional programming for the upcoming academic year.