Volunteering during your gap year before university – this item on the agenda will almost definitely send students’ opinions flying in one of two directions:
Response 1: “What!? Why waste your time volunteering when you can have fun partying?”
Response 2: “Wow, how [insert amazing compliment here] of you!”
While it may be fun partying all year (especially if your friends are trapped in the library), that can eventually get old – no really, trust me! Ready for a change? What better way to spend your time than... (cue drumroll and spotlight) volunteer work!
Here's my list of why some good ol’ fashioned volunteering can be incredibly rewarding and useful if you’re on a gap year just before starting university.
1. Get an advantage with your university application
Here’s a snappy example: Student A has a perfectly written university application, perfect grades and stunning references. Student B has a perfectly written university application, drop-dead gorgeous grades, shining references and has done some volunteering work.
Tough choice for admission tutors? No way – Student B gets the place! I mentioned briefly a relevant volunteer project I was part of in my UCAS statement (used in UK university applications) and it definitely helped.
Guess what – relevant and interesting volunteer work, especially if linked to the subject you are applying for, can make or break your university application.
2. Cultural exposure and getting out of your comfort zone
If you choose to volunteer abroad during your gap year, you will have the once in a lifetime opportunity to immerse yourself in an entirely different culture.
The people are different, food may be entirely strange (fried scorpions for dinner – how delicious!) and you might have to take some time to adjust and settle down.
Living in a faraway place can be exciting but daunting, and the most important thing to remember is to not give up – after all, it’s a new cultural experience that you won't ever forget. You could even learn a new language along the way. Très bon!
3. Make new friends and meet new people
Volunteering is a great way to add to your social circles and meet like-minded people. What’s life without new friends, new people, new laughter and new ideas?
Who knows, you might even meet someone who will change your life or can inspire you to do something completely unexpected.
4. Improve your people skills
You’ll come into contact with many new people while volunteering, including people that you wouldn’t usually get to meet and spend time with.
Not only does this provide valuable exposure, but also allows you to improve your socialising skills! Stop being the hermit you used to be (if you’re one of those stay-in types or live in cyberspace), get out and live!
5. Come back with great stories - and bragging rights!
OK, so you won’t get the automatic right to brag endlessly without taking a breath, but one thing’s for sure: when you finish volunteering you will have some real-life, interesting and unique stories to tell everyone around you.
Volunteering experience makes great conversation starters at dinner parties, and you’ll definitely stand out for being the one with the weird story about being chased by angry bees while camping at midnight in the foot of the Himalayas!
6. Preparation for the future
Depending on what kind of volunteering you do, the task could prepare you for work in a relevant field. Also, some voluntary roles do look fantastic on a CV or résumé, and can give you extra points in the job-hiring process.
So don’t let your gap year go to waste and make sure you sign up for some volunteering work. You never know what you’ll get out of it, but those who put themselves out there will always find the best rewards.
Be fearless, ready to explore and most importantly, be open-minded!