Returning to Calgary for the start of another school year means something different to all of us. To many it is a reunion of friends missed over the summer, the prospect of a month's worth of Den nights to squeeze in before midterms begin or the dread of finishing a lab report before cracking that first beer. To far too few, it is also the beginning of the semester's volunteer work.
Students often struggle to find free time amidst the stress of studying once the September festivites cease, and even the well-intentioned volunteers of pre-midterms find themselves too bogged down to make their weekly commitments to classes, let alone volunteer regularly. While classes and the occasional night out with friends should certainly be among a student's top priorities, the educational benefits of donating one's time should not be overlooked when planning the next several months.
First, spending time away from academia allows your mind a much-needed rest--something especially important during the most stressful periods of study. Taking two hours away from preparation for midterms to volunteer will actually decrease stress, but only if you wisely chose to give your time to a cause you support in more than just principle. For example, for several years I volunteered a nursing home, which I regularly detested and thus only sporadically showed up for. It is almost impossible to motivate yourself to willingly do a job--voluntary or otherwise--that you do not enjoy. However, if you find office administration, childcare or humanitarian relief enjoyable and fulfilling, you will doubtless be able to find a placement you can look forward to attending.
This points to the second benefit of volunteering: career experience. Working free-of-charge in a field you hope to be employed in is an excellent way to learn valuable job skills and lets you determine whether or not that field is really for you. If it is, volunteer experience on a resume stands out because it is hands-on, adding greater value to your university degree. This is helpful no matter what you hope to do after graduation.
That volunteer work is emphasized as a benefit when continuing in education, medicine or social work, does not detract from its value as preparation for a career in art, engineering, or anythine else. It does prove, however, that even the most competitive professions involve not just good marks and social skills, but the invaluable lessons learned from direct involvement in your area of interest.
So as you attend your first lectures, choose your essay topics and plan for the upcoming weekends, consider adding a volunteer placement to your fall schedule. Volunteer Services can help you find and make contacts in numerous organizations and if you are strongly opposed to a regular commitment, events like Shinerama and Alternative Spring Break (during winter reading week), are one-time responsibilities. The educational benefits of volunteer work are indisputable, and the betterment of the community at large will hopefully be at least as rewarding to you as the career-defining lessons you will certainly learn.