Harness your high school volunteering habit into real rewards on your college expenses.
As many of America’s 20.5 million college students would attest, education does not come cheap. But there may be a way that you can learn more about your community, gain valuable skills and potentially save money on your college tuition — simply by volunteering your time and effort.
Students who participate in volunteer projects throughout their high school careers are often able to receive better scholarships and other grants that support community engagement and activities. Consider the ways that volunteering could benefit you, your college costs and your future career.
How volunteering helps
When you have the chance to shine, your passion and success follows. Spending time at a local animal shelter, retirement community or hospital can earn you both experience and accolades on your college application.
If you have an idea of what you want to study at university, consider volunteer opportunities that can both diversify your experience and qualify for scholarships or grants that could ease your student loan burden.
Volunteering in college
Once you’ve started college, you may be able to find time for opportunities that give back to the community and make a difference to your financial bottom line.
For instance, if you’re already considering joining the military, you can set yourself up to cutting down on costs by joining the ROTC — or the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. The ROTC helps you pay your college tuition while you serve your country. ROTC provides scholarships of up to $80,000 toward tuition and educational fees for students who enroll during college or in high school. It can also assist you along your career path, helping you excel and save on expenses throughout college.
And don’t underestimate the impact volunteering can have on your future employers. Volunteering can make you more hireable in an area of service that you’re passionate about, showing real commitment to your community. You’ll gain skills that are important when working with a team, getting to know the unique issues that people in your city face. You’ll be potentially working toward leadership positions, building skills that are highly prized by employers when deciding among new college grads.
But it doesn’t have to be just another tactic to fleshing out your resume. Volunteering for organizations within your major can provide experiences that dovetail with your studies, enriching what you’ve learned in the classroom, better preparing you for your chosen career.
What you can do after college
Whether you need to pay off student loans or pay for continued education at a reduced cost, post-college service opportunities abound.
AmeriCorps is a group of volunteers sent to locations around the US to teach, support at-risk communities and work within some of America’s poorest neighborhoods. AmeriCorps volunteers can receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award after fulfilling their term of service, which can be used for paying off student loans or advancing your education.
National Health Service Corps
If you’re pursuing a career in medicine, National Health Service Corp volunteers provide medical care to rural communities and communities that lack qualified health professionals. The NHSC offers scholarships for students who are still in medical school, and helps medical professionals who have already graduated pay off student loans after they’ve fulfilled their service term.
The Peace Corps gives students a way to volunteer around the world while keeping an eye on graduate school. Volunteers can serve while pursuing a master’s degree program abroad and participate in the Coverdell Fellows Program, which provides financial assistance to volunteers who want to volunteer in the US. Just ensure you don’t lose out on the offset with high fees associated with moving money around while volunteering overseas, compare providers to find most cost effective options.
Consider student loans
Whether choosing to offset college through volunteering during or after college, keep in mind that while a huge expense, college is one that will pay off in the long run. To do this it helps to look ahead at the return your investment and work out whether the career you pick will support the level of debt you’ve accrued to get there. finder.com recently broke down the value of a student loan against potential future earnings based on LinkedIn’s Top 20 Highest Paying Jobs of 2017.
What we found is that it’s worthwhile to figure out whether your future career has a good return on investment — and that student loans can help ease some of the financial burden until you make good on that ROI.
Remember, it’s never too early — or too late — to start volunteering with a group or organization that you’re passionate about. You just might be able to both change your life and save money in the end.
Written by Michelle Hutchison. Michelle is finder.com’s resident Money Expert and is passionate about helping Americans make better financial decisions. She has been in the financial services industry for over seven years and has previously worked as a journalist and editor.
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