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Degrees For People Who Really Love Volunteering
June 12, 2012
Somewhere between my second AmeriCorps service and studying abroad in Thailand, I realized what I wanted to do with my life. I had somehow ignored, even though I loved being a full-time volunteer, the idea that this might be what I was good at, my niche. It still surprises me that it took so long, but I finally knew: I wanted to serve.
I know that sounds broad- and it totally is- but this was the first inkling that I had about wanting to devote my life to service, philanthropy, and volunteerism. Shortly after this realization, I had another thought- "What on Earth do I study to do that for a living?"
This question lead to almost as much confusion as the first. After all, there are simply so many options for people who want to devote their life to service- what degree could possibly help me become a better volunteer?
Chances are, you might be in the same boat as me. As more and more people devote their time to volunteerism or serving abroad, many people face the problem of trying to relate a college degree to what they want to do in the field. Of course, the path for a volunteer could be almost anything as volunteering can be as specialized or general as it needs to be. However, there are a few degrees that might help point a general volunteer towards a degree that can help them along in their life of service. To save you a little time, I've tried to compile a bit of my research:
Degrees for Specialty Volunteering
This could seriously be anything. For almost any profession, there is a group of specialty volunteers dedicated to it. Whether you are a farmer, an accountant, or whatever, your skills can be used by some project somewhere. You may want to even do a bit of research and see if your trade union or national membership organization does specialty volunteering. For an idea of specialty volunteering groups, check out such groups as Code for America or Accounting for International Development.
So, for this kind of volunteering, do whatever your heart desires (or, more likely, what you're good at). One of the best things about widespread volunteering is that it is able to encompass people from all types of professions and walks of life. Degrees that are more specific to volunteering include: social work, nonprofit management, and peace studies.
If international volunteering is your thing, you may want to consider a degree in international development or international studies. Foreign languages are a must for someone who wants to spend their life volunteering abroad, so make sure to focus on that! Degrees in international studies may also help if you are interesting in taking the Foreign Service Exam.
Degrees that Focus on Community Service
If you're hoping for a degree that focuses more specifically on community service, there are also several options for you. You may want to consider a degree in Public Administration or even a law degree. There quite a few programs across the country that try to incorporate service learning into their curriculums. To get an idea of such programs, you might want to look into schools that partner with the Peace Corps's Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program or else the Peace Corps Top Schools List.
Another idea is to look for schools that have a strong relationship with the AmericCorps program. These schools, because they already value the service learning potential of community service, may be willing to work with you on specialized programs that fit your individual needs. There are also additional resources, such as The National Service Learning Clearinghouse that keeps records of schools that utilize service learning in their curriculums.
Degrees for Volunteer Coordination
If, on the other hand, you would rather work for volunteer coordination than as a volunteer, there are also degrees that you should eye as you begin school. A degree in nonprofit management or even something more specific to the field that you would like to work in such as international education or philanthropy and finance.
Volunteer managers need to have a good idea of how both to make a project beneficial and how to lead groups of people so that they are able to work efficiently together. Because of this last component, you may want to consider specializing in leadership studies or else an interdisciplinary degree that incorporates the many roles of a volunteer coordinator.
Whatever you eventually choose to specialize in will, in some way, benefit your life as a volunteer. Many of the degrees that I have listed will not only open the door to more volunteer opportunities, but they'll also help you volunteer well!
Photo Credits: Will Folsom, SMBCollege