The Student’s Guide to Volunteering at University

Person holding a cardboard sign saying 'Volunteers needed'

What does it mean to volunteer and how can you use it to benefit your own personal growth, as well as the wellbeing of others?

Volunteering, in any sense, encompasses acts of selflessness meant to help a group of individuals, a community, or a subset of society. From the foodbanks outside of supermarkets, to the glamorously well-funded charity fun-runs held throughout the year, we are spoilt for choice with opportunities to act selflessly. Last year, around 20,000 new non-profit organisations were registered in the UK, bringing the total to 168,893 by March 2023. While volunteering for a good cause is never done for monetary gain, that isn’t to say that it can’t be transactional.

So, for any busy student, taking out time to volunteer in your local community unlocks a series of doors towards your personal and professional development. Any experience in a volunteering capacity, be it a beach clean, coaching school pupils, or working behind the counter of your local charity shop, is an excellent feature of a well-rounded CV. Committing your time towards a cause that’s personal to you not only helps you develop your core transferable skills, but allows you to get to know your local community (especially for our international students), make a visible difference to people’s lives, and most importantly, have fun!

One of the most popular reasons students choose to volunteer during their time at Reading is due to their participation in the Reading Experience and Development (RED) Awards scheme. This is run by the Careers Centre to help enrolled students reach their full potential outside their academic course. With the awards in mind, you have access to countless opportunities both on campus and outside your local community. To name but a few:

  • Becoming a Course Rep to represent the student voice on academic issues.
  • Taking on the role of a committee member for RSU societies (I can personally recommend learning first aid skills with the St John Ambulance society and writing as a student contributor for the Spark).
  • Becoming a STaR Mentor to help new students just starting out at university.
  • Get experience as a PAL Leader, to help fellow students get to grips with tricky assignments and concepts in their courses.

In the local Reading community, there are also a whole host of ways you can make a difference to lives off-campus too:

  • Volunteer through the Students in Schools scheme to work with pupils in primary, secondary and specialist education.
  • Explore local opportunities with Reading Voluntary Action, where organisations and communities recruit volunteers for their causes.
  • Reading Students’ Union Volunteering is a great place to look for unique causes to support as part of the student community – you might see yourself supporting conservation efforts with the Hedgehog Society, or celebrating the diversity on campus with the MFL club.
  • Making a difference can happen remotely as well as in-person; the RED Awards webpages have a full list of opportunities, including ones you can take part in from the comfort of your sofa!

Whether or not you decide to get stuck into a RED Award and explore all the possibilities on your doorstep, just know this – working for the benefit of others, without the promise of monetary gain, is something any employer will be glad to see included in your journey of professional development.


Isla Bailey, Microbiology Student at the University of Reading

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