If you're planning for a degree in social work, psychology or a related field, volunteer experience can greatly impact the type of job you land after graduation. Volunteer experience can help prepare you for life as a social worker and the highs and lows that come with it. Plus, volunteer experience is a great way to help others and make a difference in someone's life!

Think about which population (children, elderly, homeless, mentally challenged, etc.) you'd like to help the most, or help the population that you plan to work with as a social worker.

Gather the names and contact information of at least three personal or employment references. You might or might not need them. Update your resume in case someone asks for it.

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Google your city's name with "volunteer center" to see whether it has a volunteer center -- for example, search "Dallas volunteer center." If you find one, contact them and they will assist you Contact your local United Way and ask which agencies currently need volunteers the most. Visit volunteermatch.org and search for opportunities. Keep in mind that not all agencies and jobs are listed.

Consider becoming a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), which involves visiting a child in foster care, attending monitored family visits, gathering info, going to CPS meetings and (in some cases) testifying at court hearings. This is a great way to get experience if you would like to become a CPS worker.

After getting a volunteer job, treat it as you would treat a real job. Although you might not be getting any financial compensation from it, the resume experience and joy that you will bring to someone else are priceless.

Tip

Be sure to obtain reference information from your volunteer positions so you can put it on your resume. Meals on Wheels always needs more volunteers. Call your local office or visit mowaa.org/. If you enjoy helping the elderly, many nursing homes for low-income patients would be thrilled to have some extra help. You could plan activities and more.
Hospitals usually need volunteers. You could help children, or adults with no family or support. Some even have a program for volunteer "baby rockers" who rock babies in the NICU.
If you are a good listener, another excellent opportunity is to volunteer for a crisis/suicide hotline. To find the nearest one, call the United Way or look online or in the phone book. If you think you'd like to help someone who has been raped, many rape crisis centers desperately need volunteers. Visit rainn.org. Another great volunteer opportunity that will give you valuable experience is to help out at a homeless shelter or domestic violence safe home. Visit artistshelpingchildren.org and search their list of homeless shelters. If you think you could help someone who is terminally ill, consider becoming a hospice volunteer. Visit hospicenet.org and click on "find a local hospice," or look in your phone book.

Warning

Don't overdo yourself. Offering to volunteer a few hours a week or even a month is great. Do not let agencies take advantage of you; if you feel that they are, please talk about it with a director, and if it doesn't change, feel free to move onto another position.

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