What you need to know:
- Many popular programs offer college credit while volunteering abroad
- Volunteering abroad is a great way to enhance your academic studies
- It's important to ensure your credits will transfer before embarking on a program
A growing number of students are opting to volunteer for college credit in addition to or in the place of study abroad programs.
These projects generally range from two weeks to one semester, and often take the form of internship, independent study, or research programs. Credit is arranged on a case-by-case basis via the university, or offered through a partnership with a volunteer abroad program.
How it works
Volunteering abroad is popular among students who can't quite find the right study abroad program for their interests and needs, or for those who wish to craft their own semester abroad.
For example, a student majoring in marine biology might volunteer one semester with a field station in exchange for independent research credit. Another student interested in education could spend a summer teaching children at a primary school abroad, and receive credits toward the degree.
If volunteering abroad for college credit interests you, work with your university and with preferred volunteer program to narrow down the following:
- Your project scope -- meaning the type of work you'll complete and how you will be assessed both by the volunteer program and by the university
- Reports and other projects you'll complete while assisting with the volunteer group
- The credits you'll receive for the work -- including the amount and which classes these correspond to, if applicable
- The financial aid you might need for that semester
As you can see, volunteering abroad for college credit takes a great deal of coordination between the student, the university, and the volunteer organization. Because this option isn't quite as well known or streamlined as study abroad, there may not be standard procedures in place at your university to pursue volunteer abroad programs.
Before departure, ensure that you have the full go-ahead from your university for all credits you're seeking. As with study abroad programs, you might need to receive sign-off from individual professors noting that your volunteer program adequately covers topics in your major, concentration, or independent study project.
If you depend on financial aid, check whether you must be a full-time student to qualify. In some cases, part-time students (generally those earning fewer than 12 credits) must forfeit all or part of their aid packages until they register for one or more classes.
If this is the case with you, and you cannot receive approval for a full semester's credit hours, consider short-term volunteer placements abroad. For example, an intense, full-time project undertaken over two weeks might qualify for three credits, which you can knock out over summer or winter break.
Because volunteering abroad for college credit often is an independently organized endeavor, you're totally accountable for your success both in setting up and in following through with the project.
It's certainly not my intention to scare you! Volunteering abroad can be a great adventure and a fantastic way to gain real life experience in an area that interests you--just make sure you have your ducks in a row before jumping in.
Below are some volunteer abroad programs you might consider working with for college credit. While some offer accredited volunteer programs, others offer internships or other long-term programs, and have experience working with university students seeking credit or hands-on experience in their areas of study.