My College:
Academics

The Value of Outside Opportunities

Suzanne Shaffer


College is so much more than simply completing enough credits to graduate. During their years on campus, your student will be presented with many ways to enhance their college experience. Here are just a few!

Service Learning

Does your student want to broaden their knowledge base while making a difference in the local community? As its name suggests, service learning combines classroom instruction with hands-on service. The goal is to help students connect their studies to real-world needs and put academic theories into action.

Service learning experiences are usually tied to social science courses (political science, sociology, environmental studies, psychology) or pre-professional courses such as education, social work, and business. Types of projects include:

  • Direct service: Tutoring, serving meals, assisting patients in a medical setting, leading activities at a nursing home, helping at a preschool, walking foster dogs
  • Indirect service: Fundraising, sorting donations at a resale shop, stocking a food pantry, collecting items for the needy, planting trees
  • Advocacy: Writing to government officials, demonstrating for social causes, educating others about policy issues

Students can learn more on the college’s service‑learning webpage or by speaking with a professor in their field of study.

UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program)

UROP facilitates undergraduate participation in faculty-mentored research projects. Depending on the project and the professor, a UROP student might help conduct research, learn to use lab equipment, contribute to an academic paper or book chapter — even attend a conference!

Your student doesn’t need previous research experience to apply and their home institution doesn’t limit their options. UROPs are open to undergrads from any college, and summer is a great chance for a student to broaden their horizons by applying for a project at another campus.

UROP students may receive academic credit OR get paid by the university (not both). The programs sometimes allow qualifying students to be paid through Federal Work-Study.

Your student can talk to a professor to inquire about openings and the application process if this is something that interests them. They can also visit the college’s UROP webpage for more information. Most UROP academic-year program applications open in May and close in mid-August. Summer program application deadlines vary between October–February.

Research Assistant

Graduate students are expected to work as Research Assistants to fulfill degree requirements and gain professional knowledge and experience, but often undergrads can apply for these positions, too, and it’s great for resume-building.

As a Research Assistant, your student will be paid to work on a professor’s project. They might conduct experiments, collect and analyze data, write program codes, help run labs and field trips, and contribute to academic papers.

Your student can learn about these openings by talking to their professors and applying for the position.

Teaching Assistant

Teaching Assistants help with organizational and classroom management tasks, supporting both the professor and the students. At big universities, TAs are typically graduate students, but at smaller schools, TAs are undergrads taking upper-level courses.

TAs help with lesson preparation, grade homework, lead small group activities, and work with students who need extra instruction.

The advantages of being a TA are many. Your student will develop a relationship with their mentor that can help when moving on to a career in that field after graduation. They’ll also gain leadership, communication, and teaching experience.

These are paid positions. Your student must apply and once accepted, attend training provided by the college or university.

RA (Resident Assistant)

RAs are hired to live in and manage a portion of a residence hall. Compensation varies so your student should check with the college housing office for details. An RA may receive a stipend to cover their room charge; at some institutions, meal plans are included, too.

RAs are typically upperclassmen and play an important role in campus residential life. They help new students adjust to college, mediate roommate issues, organize programs and activities for the dorm residents, and help enforce the residence hall code of conduct.

As an RA, your student will add valuable skills to their resume: leadership, communication, time management, teamwork, and conflict resolution. It’s a challenging position, and applications can be very competitive, but being an RA is a lot of fun and provides countless opportunities for personal growth.

Students who participate in service learning, UROPs, and other leadership opportunities expand their network of friends and connections, and are also likely to develop a clearer sense of their educational and career goals.

Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.

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