Country: United States of America


How To Receive Academic Credit For Volunteering Abroad

November 27, 2012

Pairing volunteer work abroad with academic courses, such as choosing to do an Alternative Spring Break, taking a Gap Year, or going overseas to volunteer in the future, can be an effective resume builder as well as a means for gaining that extra bit of academic credit you have been putting off.

Here are some steps to keep in mind in order to maximize your academic credit potential while considering volunteer options abroad:

Research Potential Volunteer Programs

Do research on the types of volunteer work you are interested in doing and how they relate to your field of study. Be sure to jot down the names of the organizations you are interested in and what volunteer work is available.

Talk to Your Study Abroad Office

Check in with your school’s study abroad office or registrar in order to ensure you will be able to gain academic credit for your work. You may have to prove to them why an overseas volunteer experience would be academically or otherwise beneficial to your academic and career goals. Be sure to ask how many credit hours your will receive. You should also be in contact with your school’s service learning department (if available) and ask whether or not you could receive service learning credit for your work if academic credit is not a viable option.

Talk to Your Advisor

If you are considering a Gap Year or other long service, be sure to set up a meeting with your academic advisor to keep all of your other academic affairs in order. Also, ask for advice on how to pick a volunteer organization and project that has the most relevance towards your major or the coursework you are looking to supplement through volunteering abroad.

Contact the Organization

Contact the organization you would like to volunteer for—asking specific questions about how they can help you gain academic credit, such as by providing program evaluations to your school or overseeing an essay that you would write which would outline your experiences abroad. Generally grades are not distributed by volunteer programs, but “pass/fail” reviews can be given.

Consult with Your School and Volunteer Program

Do not leave for your volunteer experience without consulting with your school AND the organization. Have everything arranged before you leave to ensure you will be receiving academic credit.

Find Financial Aid

Check out opportunities for financial aid. If you are receiving academic credit for your work overseas, you will most likely be able to either apply for extra scholarships and grants as well as be able to increase your student loans in order to pay for your travel and other expenses.

Record Your Work and Milestones

You may want to keep a daily log of your activities and projects you have contributed to, that way if you believe there is something inaccurate in your program evaluation; you will have your own documentation to back up your claim on your campus when you return. You may also want to consider weekly progress reports to your academic advisor—especially if your service is long-term.

Build Professional Connections

Receive academic credit for volunteering abroad

8. Before you come home, ask if the organization provides letters of recommendation. These letters have the potential to serve as great professional references in the future—useful for your career search, applying for fellowship opportunities, and leadership development.

For those of you still in high school that are interested in volunteering abroad, you may be able to set up academic credit through your high school that has the potential to transfer into college credit in the future. It never hurts to ask!

If you are graduating soon and want to volunteer for academic credit in the future, it may not be too late to set that up! Check in with your registrar, financial aid office, and academic advisor to see if your school grants academic credit for volunteer work directly following graduation. If your school usually offers academic credit, you will most likely be approved to receive credit, and your volunteer experience will be reflected in your transcript after you return from abroad (not at the time of graduation).

Most common areas of volunteer work that grant college/university credit:

  • Education, including ESL
  • Hospital/medical volunteering
  • Experiences that require use of a second language, which you study on campus 
  • Community development
  • Agricultural engineering 
  • Eco-tourism
  • Construction

If you are looking to gain academic credit for your volunteering experience, start early! Contact anyone and everyone who may have a stake in the decision of whether or not to grant you credit. Be prepared for what you want to do and with the organization you like best, but also be flexible with your options, not all schools or organizations are willing to go through all of the necessary steps, but it is important that you ASK! Good luck!

Images from Wikimedia Commons and Creative Commons.