College is a time of exploration — both inside and outside of the classroom. Finding a volunteer project that speaks to your interests is a great way to enhance your education. 

The experience helps students gain knowledge and network, and it looks pretty impressive on a résumé. The question students face is whether it is better to volunteer within their field or outside of it.

Volunteering within your major is one of the easiest —and fastest — ways to decide if what you’re studying is truly what you wish to pursue. “By volunteering for opportunities within their major, students can implement the knowledge they have learned in the classroom in real-life situations,” explains Debra Manente, associate director of career services at Post University. “In doing so,” she adds, “they can tangibly illustrate the value of their degree on their résumé.” The flip side of that is learning that perhaps you’re more interested in another field of study.

“Volunteer opportunities within your major are useful, but even those outside your discipline can be invaluable,” says Christine Endres, branch manager for the staffing agency Accountemps. “They may work to diversify your skill set and help land a job in another area down the line,” she says. Bonus points if you can connect the dots between your seemingly unrelated experience and what a prospective job requires of you. Going for a sales job after volunteering in a hospital cafeteria? Sounds like interpersonal skills.

Regardless of whether the volunteer work is within your major or not, volunteering can lead to tremendous growth. “By volunteering, you can learn by observing and interacting with others in a totally new environment,” explains Tonya Osmond, assistant director, Office of Alumni and Career Services at the University of Richmond. “The risk for trying something new is often lower through a volunteer activity, so it may reduce possible fears of failure,” adds Osmond. That alone will help students when they’re entering the workforce after graduation.

On the fence about volunteering? Consider the following:

As Endres explains, volunteering helps candidates stand out for several reasons:

• It catches the eye of potential employers because it shows that you’re willing to take the initiative and work for causes you believe in.

• It’s an opportunity to learn about an industry or organization, gain real-life job experience and build valuable skills that you can use later on.

• It’s also a great way to start building your professional network.