Academic Credit for Service Learning

You may be able to receive academic credit for your volunteering abroad (AKA “service learning”).

Start with your school. Some schools have a formal service-learning department – with a detailed curriculum, required hours, and even faculty-led trips. Other schools are informal, leaving it up to the students to research, plan and document the volunteering experience on their own.

In either case, any academic is given by your school. So follow your school’s guidelines for getting credit for your volunteer trip abroad!

Here are some examples of academic credit

> A medical student volunteers at a hospital in Bangalore for 2 months. They get academic credit from their medical school for the trip, because they not only volunteered but they learned about medical care delivery in India. Their medical school considers the experience an “elective” course.

> A high school student volunteers with poor children in Ghana, after taking a course at school on the history, culture and development issues in west Africa. Because the student is integrating their classroom learning with real-world experience, they receive academic credit for their volunteering trip.

> A university student helps to build houses in Guatemala for 1 week. The program is not affiliated with their school, and there are no courses involved, but the student earns 40-plus hours of volunteer service as part of a graduation requirement.

An added academic component of all of the above trips could be studying a local language, with the student taking formal classes abroad. Spanish-speaking countries have traditionally been some of the most popular destinations for this, but studying other languages like Swahili and Hindi is on the rise.

As with so many other things involved with volunteering abroad – your quest to get academic credit should start long before you get on that plane for your trip:

Steps to Take

> Start by meeting with your school counselor academic adviser.

> Find out what paperwork is required by your school. They usually have standard forms that you and your volunteer organization will fill out which include things like daily tasks, goals, schedule, supervisors in the field, and contact information abroad.

> Does your school require reports from the field? This could involves posting journal entries, photos, and/or videos online.

> Will you have to do a presentation on your experience after returning home?