Volunteer Experience

What is community work in psychology?

Students interested in one of the applied fields in psychology, such as Clinical, Counseling, or School Psychology, are well served by gaining experience working with special needs populations. Work in this area might involve helping at-risk minority children with schoolwork and social skills training, assisting mentally ill patients with their transition to community living, tutoring adolescents who are incarcerated, working in a homeless shelter, or working in a hospital. In addition to gaining knowledge about the needs of a specific population, students involved in such work learn invaluable lessons in diverse areas like communication, networking, and conflict mediation.

How do I get involved in volunteer work or training in applied psychological settings?

The first step is to identify a community work site where you would like to gain your experience. A current list of approved agencies, descriptions, and their contact information is posted here. Once you have identified places in which you are interested in volunteering, it is your responsibility to contact them, establish their need for volunteers in that particular semester, and set up a schedule for working with them.

Students may also volunteer at agencies that are not on the list of pre-approved local sites, but you will first need to get prior approval by the undergraduate coordinator. In selecting a site, make sure that the agency will give you initial orientation and training, in-service training, supervision and monitoring, and direction by competent professionals. To take credit via PSY 4949, it is expected that work performed by students will enhance their understanding of psychology in applied settings.

To apply for approval, have the agency fill out the site approval form completely (click here),and return this form for review and approval by the undergraduate coordinator. A critical component for being approved is that the work must have direct psychological relevance, and that this relevance is clearly illustrated in the tasks that the student would be doing. Make sure that the agency gives significant detail about which aspects of the work are related to psychology, how they are related, and whether those aspects make up the majority of the work in which the student will be involved. Note that it takes approximately a week to get site approval, so make sure to turn in the site approval form a week before you need it approved. The undergraduate coordinator will then notify the agency as to whether it has been approved or not.


Can I get course credit for community work in psychology?

Students who have completed a minimum of 12 hours of psychology coursework can register for PSY 4949 (Community Work in Psychology), a pass/fail course, after arranging a volunteer work placement. If taken for credit, your community work must be voluntary and unpaid. Students can take 1, 2, or 3 credit hours per semester, to be determined in conjunction with your work site. You can take a maximum of 4 hours of PSY 4949. For each credit taken, you must complete 45 hours of work during this semester to earn a satisfactory grade. This translates into 3 hours per week during Spring and Fall semesters, 3.75 hours per week during Summer C, and 7.5 hours per week during Summer A or Summer B (for each credit taken). A maximum of 9 hours from PSY 4949 and other individual work classes (PSY 4911/PCO 4911/PSY 3912/CLP 3911, PSY 4905, PSY 4940, PSY 4970) can count toward the 36-hour minimum requirement.

Approval for credit depends on both the agency’s willingness to use students who are earning credit and the department’s approval of the activity. As with any course, credit for these courses cannot be awarded retroactively, so if you want to earn credit, make sure to register for the individual work course in the semester that you plan to work. Registration for these courses is available through the midpoint of the semester (dates will be posted under the “Critical Dates” link), except for new agency approvals, whose deadline is a week earlier than the midpoint. If you have a scholarship, you should check with financial aid about any consequences for adding these courses after drop/add.

To enroll, you must first arrange to take this course with an approved agency. Fill out and print out this form,and obtain the signature of your supervisor at the agency. Once signed, take the form to the Psychology Advising office (135 PSY), where an advisor will register you for the course. Near the end of the semester, the psychology advising office will send an evaluation form to your agency, where they will be asked to verify the number of volunteer hours that you have completed and to assess whether your performance was satisfactory. The psychology advising office must receive this information by the last day of classes in order to process your grade. While it is not your responsibility to obtain this information (supervisors must directly report that information to the advising office), you are encouraged to remind your supervisor of this deadline so that you can avoid receiving an “I” grade.