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University: an opportunity to help others?

By Michael Wyatt, on 6 April 2018

Michael, a Human Sciences students tell us about the ways you can use university to help you help others. 

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

From the moment we reach secondary school, or for some even before then, we are told how useful university is. We are told it will help us get good jobs, meet interesting people and present us with better opportunities. University is portrayed as a chance to utilise resources handed to you that allow you to make something of yourself and grow as a person, but that’s not all it is. University is a remarkable place with avenues that allow us to reach our full potential, but it is also a place that provides a never-ending stream of opportunities to help others, and use our abilities to enable others to reach their full potential too. Whether it be participating in voluntary schemes, involving yourself in mentoring programmes or teaching useful life skills to young people, university is, above all, a place to help others.


University provides you with a wide range of volunteering opportunities. The UCL Volunteer Service has over 500 volunteering opportunities in London, including helping at animal homes, working within health organisations and promoting the arts. The spectrum available to university students, particularly in London where there is a never-ending number of new and existing charities, provides students with a chance to make a real difference in their new community.

Cities as grand as London are home to both the fortunate and the vulnerable. That means there are people minutes away from your accommodation or lecture theatre that you can help get back on their feet –  or just provide some overdue attention to. It is nothing new to hear that volunteering is something we should all get involved in, but when it is made so readily available to you by your university, particularly by a union as active as UCL’s, there is little excuse not to help those less fortunate. Visit UCL’s volunteer page for more details.


Your first year at university, let alone your first month or week, can be a scary place. You are thrown into a new environment with new people, and for some even a new country. Workload seems daunting and the campus is surely too big to possibly reach your next lecture in 10 minutes. There are times you may want a helping hand. That helping hand is exactly the role of the Transition Mentoring Programme that runs at UCL. All first-year students are assigned a second or third year mentor from the same course or department as themselves, and the role of the mentor is largely to assist first year students with the day to day problems a new university student may face. A mentor can assist with organising work, providing tips on how to make friends and get involved in university life a bit more, as well as providing pastoral support.

The opportunity to become a mentor is made available to all post-first year UCL students and it is a role that comes with both responsibility and pride. In my experience as a mentor, assisting a group of students progress through the hardships of their first year of university is incredibly rewarding and the role you play in their experience cannot be underestimated. First year students will look to you for guidance and friendship, as well as answers to some questions that UCAS or a magazine’s ‘survival guide to university’ would have no hope of resolving. Once you appreciate the value of a mentor, it will be a natural transition to want to reciprocate their efforts and mentor a group of first year students yourself.

Why should we use our time at university to engage in helping other people?

For many young people, university is a place to come and figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. Not all secondary school students finish their exams knowing they want to be a doctor or an engineer. University provides the freedom of expression and experimentation to find your path.

A method so often overlooked in deciphering where your true path may lie is found in volunteering and helping others in as many ways as possible. Putting yourself forward for new opportunities, whether it be assisting in a nursing home, mentoring vulnerable young people or helping a housing firm to provide aid to the homeless, is life experience and allows us all to learn more about the world we live in. Volunteering teaches valuable life skills and may uncover within us a drive to continue a career focused on helping others or making a difference. Whatever it is you decide to do with your university experience, don’t let it be focused solely on using the resources available to better yourself. Take advantage of the plethora of opportunities to help your community, whether that be within or outside of university life, and leave university knowing you have not only grown academically, but also as an individual by helping those around you.

A word from the writer

I’m Michael and I am a second-year human scientist, particularly interested in individual and population health. I have lived in London all my life but have a diverse background of English mixed with Palestinian and Greek heritage. I’m always up for a laugh and a chat and never run away from a chance to meet new people or engage in new opportunities.

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