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Alternative Break Programs: Not Just for Spring!

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The end of November is near, which means the semester is almost finished! Everyone enjoys a relaxing vacation, but some college students choose to make a difference during winter break rather than veg out in front of the TV in their parents’ living room.

The majority of young college students head home to spend time with their families during winter break, which generally lasts for four to five weeks during December and January. Some colleges and universities offer winter intersessions, which allow students to take courses during winter break, so some people choose to take advantage of the opportunity to earn college credit in a relatively short period of time.

A lot of students, though, are starting to participate in alternative breaks during their winter vacations.

What are Alternative Breaks?

BreakAway, an independent not-for-profit with headquarters near downtown Atlanta, explains that alternative spring breaks first originated in the early 1980s as an option other than traditional spring breaks. Alternative winter breaks are also becoming popular.

Organized alternative breaks are often sponsored by schools, non-profits like BreakAway, and churches or other places of worship. They give groups of students the opportunity to engage in volunteer service while they have a break from classes. These breaks can involve traveling to areas stricken by poverty, social issues, or other problems; alternative breaks can even occur in the students’ own local communities.

According to US News, experts have found that students are becoming more likely than ever before to volunteer in shelters or help build homes rather than party hearty while classes are not in session. Perhaps Generation Y is not as self-centered as many people believe!

BreakAway points out that unlike mission trips or simply volunteering on your own, alternative breaks generally involve a group of students from the same college or university. Emphasis will be placed on group interaction and working together for a cause.

Winter Break Ideas

If you’d like to help make a difference while you’re out of school for a few weeks rather than spend countless hours talking about your major with relatives you rarely see, you might be interested in an alternative winter break. It doesn’t necessarily have to last your entire vacation—many are one week or less—but it will allow you to assist others while becoming more educated and experienced about a problem or issue in the world.

And an added bonus? It just may help improve your resume, although it’s probably not a good idea to volunteer for that reason alone.

If it’s too late to join an organized winter trip through your school—plenty of advance notice and training are generally a must, and special requirements must be met if students will be going out of the country—you can still help others in need while you have some spare time on your hands.

10 Places to Volunteer

Check with your school’s activities office or local organizations in your town (or home town, if you’ll be going home from the dorms) but here are a few winter break volunteering ideas to get you started:

  • Local public libraries
  • Local schools
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Soup kitchens
  • Homeless shelters
  • Women’s shelters or crisis centers
  • Meals on Wheels
  • Churches or places of worship
  • Community centers

Keep in mind that you may have to go through interviews, background checks, or even drug testing before you will be allowed to help out. Also remember that you should make every effort to be punctual and finish what you start, but it’s also okay to politely decline a volunteer opportunity that turns out to be different than you thought it would be (or you’re asked to do something you’re uncomfortable with.)

Related Posts:

Volunteer Work Helps Others as it Helps You

Winter Break Alternatives for College Students


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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