Differences between service learning and volunteering


Volunteering outside a course is a great way to get involved with your community. This type of volunteer service is not linked to any academic credit-bearing course. 


  • You tutor 3rd grade children in reading and math at Lakeshore Elementary. Note: At SF State, we consider "volunteering" as a type of service not linked to an academic/credit-bearing course. If you are volunteering on your own time and not associated with a service-learning and/or academic internship course and receiving academic course credit, the SF State liability insurance available to these students will not apply to you.

Intended beneficiary in this relationship:

  • The elementary students receiving the tutoring is the intended beneficiary. You as the volunteer will certainly benefit from this experience as well, however, the intent of the volunteering is to make a difference in the lives of those you are serving. 

Service learning can include volunteer experience, which is done in conjunction with a Community Service Learning (CSL) course. 


  • You are enrolled in a Social/Political Inequality course  and service-learning is optional for this course. You complete your service-learning placement with the University-approved community partner, 826 Valencia and you serve as a reading tutor.

Intended beneficiaries in this relationship:

  • Both you and the students receiving the tutoring are the intended beneficiaries. In a service-learning experience, the students you are tutoring benefits because they get the assistance they need to be successful in reading. But you also benefit. You have the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills you are learning in your Social/Political Inequality course in a real world setting.

Service-learning experience / reflection as it might occur in your course:

  • You are a reading tutor.
  • You analyze what you are learning in class of the impact of socio-economic inequality on young people and the factors that reproduce this inequality from one generation to the next (example: lack of access to educational opportunities) by tutoring and spending the time with students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • You provide crucial support to 826 Valencia's after-school programs.
  • You have the opportunity to reflect on your experience in class. This is service-learning.