Carlson Leadership & Public Service Center

Service Learning: Frequently Asked Questions

 Students & Service-Learning



What is Service-Learning?
Service-learning is a learning experience that combines service with the community with structured preparation and reflection opportunities. Service opportunities with local nonprofit organizations, schools, and government entities are tied to academic coursework and address concerns that are identified and articulated by the community. As students engage in service-learning, they learn about the context in which service is provided, the connection between their service and their academic coursework, and their roles as community members.



What are the benefits of service-learning?

  • First-hand experience with economic, social, cultural, political contexts, and factors that shape concepts addressed in course work.
  • Greater understanding by connecting course work to the issues and concerns in the community.
  • Opportunities to learn from community members, leaders, and practitioners.
  • Opportunities to contribute to the mission and/or purpose of an organization through service.
  • Firsthand experience with the nonprofit, government, and educational sectors – and their strengths and limitations.



How does service-learning work at the UW?
Each quarter, faculty and instructors from numerous disciplines across campus elect to integrate service-learning into their courses. Carlson Center staff work closely with course instructors to identify learning objectives for students while simultaneously working with community-based organizations to identify their volunteer and community interests and needs and the educational opportunities they would like to offer for students. Courses and organizations are subsequently matched to meet both the learning objectives of the instructor and the community-identified needs and learning opportunities of the organization.

Service-learning has the following components:

  • Students making and following through on a commitment to volunteer each week of the quarter (generally 3-5 hours, depending on their host organizations’ expectations), and thoughtfully integrating their experiences with classroom work.
  • Community-based organizations provide a structured learning experience for the student.
  • Faculty members/instructors assisting the students in thoughtfully integrating their community experiences into course assignments and discussions.
  • the quarter-long opportunity usually culminates in a reflective paper or related project, demonstrating the student’s understanding of academic concepts as integrated with the community-based experience.



Are background checks required for participating in service-learning?

  • Background checks are not required for all service-learning positions – but they are for some. Read more about service-learning background checks, with answers to other, related FAQs, on the Special Circumstances page.



How do I view my Service-Learning position details after registering?

  • You can login to EXPO anytime to view the details of your service-learning position.



I have contacted my host organization but have yet to hear back from them. What should I do?

  • Your service-learning site supervisor may be balancing multiple projects and responsibilities.  Allow 24-36 hours before reaching out to them for a second time.  Keep in mind most organizations work regular business hours so you will need to allow extra time for a response if you contact your organization over the weekend.  The Carlson Center recommends utilizing both phone and e-mail to get in touch with your organization.  If you have tried the above-listed solutions and are still having trouble, please come to Mary Gates Hall 171 to speak to a member of the Carlson Center staff.



Can I switch my service-learning position?

  • Service-learning registration occurs online and generally takes place during the first week of classes.  At any time during the service-learning registration period you can login to our online system to switch to a different position/organization.  After registration has closed, you will need to come to Mary Gates Hall 171 to work directly with a member of the Carlson Center staff to change your service-learning site.  In general, the Carlson Center discourages students from changing their service-learning site after registration has closed because deviating from the registration timeline can make it challenging for organizations to be able to orient and train service-learning students in a timely manner that allows them to maximize the commitment the students will be making during the academic quarter.



I want to drop service-learning completely. How do I do this?

  • Check your course syllabus to determine whether service-learning is an optional or required component of your course.  If you are in a course with optional service-learning and you choose to drop your service-learning commitment, contact your service-learning site supervisor, your course instructor, and the Carlson Center about your decision.  If you are considering dropping service-learning but are unsure, feel free to talk with your course instructor or a member of the Carlson Center staff – we might be able to help address your concerns.
  • It is important to make this decision very early in the quarter in order to ensure organizations have a clear idea of students that will be making a commitment to their organization at the outset of the quarter.



When should my service-learning orientation take place?

  • Your orientation to your organization should take place during the second week of the academic quarter.  A date and time for a service-learning orientation should be listed in your position description.  Immediately upon completion of your online service-learning registration, you should introduce yourself as a UW service-learning students, indicate which position you have signed up for, and contact your organization to confirm your attendance at the orientation.  If no orientation date is listed, be in touch with your site supervisor immediately to work out a mutually agreeable time during the second week of the quarter.



How many hours are needed to successfully complete my service-learning commitment?

  • Most service-learning commitments involve a commitment of volunteering each week from the second week of the quarter through the last week of classes, depending on the organizations interests and needs. These commitments usually involve three to five (or more) hours each week. Carefully review the organization’s expectations in your position description and have a conversation with your organization at the beginning of the quarter to determine the exact amount of time you will need to commit to the organization. Unless stated by the organization, your service-learning experience should not be truncated into a short period of time; rather, your commitment should last for the duration of the academic quarter, in order to maximize the experience and impact of your efforts.



Can I earn extra credit for completing service-learning?

  • Service-learning is integrated into your coursework. Students do not earn additional credit for completing service-learning but it helps them demonstrate their learning through various course assignments. In some classes, service-learning is offered as an alternative to other assignments.



Can I use one service-learning site to complete a service-learning requirement for two courses?

  • Yes. With the approval from both of your instructors, students can complete one service-learning commitment and have it count toward two service-learning classes. This arrangement will require you to reflect upon your service-learning experience through multiple lenses similar to having one text assigned to two courses. If you plan to use one service-learning commitment for two courses, register for one service-learning position. Then e-mail the Carlson Center at letting us know your intentions and that you have your instructors’ approval. We will administratively register your service-learning site to both courses so that both instructors will be aware of your placement and receive a final evaluation from your service-learning supervisor at the end of the quarter.



How will my course instructor know I have successfully completed my service-learning?

  • At the end of the quarter, the Carlson Center will ask your site supervisor to complete an online evaluation of your service-learning commitment. This evaluation will be shared with both your course instructor and the Carlson Center.



If I am having problems or concerns regarding my service-learning, whom should I contact?

  • Be in touch with your site supervisor with questions or concerns about your service-learning experience. If you need additional assistance, members of the Carlson Center staff are available to assist you. The Carlson Center is part of the Center for Experiential Learning & Diversity (EXPD) and is located in Mary Gates Hall 171. We can also be reached at or 206-543-4282.



What are my responsibilities for mandatory reporting and safety of minors?



I want to keep working with my organization beyond this quarter. Is this okay? What resources to do this are available through the Carlson Center?

  • This is great! If you are interested in continuing to work with your service-learning organization after the quarter’s end, be in touch with your site supervisor to discuss the details of continued volunteering. The Carlson Center offers a number of resources for students involved in volunteer work in the community. General Studies 350 allows students to earn academic credit for community-based internships. Throughout the year, the Mary Gates Endowment has scholarships available for students engaged in community-based leadership. Finally, visit the Carlson Center website to view courses that will offer a service-learning component in the upcoming quarter.