In attempting to understand what motivates individuals to volunteer in order to help others, previous research typically focuses on one of five possible motivating factors: pragmatic goals, values, social networks and norms, religion, and institutional opportunities. The purpose of this paper is to examine how these motivators of prosocial behavior interact with one another and to shed light on the population of college students specifically in their volunteering habits. I employ both quantitative survey data and in-depth interview narratives from students at Hamilton College to understand why and how they engage in volunteering. I find that student volunteers are driven by altruistic values, but require normative pressure and socially-structured opportunities through their social networks and larger institution as a whole in order to participate more frequently in volunteering. Additionally, the data suggest that religion operates as a prosocial motivating mechanism more indirectly, but still prominently, even within a secular educational institution. Ultimately, I use the findings of this research to argue that institutions of higher education have a unique potential to promote prosocial behavior by leveraging students’ social networks and offering coordinated, social opportunities to connect with the surrounding community and volunteer.

Type of Work

Thesis - Limited Access

Department or Program



Hamilton College


Bachelor of Arts

Date of Graduation


Faculty Advisor

Matthew Grace

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.