Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the importance of expectation formation and matching for university student volunteers and their hosts. Design/methodology/approach: This research involved a multi-stage data collection process including interviews with student volunteers, and university and host representatives from six Australian universities. The project team undertook an iterative process of coding and interpretation to identify themes and develop understanding of the phenomenon. Findings: University student volunteering has the potential to fail to meet the expectations of at least one of the parties to the relationship when the expectations of the parties are not clearly articulated. Universities operating volunteer programmes have an important role in facilitating expectation formation and matching, minimising the chances of mismatched expectations. Research limitations/implications: The study confirms the operation of a psychological contract for university student volunteers and organisations who host them which is consistent with other research in volunteering demonstrating the importance of matching expectations. Practical implications: The paper identifies the importance of expectation formation and matching for hosts and students, and highlights the role of universities in facilitating matchmaking. Originality/value: This paper contributes to the growing body of research on the role of the psychological contract in volunteering, in particular in university student volunteering and host organisations.