Tuesday, Jul. 05, 2022

So, it's almost graduation! For many students, that means no more lugging around textbooks, no more late-night cramming at the library and no more dorm food. It also means it's time to face the real world. If the thought of waking up at 7 a.m. every day, donning a suit and heading into an office fills you with fear or dread, don't worry. Many graduating seniors opt not to go on to graduate school or work as professionals, at least not immediately after graduation. There are lots of alternative, worthwhile options that offer the opportunity to travel, learn new skills and make a difference that campus or corporate life could never provide. Better yet, many of these post graduate options also offer a stipend and will pay for at least part of the cost of graduate school, once you've completed your commitment to the project. Read on to learn more about the many exciting paths that call for a suitcase rather than a briefcase.

The PeaceCorps is one of the most popular post-grad options, as it offers volunteer opportunities worldwide, as well as to unique programs supporting education:

  • The Master's International program lets volunteers incorporate Peace Corps service as credit in a master's degree program in a variety of fields at more than 80 academic institutions nationwide. Once accepted by both the Peace Corps and a participating graduate school, students will study on campus, usually for one year, and then spend the next two years earning academic credit while working overseas in a related Peace Corps project. While serving, many students are offered opportunities for research or teaching assistantships, scholarships, or tuition waivers.

  • The Fellows/USA program offers volunteers who have completed their service scholarships or reduced tuition, stipends, and internships at more than 50 participating campuses in a variety of subject areas, combining graduate study with degree-related internships that help meet the needs of underserved American communities.

Since its official establishment in 1961, nearly 200,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in 139 host countries to work on issues ranging from AIDS education to information technology and environmental preservation.

A similar program to PeaceCorps is AmeriCorps, though Peace Corps assignments are all overseas, and AmeriCorps members serve only in the U.S. Each year, AmeriCorps offers 75,000 opportunities for adults of all ages and backgrounds to serve through a network of partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups. Full-time members who complete their service earn a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award of $4,725 to pay for college, graduate school or to pay back qualified student loans. Members who serve part-time receive a partial award, and some AmeriCorps members may also receive a modest living allowance during their term of service. AmeriCorps is made up of three main programs:

Go to the website to search for opportunities in your state, or nationwide. Tasks range from office work to building homes to tutoring children and the time commitment varies, from 10 months to a year, depending upon your project. Check out the FAQs for some good, quick facts.

A member of AmeriCorps, Teach for America is another great, U.S.-based opportunity. Members commit to teach for two years in one of 39 urban and rural regions across the country, and they are paid salaries ranging from $30,000 to $51,500. Corps members are paid directly by the school districts for which they work and generally receive the same salaries, health coverage, and retirement benefits as other beginning teachers. The program offers additional benefits to corps members who have not served previously as AmeriCorps members and who are U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or nationals:

  • Loan forbearance and interest payments on qualified student loans during their two years of service

  • An education award of $5,350 at the end of each year of service (a total of $10,700 over the two years), which may be used toward future educational expenses or to repay qualified student loans.

Read more about compensation and benefits offered by the program.

Another opportunity that involves teaching is TEFL, which stands for Teaching English as Foreign Language. In this position, you will teach English to students whose first language is not English, for a stipend. TEFL is a great program for those who want to see the world while making a difference, as there is a steady demand for teachers of English in such countries as Spain, China, Italy, Greece and Thailand. TEFL has 118,585 members in 238 countries. Explore job openings at the Job Search Database and find out more about member benefits here.

City Year is a program open to 17-to-24-year olds wherein members serve full-time for 10 months in schools at locations across the U.S. and in South Africa. Members serve as tutors, mentors role models and leaders of after-school programs. They also have the opportunity to work on community projects such as painting murals, planting gardens, creating playspaces. renovating schools and refurbishing community centers. Members receive a stipend during their service as well as an education award of $5,550 through AmeriCorps, which can be applied toward a college degree, graduate school or existing or future qualified student loans. Read more about program benefits here. Note that to participate, you must have a college degree or have attended some college, have a high school or diploma or GED, or be willing to earn a GED; be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident alien; and have served no more than three terms in another AmeriCorps, NCCC or VISTA program.

More resources:

  • Projects Abroad
    Volunteer and internship opportunities of varying lengths in various locations.

  • Planet Gap Year
    Enter where you want to go and for how long, what you want to do and how much you want to spend.

  • iGapYear
    Volunteer, travel, intern or find a seasonal job. This site has lots of great resources on projects, sports and other activities available to those temporarily living abroad.

  • Cross Cultural Solutions
    Volunteer and internship opportunities abroad. Check out the Intern Abroad program for more information on how to get academic credit for volunteering.

--Jennifer Borders

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