So you’re finally graduating college. But what now? While the traditional path finds most students moving on to graduate school or a 9-to-5 job, many discover that neither of these options is right for them. Some diverge from this path to pursue other endeavors. The Next Step series run every Tuesday to explore some of the alternative options that students have as they leave college and enter the “real” world.
“Nothing carries the spirit of American idealism and expresses our hopes better and more effectively to the far corners of the earth than the Peace Corps,” said President John F. Kennedy at the 1961 State of the Union address.
Since that time, the Peace Corps, started by Kennedy, has sent more than 170,000 volunteers across the world. The charitable government organization aids the less fortunate in over 130 countries by educating, helping local business or youth programs, saving the environment, or providing IT support and training.
For senior Callie Simon, the Peace Corps provides a way for her to travel and help others, while giving her a break from school for a while.
“I always knew I wanted to do service after I graduated; I knew I wanted to go abroad,” Simon said. “I want to go to grad school eventually, but I definitely need a break after graduation.”
The application process, which can take anywhere from eight months to a year, includes letters of recommendation, interviews with recruiters and an indication by each applicant of his or her preference of location and type of service. A general medical clearance, which takes about three to four months, is also required.
Some advice for those interested: “You’re dealing with a government bureaucracy so stay on top of the application process-you make sure that everything is moving along,” Simon said. “Also, talk to return volunteers and find out what their experiences were like.”
Most Peace Corps volunteers are recent college graduates in their 20s.
“I consider the Peace Corps a valuable personal and educational experience, experiences that will remain with you forever,” Dr. Sherri Porcelain, an international studies professor at UM, said. “Over the past 20 years I have encouraged many UM students to consider the Peace Corps.”
For those just graduating, the Peace Corps provides options to defer graduate studies, or even complete credit while students volunteer. In the Masters International program, the work from the Peace Corps is actually incorporated as credit into participants’ Master’s degrees. The Fellows/U.S.A. program offers reduced tuition at 30 universities in the nation upon students’ returning.
In addition to grad programs, students who now receive Perkins Loans are eligible for a 15 percent cancellation of outstanding balances for every year with the Corps. Upon completion of the program, each volunteer receives $6,000 for whatever expenses he or she may need.
“Overall, I wish to gain a better sense of the needs that are out there,” Simon said. “I want to learn about the culture, learn about myself and share with the people-it’s an exchange process.”
For more information, visit PeaceCorps.gov or call 1-800-424-8580 for a list of recruitment offices.
Teressa Dalpe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.