AmeriCorps worker Grant Hill clears brush from a dam at Little Black Creek Water Park in Lumberton, Miss. Hill is a member of River 2 a team which is working with the Pat Harrison Waterway District in south Mississippi.
The natural tendency after graduating college is to move on to either graduate study or a job directly related to the degree we’ve spent four years working toward. It’s as if something pulls us into line with everyone else and we are expected to either still be in school or have a job with a salary and benefits.
As most college graduates come to realize, jobs are not exactly bountiful and some of us fear that any more school will lead to being burnt out.
As a (self-declared) driven person, I wanted to continue advancing and making progress in a meaningful way, but I had a hard time finding that kind of outlet. I realized after I had graduated that some of my interests had changed.
No longer was I in love with the idea of going straight into law school or going to graduate school. I’d had enough and felt as if I had changed my mind about my entire future and could no longer confidentially move forward towards something I wasn’t completely sure about — let alone try and make a career out of my degree.
I began considering a year of volunteer service — despite not having any friends who were volunteering. I wanted to give back, to help change and improve in some beneficial way. More importantly, I wanted to understand more what I wanted to do with my life before I took any major risks such as loan debt or a job in a field I might not like.
I decided to spend a year with an AmeriCorps program called City Year — an education-based non-profit that directly impacts the education achievement gap in America by improving student attendance, behavior and course performance. My site is in San Jose, but there are 20 other sites in different cities all across the United States that I could have chosen from.
City Year is just one of the service programs available through AmeriCorps.
If education isn’t of interest, there are programs that work on affordable housing through Habitat for Humanity or serve disaster sites through the Red Cross.
There are numerous benefits outside of being able to pursue a different interest through a year of service, such as getting a weekly stipend to live in a new city, getting healthcare and earning $5,000 towards any future schooling once the year is completed.
In addition, there are benefits just from living the experience that helps us evolve, like learning to work on a diverse team, having first-hand exposure to social issues, as well as the satisfaction of having given time towards making a difference in a community. It also gives time to productively figure out our next steps in life.
There is a misconception that service programs are a place for college graduates that can’t get a job or advance in education elsewhere.
This is far from true — most of the people in service programs are extremely focused and goal oriented. I personally work with people who have been accepted into medical school, graduated from an Ivy League and others still who have left jobs that they were successful in, but felt stuck and unhappy.
A year of service gives time to test our skills and develop more before we jump into jobs. It is time to explore a new city and make new friends from all over the country. It is time to evolve as a person who has only known their strengths within the realm of a classroom.
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