Prior to embarking upon their career journey, many college graduates decide to take a gap year to serve others, enhance personal growth, and/or explore different cultures and geographic locations. Volunteer service can provide many of these rewards while also helping grads to develop skills and contacts that can serve them well in their ultimate career. Volunteer opportunities come in many forms with key differences in costs and benefits. Here are some of the best options gathered from 30 years of experience in the career development field:
AmeriCorps is often thought of as the internal Peace Corps for the USA. This huge umbrella organization encompasses scores of agencies and thousands of opportunities. Volunteers work in a broad spectrum of public service sectors including community development, children and youth, education, environment, health, homelessness, housing, hunger, and eldercare. There is no fee for participating in these programs. Participantes receive a stipend to cover living expenses, health coverage, and an education award at the end of service, which can help repay loans or fund future studies. They may be able to defer student loan payments as well.
The Peace Corps is a branch of the U.S government which engages volunteers in international service projects. Volunteers work in areas like agriculture, health, youth and community development, education, HIV/AIDS, the environment, and food security. Participants perform service in Asia, Central and South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Mexico, and the Pacific Islands.
Volunteers must commit to 27 months of service, though they receive two days of vacation per month of service and many participants return home or travel internationally during their term of service. There are no fees to participate and volunteers receive a living allowance, medical/dental coverage, travel to and from their volunteer site, deferment/cancellation of some loans, and a transition award of more than $10,000 after completing their service.
WorldTeach is a non-profit organization which provides graduates with year-long teaching opportunities in 15 countries including Thailand, China, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Micronesia, Tanzania, the Marshall Islands, Guyana, and American Samoa. Volunteers teach English, math, science, computer skills, HIV/Aids education, and general elementary education.
Participants are required to raise funds to help pay for program costs and are furnished with materials to facilitate this process. Volunteers are provided with room, board, health coverage, and a modest stipend to meet day-to-day expenses.
City Year operates educational support programs in over 20 cities nationwide. Corp members sign on for 10 months during which they provide one-on-one or small group tutoring before, during, and after school to children in third through ninth grade. Volunteers also lead and organize after-school activities, celebrations, and projects to improve the community and school environment.
There are no fees to participate. Volunteers receive a stipend to help cover living expenses and an education award of nearly $6,000 at the end of their experience to repay loans or fund future educational endeavors. Health insurance, federal loan deferment, childcare coverage, and a cell phone are also provided.
The Student Conservation Association
The Student Conservation Association through its internship program and Conservation Corps engages volunteers for three to ten months in hands-on conservation projects in all 50 states. Corps members work on critical environmental issues such as wildfire management and education, trail restoration and maintenance, environmental education, and invasive species eradication. Volunteers receive a stipend, education award, housing (in most cases), and medical coverage for longer-term assignments.
The Catholic Volunteer Network
The Catholic Volunteer Network is a non-profit clearinghouse for domestic and a few international Catholic volunteer organizations. Many placements provide a stipend, housing, and health coverage. The search page enables users to identify programs by service focus, geographic area, and factors like whether housing, stipends, and health coverage are provided.
Match Corps is a full-time residential fellows program in which participants tutor elementary, middle, or high school students at public charter schools in the Boston area. Volunteers conduct one-on-one and small group tutoring, supervise extracurricular activities, coach sports, and serve as teaching assistants to outstanding classroom teachers. Most of the students are a high need, low-income youth who otherwise would likely not go to college. Match Corps fellows receive housing and a modest living stipend.
EarthCorps enlists members to complete environmental restoration projects in the Puget Sound area of Washington State. Projects can include stream and salmon habitat restoration, erosion control, invasive plant removal, native plant installation, trail construction and maintenance, and volunteer management. Volunteers receive a living stipend of $1,385 per month and are eligible for an education award of $5,815 after completing 1,700 hours of service. Health insurance is provided.
Teach for America
Teach for America recruits college graduates who have not completed teacher-training programs to teach in under-resourced schools with significant populations of socio-economically disadvantaged students. Participants take part in an intensive summer institute to learn teaching methodology and engage in ongoing training as they complete a two-year teaching assignment. Recruits receive compensation and benefits consistent with teachers in their district with pay ranging from $33,000 to $58,000.
Teacher Fellows Programs
The Teacher Fellows Programs has a similar structure to Teach for America and exists in many states and cities including New York City, Chicago, DC, North Carolina, Arizona, Denver, Indianapolis, Georgia, and Philadelphia.
More Graduate Volunteer Opportunities
For other post-graduate volunteer options, check out the Idealist database.