"I know I want to go to grad school eventually but first I want to take some time off."
Does that sound like you? Sometimes Grinnell students say something like this as they are thinking about life after graduation, and the appeal of "time off" after four intensive years is obvious. This section of the website is designed to give you some ways to think about how you might spend the first year or two after you finish your Grinnell education.
But first, please know that this won't be "time off." Instead, it will be "time on" in a very real and tangible way. Any of these opportunities will change your life - you'll go to new places, encounter new ideas, meet new friends, and become a new person.
"The Big Four"
There are four organizations that attract the large majority of Grinnell students who choose to engage in a period of service after graduation. While there are never any guarantees that these will be a good fit for a specific student, these are, overall, organizations that fit well with Grinnell's ethic of public service, are well-organized, and tend to offer outstanding opportunities.
Grinnell Corps: Grinnell's private, one-year service corps, with both domestic programs (New Orleans, Grinnell), and international offerings (Namibia, and Thailand). The competitiveness depends on the program and the year; we send one fellow to each of the domestic programs, and two to each of the international programs.
Peace Corps: Peace Corps volunteers serve for two years (plus three months of training) in over 70 countries worldwide. There are a large diversity of jobs available. Admission has become increasingly selective, but Grinnell has an excellent track record of placing volunteers in Peace Corps, and we are typically listed among the highest-producing schools for Peace Corps volunteers. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis; Peace Corps recruiters usually visit campus about once per semester.
AmeriCorps: AmeriCorps offers hundreds of one-year service opportunities across the country. Grinnell students have had particular success in the VISTA program. Applicants should be particularly aware of the stipend level, and be sure that they know what their lifestyle on the stipend will be like. Competitiveness and application cycles vary by position.
Lutheran Volunteer Corps: LVC volunteers serve in one of a dozen cities in the US, and live in intentional community with other LVCers while working a full-time job in a service agency. LVC's core ideals are community, sustainability, and service, so it is not surprising that Grinnell is usually one of the top producers of volunteers. LVC welcomes applications from people with a diverse and broad range of faith traditions and backgrounds.
Who is going to pay for it?
So you want to take some time after graduation to undertake a service commitment? Terrific! One question: who is going to pay for it?
If you don't have a ready answer for that, there are basically four groups of people who can pay for you to undertake a service opportunity after graduation:
Not a good option for most students. In fact, given student debt, this might not be an option at all for many students, even with loan caps. However, it may be necessary if you have very specific needs or desires, particularly if you want to serve short-term (under a year) or need to go to a very specific location or do a very specific job. If you do find yourself in this situation and are struggling to finance your service, consider the following:
- Can you work for a short period of time (say, 6 months) after graduation, live frugally, and save enough to self-finance?
- Is it likely that you will be receiving graduation gifts that might help finance your service?
- Is there a way that you can responsibly take on a debt obligation in order to finance your service? If you do so, be sure that you have a well-thought-out and feasible timeline for repaying the principal and interest.
The good news is that if you are flexible in terms of time, work, and/or location, you probably don't have to pay to take on a post-graduation service opportunity. Other people can pay for it, like the next three:
Primarily through two forms: Peace Corps (a two-year service commitment available in over 70 countries around the world) and AmeriCorps (a one-year service commitment in the US, with many different types of jobs and opportunities).
Privately Funded Organizations
Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of these. Since your and my taxes both pay for the government-funded options, above, most private individuals and foundations aren't too excited about paying for your service and would instead tell you to join Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. Still, some options do exist.
Some Grinnell students reject faith-based organizations out-of-hand, and that's too bad. There are a lot of terrific opportunities out there through faith-based programs. These organizations run a gamut from very conservative to very liberal, and while some ask that you sign a faith statement, proselytize, or have a letter of recommendation from a faith leader, others believe that you show your faith through your actions (and therefore don't ask about your beliefs) or actively recruit a religiously diverse volunteer corps.
Two great opportunities that Grinnell students often times take advantage of are the Lutheran Volunteer Corps and Jesuit Volunteer Corps. In recent years, a number of Jewish students have signed up with Avodah and the American Jewish World Service. Other organizations for different faith traditions also exist.
A terrific resource for researching Christian faith-based organizations is the Catholic Network for Voluntary Service's Response Directory. Though named "Catholic," this database contains many different opportunities sponsored by Christian denominations. Non-Christian students may search for applicable opportunities by selecting "Accepts applicants who are not Christian" under "religious affiliation."