Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

September 23, 2013

Post-graduation service programs build life values, employable skills

Doug Cutchins

Special to Philanthropy Journal

It’s that time of year. College seniors have returned to campuses all across the country, which means that they are already starting to get sick of being asked the question that will plague them all year: “So, what are you doing after graduation?”

Most will consider answering this question with the standard options: work or grad school. A small minority will examine a different possibility: post-graduate service programs, such as the Peace Corps, Teach For America, and AmeriCorps.

But not enough consider that path, and more should do so.

Here are six reasons why college seniors should seriously consider post-graduation service programs:

1) This may be your best chance in life to leap out of your comfort zone.

You’re probably freer to choose your path in life when you graduate from college than at any other moment. Sure, you probably have a few boxes of books and clothes, but those can go in storage. Your student loans can usually be deferred.

You’ll be stunned by how quickly this freedom goes away. And it’s not the really big things that take away this freedom – it’s not the mortgage or spouse or baby. You know what it is? It’s your first sofa. That sounds like a dumb theory, but it’s true. One of the first big purchases most recent college grads make is a sofa. And once you have a nice sofa, you don’t want to sell it or put it in storage. And just like that, your freedom is gone.

2) Post-grad service programs make it easy to enjoy your senior year of college.
In many ways, what we do to you as a college senior is really cruel. You’re captain of the team or president of the club and are in senior seminars. You’re also trying to cement life-long friendships and find ways to enjoy your last nine months as a college student. On top of all of that, we ask you to simultaneously explore your interests and abilities, write resumes and cover letters, network, interview and negotiate a salary. No wonder seniors get crabby when we ask if you know what you’re doing yet.

Post-grad service programs have set, established application processes and timelines. They need volunteers, and some do not have very competitive admissions processes.

When you decide that you are going to commit to post-grad service, you free yourself up to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to just be a college senior and put off the worry about the rest of your future to a later time.

3) Post-grad service programs enhance your future opportunities.
Here’s the easiest way I can put this: Who gets into the better grad school, you at college graduation or you after graduation plus two years of Peace Corps service?

Grad schools and jobs are still going to be there a year or two later. And you’ll be more qualified for those opportunities, have different perspectives and be more certain that you are choosing the right path after you have completed a post-grad service program.

4) It’s not time off. It’s time on.
One of my biggest pet peeves is seniors telling me that they are going to take on a post-grad service program because they want “time off.” As if, say, going to Ghana to teach science to high school students for two years is not work or that it won’t impact who you are, what you care about and how you see the world and your role in it.
When you take on one of these opportunities, you have experiences that become an integral part of who you are, expand your skillset and help shape your future life course.

5) Post-grad service programs give you a chance to act on your values.
What do you hope to accomplish in your life? What will your legacy be?

Look at any advice for college graduates, and you’ll find a common theme: The biggest, most important, most interesting challenges you will face are not those of narrow self-interest but those that change society and the individuals who make it up.

As Spiderman’s Uncle Ben reminded him, “With great power comes great responsibility.” As a college graduate, you are in the elite 7 percent of the world’s population that has a bachelor’s degree. That’s great power. Use it responsibly.

6) The world needs you.
The world needs your energy, your passion, your enthusiasm and your talents. Don’t make your first post-graduation move just based on what you want and what is best for you; consider what the world needs from you, too.

In the end, the question I keep coming back to is this: Who would regret doing this? Who would come back from the Peace Corps and say, “No, I wish I had not lived in a jungle in Suriname for two years and learned a new language and stretched myself and made life-long friends and helped my village reach their goals. I wish I had just gone straight to grad school.”

It’s a big world, full of interesting things and people. Go explore it, and do good.

Doug Cutchins is the assistant dean and director of post-graduate transitions in the Center for Careers, Life and Service at Grinnell College and the co-author of “Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others.”

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  • At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is very true!

    Turnover in "regular" jobs is high in a lot of nonprofits. When someone leaves, as an employer, who do you consider first to fill that job? Someone who answers an ad? Or someone who has been working there, already knows the mission, already knows how that particular agency works, and has proven themselves reliable?

    For employers, it's a no-brainer.

  • At 3:15 PM, Blogger bloglog said…

    Can philanthropy ‘fix’ public education?
    There are very few institutions in our increasingly segmented society that have the opportunity to bring people together like public schools. It is vitally important that foundations invest in the right strategies to strengthen an institution that democratizes and unites us.


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