By Debbie Lechtman Fachler > Sophomore > Syracuse University > Magazine Journalism, Photo by the Peace Corps
Thousands of today’s college students crave adventure or are hoping to make the world a better place. Fortunately, there are many opportunities to participate in volunteer programs post-graduation. Two of the most respected programs are Teach for America and the Peace Corps, which just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.
Teach for America
In 1990, Wendy Kopp, a senior at Princeton University, founded Teach for America: a teacher corps that assists low-income communities across the country. Teach for America started out with 500 members and 5 placement sites. By 2008, it had grown to 6,200 corps members and 29 placement sites.
Teach for America corps members serve for two years. Before teaching, they must receive a certification by passing a knowledge test that varies from state to state. In many regions, corps members also have the option of completing a master’s degree during their two-year commitment. Members receive a salary, health insurance, retirement benefits, dollars to pay off student loans, money for relocation and numerous other scholarships and benefits for graduate schools.
To become a Teach for America member, you can apply on their website, teachforamerica.org. While having a college degree or being an education major are not requirements, you must be able to demonstrate strong leadership skills to be considered for an interview.
“It’s surprising and it’s challenging,” says Janee Jones of her Teach for America experience. Jones taught fifth grade math at Carver Upper Elementary School in Mississippi for Teach for America in 2006.
The Peace Corps is a government program founded in 1961 and inspired by John F. Kennedy’s speech at the University of Michigan in 1960. He urged students to promote peace by working in developing countries. To date, Peace Corps volunteers have served in 139 countries. Currently, there are 8,655 Peace Corps volunteers working in 77 nations in areas such as education, health and HIV/AIDS, business development, environment, agriculture and youth development.
Peace Corps volunteers must commit to 27 months of training and service overseas. Volunteers receive a number of benefits, including the deferment or of student loans, transition funds, free travel expenses, a living allowance, two vacation days per month of service, medical and dental care and health insurance. There is no fee to become a Peace Corps volunteer.
To volunteer for the Peace Corps, you can apply online at peacecorps.gov. Most Peace Corps programs require a college degree, but there are some exceptions. In addition, there are specific requirements for every Peace Corps program. For example, if you want to volunteer for an education position, you must have a bachelor’s degree and a GPA of 2.5.
“It was incredible to see how these young students utilized their natural, local resources in order to start creative, productive businesses with an average of only 20 dollars in startup capital,” wrote business volunteer Avi Richman in 2009 in a journal entry for peacecorps.gov.