There are many possible sequences to follow when deciding what to do after college. Grad school, law school, medical school, or working immediately after graduation all fall under this umbrella. Yet, there exists another option that doesn’t necessarily involve any classroom education at all. If you’re passionate about peace and justice, global issues, or public policy, taking a post-grad gap year as a volunteer may be a solid fit for you.
Most of us often ignore the idea that after college graduation, we don’t absolutely have to jump into further education or work. In fact, most college graduates are uncertain of the exact field that they would like to work in, and 35 percent of American workers with college degrees don’t wind up working in their degree-related field . In fact, what’s even more appalling is that half of all American college students in full-time positions say that “making a lot of money” is more important to them than “making a difference”.
A year (or more) of service through an organization like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps is for those who believe in this notion of “making a difference”. Integrating both religious precepts and the desire to reform social justice issues, students who choose to volunteer through the JVC aid the disenfranchised. These students live in minimal living conditions, but are given an opportunity to reflect on spirituality and necessity over materialism and greed. To become a volunteer with the JVC, which can occur within the United States or abroad, one is eligible regardless of culture, economic status, or ethnicity, among other factors—though a sense of faith is essential.
If you’re not super religious and are still interested in a volunteer gap year, there are definitely other opportunities available through non-religious organizations. AmeriCorps is an organization much like the Peace Corps, but run throughout the United States. Its members can serve part- or full-time in any state or territory and receive the same fulfilling experience that an organization like the JVC offers.
The United Way equates volunteerism with actual work experience where writing one’s resume is concerned. As a generation of millennials, we’re “civic-minded”, looking to use volunteer experience as a valuable tool to excelling in the corporate world. The skills that are used when volunteering span from building one’s communicative abilities to problem solving and critical thinking—those “buzzwords” that we all know employers love to see on a resume. Networking is also a crucial result of volunteer work that can potentially lead to success in the job search. In meeting new people on a volunteer journey or mission, one can construct lasting connections that can even lead to a reference or recommendation down the road. These are tools that are essential to obtain and keep in your back pocket when looking for a paying occupation.
These various volunteer opportunities and their respective benefits are exciting for those interested, but can be extremely overwhelming to think about while balancing the trials and tribulations of an undergraduate education. Think about going home for winter break and having to answer the question So what are you going to do with your life? a thousand times over dinner with extended family. It’s stressful. The idea of volunteering after college, though, is always a helpful back-up plan to hold onto, even if you’ve only just begun as a freshman. If, over the course of your education, you find yourself passionate about human rights issues, poverty, or globalization, it may be useful to look into a year of volunteer work. Its resume benefits are clear—but the lessons you’ll learn about yourself and others are priceless.