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Alternatives to Employment

The conventional wisdom is that after you graduate from college, you find yourself a career. However, this is by no means your only option. Public service can look great on your resume and can also help you repay your student loans. Many positions even come with a stipend or living allowance so you can pursue them with minimal financial strain. Most importantly, though, you’ll be making a difference in the world in a way that you might not be able to if you were working full-time.


AmeriCorps is a national service program that coordinates volunteer efforts at the local, state, and national level within the United States. Three main programs comprise AmeriCorps: AmeriCorps State and National, AmeriCorps VISTA, and AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). Volunteers engage in activities ranging from tutoring disadvantaged youth to cleaning parks

Volunteers are eligible to receive an education stipend of up to $5,350 after a year of service, which can be used to pay for college or graduate school, or to pay off student loans. AmeriCorps participants are also eligible to receive a stipend for housing, childcare, and living expenses, though typically this stipend amounts to far less than a regular full-time salary. Since AmeriCorps puts you in touch with organizations making a difference in your community, service can become a valuable networking tool and can also be an impressive addition to your resume or graduate school applications.

Peace Corps

The Peace Corps coordinates service projects in 74 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. Peace Corps volunteers get a chance to see the world, to make a substantial difference in the communities in which they’re placed, and to experience life abroad. Volunteers are also able to defer student loan payments, have part of their Perkins Loan balance canceled, and receive a living allowance that will enable them to live reasonably comfortably in the community in which they’re placed. Service commitments in the Peace Corps typically last 27 months.

Teaching Abroad

Kicking yourself for not studying abroad while you were in college? It may be too late to participate in a study abroad program as part of your bachelor’s degree, but you can still live and work abroad temporarily while making a difference in the lives of others. One of the best options for doing this is to teach English abroad.

Programs exist in many countries and have a variety of requirements, qualifications, and pay scales. While some programs, especially high-paying ones in Europe, will require a graduate degree or certificate in teaching English as a second language, others desire only English proficiency and a bachelor’s degree. Most will require some up-front fee to arrange your placement with a school and your certification to work in that country, though in some cases it may be possible to be hired directly by a school. Some programs will also provide training, housing, airfare, or more, and depending on the cost of living in the country and your level of qualification to teach, you may take home a considerable salary, as well. For the most part, teachers abroad who are hired through reputable channels will take home enough to live comfortably in the country for the time they are there.

Teaching in America

If you’ve decided you want to teach, but you don’t want to teach abroad, you may want to look into one of a number of teaching programs that exist locally. Students who have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher but who have not completed an education degree or teaching certificate program can participate in a teacher training program as an alternative route to teacher certification, and also as a way to make a difference in a disadvantaged community.

The most expansive and well-known of these teaching programs is Teach for America, which has been training and placing teachers in high-need areas since 1990. Teach for America corps members go through a rigorous application and interview process before being placed in one of 35 urban or rural areas. Placements last two years and come with a salary comparable to what other beginning teachers with similar levels of education and experience would make. For the most part, Teach for America participants are able to receive teacher certification in the state they are placed within two years, and are able to continue working in education if they choose after their placement has ended.

Similar teaching programs exist in other areas, including the New York City or Chicago Teaching Fellows. These programs provide teacher certifications and salaries, and may even grant master’s degrees in education. Look into whether your city sponsors comparable programs that could get you one step closer to a teaching job.

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