By Christy Ohlgrogge
Across the nation, college students are heading back to school to begin the spring semester, and those few months leading up to the summer are a time of both excitement and panic for a lot of students.
Those who were like me might realize a little bit too late that they do not have enough internship experience in the field of their choice — and the internships in their field are mostly unpaid internships, which isn’t a possibility for those of us who are paying our own bills, rent and have student loans coming due.
Don’t despair if this is you, though! I bring good news, and commiserate with you, my friend. As a recent college grad, I was looking for a full-time position last summer that could support me well enough once I had to start paying on my student loans. I decided that I wanted to go into communications, but my summer work experience in college was in the financial industry, so I didn’t have the experience I needed to get a job right after getting my degree.
But I found a great opportunity where I could get that experience. What was that secret (a secret that could help you, too)? AmeriCorps.
If you don’t know much about AmeriCorps, I’ll give you a quick rundown — but please look into it more here. AmeriCorps is a program of service where AmeriCorps members serve in different communities across the country – often in local nonprofits and schools. It is kind of like the domestic Peace Corps.
AmeriCorps is a great option in general, but it is a far better option than taking an unpaid internship.
Why, you might ask? I’ll give you a full list of reasons:
1. Pay – probably the most important part of this blog is to mention that these positions actually pay you a stipend so you can afford to live! Though it isn’t much, it’s definitely doable and significantly better than an unpaid internship.
2. Education Award – At the completion of your service, you will receive an education award that can cover your loans or school costs, or be put it toward grad school. If you are 55 or older and no longer planning to go to school again yourself, you can give your education award to a child or grandchild. I guess that makes it a college fund alternative, too!
The last thing I should mention on this is loan deferment. Guess what? You don’t have to pay your federal student loans while you serve — and AmeriCorps pays any interest that accrues. Awesome deal, right?
3. Experience – Like an internship, AmeriCorps positions can give a wide variety of experiences that can pretty much fit anything you’d be looking for. You can serve outdoors or indoors. You can work with people from different age groups, from students in schools to older adults who are learning technology. My position, for example, is serving in communications, so I get to gain experience in writing blogs, taking photos, interviewing, event support and more. You can also gain some insight into what kind of company or organization you want to work for and where the balance is for you personally between pay and fun.
4. Elevator Effect – If you’re interested in nonprofit work, or even working at the same organization you potentially would serve at, AmeriCorps service is a great way to get your foot in the door. If you’d like a concrete example to back this up, take Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity — where I currently serve. More than 30% of the current staff are former AmeriCorps members. The time you spend in AmeriCorps lets your supervisor or director get to know your passion, work ethic and personal values, and if they are hiring a staff person after you complete your service, you could be a top candidate for that position. If not, you will have a great reference. Having AmeriCorps on your resume shows you are committed to your community and helping others. Serving as an AmeriCorps member means something within the nonprofit sector, and for-profit organizations also value seeing service on a resume.
5. Fun and Friends – I’d be willing to bet that most companies hiring interns aren’t advertising “fun” as a reason to work for them, but in AmeriCorps, you can’t help but have fun in your service. Alumni from all sorts of programs will tell you that their time of service was definitely hard work, but the fun you have and the friends you make are the best parts of the experience.
6. Perks and Benefits – There are so many other perks for serving in AmeriCorps. For example, AmeriCorps service provides health insurance, and some AmeriCorps programs offer affordable housing and child care. Through service, you can make other connections in the nonprofit or business sectors and partake in many networking opportunities. Your program could send you to professional development seminars and pay for professional certifications, cover travel on a service trip and so much more.
In AmeriCorps, there’s honestly a fit for anyone — you just have to look for it. After I found my opportunity with Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity last summer, I never looked back. Who knows what my next move will be? I know there are definitely more doors open than when I started.
Are you interested in exploring different opportunities in AmeriCorps? Fill out this online form and we’ll get back to you to find the perfect fit.
Stock Photo by Bruce Mars, 2019