By Devan Steward, Program Evaluation and Employment Resource Developer at Twin Cities RISE!
Going to graduate school is a big decision. Just to get the chance to even be considered for a school requires months of hard work and preparation. Choosing to work for a year with AmeriCorps VISTA allows you to build your skills, knowledge, and expertise to be a competitive candidate for grad school.
Improve yourself academically
Your final year of college is stressful enough. Add studying for the GRE, writing statements of purpose, securing letters of recommendation and the rest of the grad school application process on top of the average student’s workload is a recipe for shooting stress through the roof. However, by deciding to spend your final year focusing on making yourself a stronger candidate rather than jumping through the hoops of the application process, you can give yourself the chance to flourish academically. This can be done by taking classes in specialized subjects related to your interests, putting together a strong senior thesis, or simply just trying to give your GPA a much needed boost. While balancing the application process and the full time commitment of being a VISTA won’t be a breeze, it’ll be much easier to handle than a full course load.
Build your resume
A strong resume looks good on any application and an AmeriCorps VISTA position is one of the best opportunities to build an undergraduate resume. VISTA is a great chance to take those academic skills you’ve spent years refining and translate them into demonstrable, professional skills. The wider the set of skills you can present to schools you have, the better chance you have of getting in.
A year as a VISTA will especially benefit you if you plan to pursue areas related to serving the public such as social work, public affairs, or even politics. Devoting a year to improving the lives of others allows you to show, not just tell, schools who you really are.
Develop your knowledge and interests
While things can be a little hectic as a VISTA, many cohorts encourage VISTAs to work on developing themselves professionally (some will even pay for you to do it). This gives you a full year to spend time learning and exploring the things that will prepare you for your future career. While this is great for everybody, this can be especially useful if you’re planning to continue your education.
If you choose to serve in an area with lots of nonprofits or colleges (like Minneapolis… hint hint), there will be an almost never-ending assortment of chances to attend lectures, panels, conferences and presentations on the ideas and issues you care about. If you end up serving in an area near a school you want to attend, you may even have the chance to network with current students and professors involved in the community.
Getting into grad school is important, but equally important is knowing how to pay for the whole experience. Doing a full year of VISTA will net you a sweet $5,775 towards your education to either help tame that growing pile of loans you currently have or tackling the new beast that is graduate school funding. If you do choose to use it for graduate school, over 150 schools will match your education award, bringing it up to $11,550. Additionally, some schools will provide students with merit aid for simply having participated in AmeriCorps. At least when it comes to your education, service pays off. When it comes to your education and preparing for the future, a year of service pays off.