(U-WIRE) BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – Students expecting to graduate within the next year have plenty to think about. Many are uncertain about their plans for the immediate future, while others have specific goals mind
With the struggling economy and the current job shortage, many college students, whatever career desires they may have, may be in search of alternative employment following graduation. The Peace Corps offers one alternative that is receiving considerable attention.
“College students are running into the situation where there are less job opportunities than there were a couple of years ago,” Dennis Hefner, assistant director and recruiting manager for Career Services at Bowling Green State University, said. “What we basically had was a supply and demand inequity. There were more jobs available typically than there were candidates that were qualified for those jobs.”
During those periods of greater demand, students in majors that have lower placement rates find more jobs available to them because employers expand the type of candidate they’re looking for, Hefner said.
“In today’s market, the number of employers seeking new college hires has decreased,” he said. “The number of positions that college recruiters are seeking have decreased. What that signals for students is that typically students may have to work a little harder to find the best jobs … and the competition is going to be fierce for those jobs.”
“Seniors aren’t finding as many job opportunities as they were last year. The lackluster job market has partially contributed to the interest in Peace Corps,” said Scot Roskelley, a public affairs specialist in the Peace Corps regional office in Chicago.
Currently, the number of completed applications is up 17 percent over last year. Also, Internet traffic is up 231 percent while information inquiries are up 43 percent.
In addition to the struggling job market, President George W. Bush continues to encourage Americans to do more volunteer work, Roskelley noted. Bush has addressed hopes for doubling the number of Peace Corps volunteers in the next five years.
According to Hefner, extended volunteer experience, such as the Peace Corps, can allow students who aren’t already qualified for the job they hope to attain to gain valuable skills that will catch an interviewer’s attention.
Some skills include effective communication, organizational skills and proven hard work to achieve goals.
“If you don’t get started out in the job or type job you wanted to, you can start there (with the Peace Corps),” Hefner said. “For students it’s a decision whether you are willing to commit one or two years of your life in order to get where you want to go.”
The Peace Corps requires a 27-month commitment, during which volunteers receive a monthly stipend intended to cover food, housing and other necessities. Volunteers also receive full medical and dental insurance for the duration of their commitment, Roskelley said.
Peace Corps assignments fall under several categories, including education, business, environment, agriculture, health and community development. Even though people with degrees in these fields are valuable to the Peace Corps, individuals of any educational background are welcome to apply. Volunteer work can also offer more personal benefits, such as making an individual grow as a person and helping decide what types of career fields the individual is suited for.
“From volunteer work, I think you can learn a lot about yourself — about your skills, your talents and abilities and what you’re comfortable with. So, it sort of starts with the persons themselves and saying ‘what type of opportunities do I like?'” said Pete Lafferty, coordinator of community service programs in the Office of Campus Involvement at Bowling Green State University.
“Sometimes the volunteer opportunities that students can experience as an undergraduate student or even into some of the post-college volunteer opportunities are sometimes a little safer environment where you can try things out.”
After completing his or her commitment, returned volunteers are given approximately $6,000 to establish themselves once they return to the United States or for further travel abroad. Returned volunteers also have preferred status when interviewing for federal government jobs for one year following service completion, Roskelley said.
College seniors interested in serving in the Peace Corps following graduation are encouraged to apply now, Roskelley said. The application process can last between nine months and a year. The Peace Corps is looking for college graduates in any major to serve in 70 countries throughout the world.
“The most important thing is having a desire to help people,” Roskelley said. He also noted that flexibility and a “go-with-the-flow” attitude is beneficial.
The first step needed to become a Peace Corps is filling out a lengthy paper application. Along with general personal employment information, the Peace Corps requires an applicant to list any government intelligence activities and organizations he or she is involved in. Also, the applicant must list complete employment history and community and volunteer activities.
Applicants are also required to include legal and financial information, marital status, number of dependents, educational background, knowledge in foreign languages and any special certifications he or she may have.
Once the application packet has been reviewed and medical and dental clearance is given, an interview is scheduled with a recruiter. Following the interview, the recruiter then decides whether or not to formally nominate a candidate. Once the candidate is approved, he or she is sent to the placement office.
The recruiters then evaluate the candidate’s skills and match the skills with a specific destination. The applicant has the opportunity to list his or her placement preferences on the initial application.
According to the Peace Corps Web site, scarce skills needed from volunteers include French speakers, business skills, teachers of English as a foreign language, certified teachers and familiarity with agriculture, environmental education and forestry. Minorities are also encouraged to apply.