More grads seek service corps jobs

Despite a failing economy and a dwindling number of job opportunities, senior Lindsay Toner sees an enticing opportunity for employment when she graduates in May.

The marketing major sent in an application to Teach for America, which offers a full salary and benefits in return for teaching two years in U.S. public schools. Toner said she did not know much about Teach for America, except that it would be a good backup for a career in marketing.

“I applied because of the current economic situation and how hard it is to get a job right now,” Toner said.

Teach for America reported a 36 percent increase in applications from 2007 to 2008, and spokeswoman Lorraine Anderson said “the economy is clearly one factor” driving the increase in applications.

Rachel Gerson, a 2008 graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs, found that job offers pertaining to her double major in international affairs and women’s studies were scarce. She accepted Teach for America’s offer last year and works in an inner-city school in Chicago.

“When I graduated in May of last year, the job market was terrible,” Gerson said. “Many GW graduates were having a of trouble just finding even entry-level positions. With Teach for America, you are guaranteed a job for two years. And coming straight from college, not really sure what you’re going to do, just having that security – knowing that you will have a job for two years – is a huge incentive.”

Gerson said the starting salary for most Teach for America teachers in Chicago is about $44,000, while her Elliott School peers were fielding entry-level offers that averaged around $30,000.

“It’s a huge difference,” Gerson said. “When my mother and I were discussing jobs, she said, ‘Go ahead, apply to other jobs, see if you get it. But I guarantee you will not make as much as $44,000.’ And she was right.”

Recruiters for Teach for America and other service corps like the Peace Corps, which offers a small living stipend and housing, agree that the basic premise for both programs – job placement, guaranteed salary and health benefits for teachers – is an alluring offer.

“I would say that the economy is so negative that graduates would be looking for any advantage in the workforce,” said Steven Chapman, a spokesman for the Peace Corps. “Serving in the Peace Corps is also an excellent positive on a résumé.”

In an increasingly competitive job market, many students are looking to put service corps experience on their résumés to give them a competitive edge over their peers.

“I did four years at a good undergraduate school and would have been able to get a job, but as far as graduate school – especially law school – I would say that Peace Corps experience definitely boosts your résumé,” said David Byrne, a GW Law School student interested in international law. “As far as my résumé and my application to law school goes, that was definitely a reason why I did my time in the Peace Corps.”

Advertisements for Teach for America around campus target students concerned with the prospect of finding jobs post-graduation.

A sign posted in Ivory Tower promised the benefits of putting Teach for America on a résumé, telling students, “While many companies are not hiring ’09 grads, they are offering positions to corps members with experience.”

Gerson said she is not sure what she wants to do when her two years are over. She is pursuing a doctorate in history, but her experience working in Chicago may have changed her career path.

“I found that I’m falling in love with teaching, especially with the job security of a teacher,” she said. “No matter how bad the economy is doing, there will always be students and there will always be teachers.”

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