Career Clusters Stories + Advice

Can I Afford to do a Year of Service?

During my senior year of college, I was thrilled to be offered a position working for Advocates for Children of New York through Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), a postgrad year of service program. JVC’s values of social justice, spirituality, community, and simple living resonated with me. The organization that I had been matched with—Advocates for Children of New York—aligned with my passion for advancing educational equity and would allow me to further explore my burgeoning interest in law.

The limited stipend that I would receive through the program, however, made me question if I could I afford to do a year of service. The fact that I came from a low-income family added a layer of complexity for me to consider. I had to take into account how this decision would not only impact me, but also my family. After a period of discernment, I ultimately decided to accept my role as a Jesuit Volunteer (JV).

Everyone’s financial situation is different, so there is not one single answer to the “can I afford to do a year of full-time service?” question. I offer the following reflection questions and tips— accompanied by some anecdotes about my own experience—to provide you with some guidance on answering this question for yourself. 

What benefits are offered during and after the program? 

Several examples of program benefits are listed below. As you peruse the list, I encourage you to reflect on the value of both monetary and non-monetary benefits and to ask staff at the programs you are considering how and if these benefits are provided. 

  • Potential Benefits During Your Year of Service
    • Your job
    • Housing
    • Food
    • Stipend
    • Health insurance 
    • Transportation
    • Menstrual products
    • Loan deferment. (Pro Tip! Confirm if the types of loans that you have are eligible for deferment.)
    • Grad school application fee waivers
    • Visa/work permit renewal or other immigration-related expenses
    • Life insurance
    • Retirement benefits
    • Training, leadership development, and certifications
    • Time off
    • Spiritual growth
    • Program support. Consider how accessible program staff are in supporting you and in addressing your questions and concerns. 
  • Potential Benefits After Your Year of Service 
    • Relocation stipend
    • Educational awards. For example, if you complete an AmeriCorps-affiliated program, you can earn the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, which currently allows you to receive the equivalent to the maximum value of the Pell Grant ($6,195.00 for 2019-2020) to apply to qualifying student loans or future education.
    • Some graduate schools offer scholarships or other financial support to students who have completed full-time service experiences.
    • Alumni network connections and events
    • The ability to secure a permanent position at your placement or within the city or community in which you have served and made connections.

Amy’s Anecdotes

  • Job: Serving as an associate advocating for the educational rights of youth in New York City public schools is a position that would have been very difficult for me to secure outside of volunteering with a full-time service program.
  • Basic Necessities: The fact that JVC—like many other programs – covered expenses like housing, groceries, utilities, and transportation removed some stressors around meeting my basic needs. 
  • Health Insurance: Although many of my fellow volunteers were covered under their family’s health insurance plans, as someone who only had access to health care through my undergrad institution, I was grateful that I was covered through JVC. The comprehensive health insurance that I received and the program’s co-pay reimbursement policy provided an important safety net during a year in which I ended up not only attending routine appointments, but also unexpectedly needing to have two surgeries and to undergo physical therapy. 
  • Loan Deferment: Since my loans from undergrad were in deferment, I didn’t have to worry about making payments during my year of service. 
  • Alumni Network: My JVC community has been a source of encouragement and spiritual support. A former Jesuit Volunteer was also instrumental in helping me secure my next job after my year as a JV. The alumni network often extends beyond the program you choose. Many connections are made with other service year participants living in the same city and being a former volunteer connects you with other former volunteers, regardless of program. 

How can I budget for my year of service?

There are great resources on campus and online tools to support you in crafting a budget for your year of service. Here are a few of them:

How do I talk to my family, friends, and community about my year of service?

This conversation will look different based on the nature of your relationships and the expectations of you/that you have for yourself. 

Amy’s Anecdote

When I informed my family and my community about my decision to do JVC, they were largely supportive but also expressed concerns. They noted that the path that I had chosen did not make much money and didn’t want me to struggle the way that we had. As the first person in my community to attend a prestigious undergrad institution, some people from my hometown were somewhat discouraging – from a financial perspective – that I was pursuing a career in education. Although emotionally taxing to contend with the guilt that these conversations provoked at the time, in retrospect, I am grateful for the ways that JVC shaped me and the opportunities to which it has led me. In addition to highlighting the benefits of your program, noting the relatively short time commitment and describing why you are passionate about the opportunity are some strategies that you can use in discussions with loved ones who may have concerns. 

Top 5 Tips for Exploring Year of Service Options

  1. Explore your options for post-grad service using the BC VSLC website, Service Year, the Catholic Volunteer Network Directory, and program-specific websites. Create a spreadsheet to track information about programs of interest.
  2. Chat with a recruiter at a fair, during a campus visit, or online. It’s never too early to start learning about programs!
  3. Talk to alumni who have done the program(s) you are interested in. Here are some resources for identifying alumni and discerning your postgrad path:
  4. Consider applying for the W. Seavey Joyce, S.J. Service and Citizenship Award, which is an award available for BC seniors considering full-time, faith-based service in the United States.
  5. Process your thoughts with trusted mentors, advisors, spiritual leaders, faculty, family, and/or friends.

Amy’s Closing Thoughts

Engaging in a year (or more) of service may or may not be the right choice for you either immediately after graduation, or in the future.  Even if your program offers a variety of supports, spending an extended period of time earning a limited income can still be stressful. Having a supportive community in or outside of your program can help alleviate these stressors. Financial feasibility is just one topic that may factor into your decision about which program(s) to pursue – if any. I hope that the questions, resources, and stories above provide you with some frameworks, tools, and context to thoroughly explore all of your post-grad options. 

About the Author: Amy Harris is a second-year master’s student in the Higher Education Administration program at Boston College. She graduated from Stanford University in 2014 with a B.A. in International Relations and a minor in Education. She served as a Jesuit Volunteer in Brooklyn, New York from 2014-2015 and has spent her career working for education-related nonprofits.

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