Should You Do a Year of Service Before Graduate School?

You may decide not to apply to graduate school right after college in order to gain experience. Great! So what do now? Some students decide to do a year service with one of many organizations such as AmeriCorps or Teach for America. Before applying to medical school, I did AmeriCorps, tutoring at-risk youth at an alternative school in Philadelphia. Doing a year of service can be a great learning experience, but it is not without challenges. Here are pros and cons for doing a year of service before applying to graduate school.

PRO: You Get Experience Working with People

Before doing AmeriCorps, I mostly worked in offices. Tutoring at an alternative high school gave me experience working with teenagers on a one-on-one basis. I learned how important listening is when building relationships and being able to manage emotions. If you are going into a health field that requires working in underserved communities, doing a year of service will be beneficial.

CON: The Pay

I will be honest, it was a struggle at times to support myself due to my low AmeriCorps salary. Before applying to do a year of service, be honest with yourself about whether you can live with the pay you will be given and still apply to graduate school. Try to make it work, but it is ok to decide to do something else that will support you better.

PRO: Flexibility

This may not apply to all situations, but I found that in my position I had freedom in choosing lesson plans and activities I would do with the students. I simply asked my supervisor if I needed to take a day off to take the MCAT or to just be with family. Again, every situation is different, but I appreciated the fact I can talk with my supervisor if I needed help. 

CON: Feeling Inadequate

Feeling inadequate can happen in any position, but there were times I wished I could do more for students who were dealing with a lot of family and emotional issues. What helped get me through this was connecting with other AmeriCorps members and celebrating small victories. If I can make a difference in one student, that was enough for me. 

PRO: First Hand Experience

It’s one thing to read about education inequality and another to witness it yourself. Doing a year of service will get you up close to how poverty, racism, redlining among other issues effects people, especially people of color. I saw how the opioid epidemic wreak havoc on communities and threaten children’s lives. It was a humbling experience, and it pushed me to apply to medical school and continue doing my small part to help others. 

CON: Long Hours

At times it was difficult to balance working with preparing for the MCAT and applying to graduate school, but you just have to make it work. Tips for managing time:

    • Carve out some weekend time to get work done
    • Use (some) lunch time 
    • Use winter and spring breaks
    • Take breaks as needed

PRO: Scholarship

I was very happy to receive my Education Award after doing AmeriCorps! 

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