How your AmeriCorps experience can help you in graduate school

This is the last post in our series about finding, applying, and paying for graduate school. Read all of the posts in the series.  Be sure to visit our Graduate School Resource Center and attend a free Grad School Fair near you!

In this piece, Adam Donaldson, Member Services Director at the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, reflects on how his AmeriCorps experience helped him graduate school.  Adam graduated in 2006 with a Masters in Public Policy and Nonprofit Management from Johns Hopkins University.  Prior to graduate school, Adam committed five years to volunteer service, including AmeriCorps with City Year Columbus ’99-’00, Peace Corps Uzbekistan ’01, AmeriCorps with City Year Rhode Island ’02, and Peace Corps Jamaica ’02-’04. 

By Adam Donaldson

In 2004, I began a graduate degree program in Public Policy at Johns Hopkins University by attending the prototype university-cafeteria hamburger cook-out. While dodging bees and balancing my paper plate and slippery soda can, I was introduced to faculty and my new classmates. As I went through the jitters of meeting all the new people, I discovered that not one, not two, but several students were AmeriCorps alums – myself included.

Photo credit: St. Bernard Project, Creative Commons/Flickr


Looking back, my academic experience was enriched by the presence of service alumni.  The AmeriCorps alums were uniquely prepared for graduate school because 1) they could apply research and theory readily to real-world situations and 2) they had more academic focus triggered by their service experience.  During graduate school you learn as much from your peers as the research faculty at the front of the class. In addition to the ubiquitous group exercises, your peers will share independent research and challenge you with their thinking.

I have been lucky enough to complete two terms of service in both City Year, an AmeriCorps program, and Peace Corps.  While attending graduate school, I was a Shriver Peaceworker Fellow, a service-learning program that integrates study, community service, and ethical reflection. While studying education and social policy, I was learning in real time how policies effected the high-poverty youth in the mentoring program I lead at my service placement.  I was putting new evaluation skills to work on my own program.

Meanwhile, while studying welfare reform I could learn from an AmeriCorps VISTA alum about the challenges of families with no bank or credit history.  While studying the difference between direct and block grants, I could learn from an AmeriCorps NCCC alum about the utilization of Homeland Security grants for disaster response.  You can claim that my peers’ experiences are particular to the Public Policy degree, but I would invite MBAs, engineers, and poets to share how service alumni enriched their academic program.

More and more colleges and graduate schools are looking to match the Education Award in order to attract applicants with service history. Look for these opportunities and other service programs at universities.  You will not regret it.

AmeriCorps Alums is the only national network convening the alumni of all AmeriCorps national service programs. Since 2005, AmeriCorps Alums has been an enterprise of Points of Light dedicated to building a community of experienced volunteer leaders committed to a lifetime of service.  To hear more about how fellow AmeriCorps Alums’ service experiences affected their grad school decisions, please join AmeriCorps Alums today at noon ET for their webinar on Choosing a Grad School Concentration by registering here. Learn more about AmeriCorps Alum at

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Comments (4)

  1. Dara Goldberg writes:
    September 25, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Though I’m the only AmeriCorps member in my graduate school class, I completely agree! I feel that my two years with Public Allies and AmeriCorps prepared me for the work I’m doing in grad school. Not to mention that it is definitely helping me pay for it and I’m sure helped me get in by giving me relevant work experience. I would recommend it to anyone.

  2. Jeanette Anim writes:
    September 26, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    I recently graduated from college and I have currently been accepted to an Americorps program. I am trying to figure out if this may be the right move for me and by reading this article, it has motivated me to go for the program, since I do plan on going to grad school afterwards.

  3. Rebecca Whitlatch writes:
    September 26, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Why is there an NCCC picture when it is not mentioned at all in the article? I kinda feel like AmeriCorps Alums is more AmeriCorps NCCC Alums, than all AmeriCorps programs. I stopped participating in my AmeriCorps Alum chapter because it was more-or-less a group of NCCC alums talking endlessly about their program.

    I think this article is cool. I want to go grad school in Dance or Library Science. Or maybe social work or nursing! I have another year with Teach for America and DEFINITELY do not want to work in education.

    Has anyone ever used the ED AWARD for an MFA?

  4. […] post originally appeared on September 25, 2012 on […]

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