To bring the most to your community, and to get the most out of your service experience, ask good questions before you even sign on.
Enlisting in a service corps is a great commitment: long hours, little pay, intense investment in the people you serve, and often close quarters with other corps members or colleagues.
On top of that, you have easily over a thousand program options available to you if you are a U.S. person.
So many options!
You owe it to yourself and the corps to investigate your short list of programs thoroughly. But you also have to know yourself, your preferences, your requirements, and your goals. Be smart about your search!
These questions are adapted from the Catholic Network of Volunteer Service, a member association of Christian service programs, which offers these lists of questions for you to ask yourself and to ask program staff when you are researching programs.
You should enter a service program keeping in mind personal and professional goals, so that when you encounter challenges at site, you remember why you joined in the first place. Some responses may fall into categories such as:
Really spend some time figuring out your assumptions and expectations of myself, of the program, and of your daily work.
Listing assets will help you apply for a position, craft your resume, etc. Let your list influence — at least in part — where you choose to serve.
Searching for a program that takes advantage of your current abilities will help you find a good match — one that's beneficial to your community, your service site, and you.
Consider what you're bringing to the conversation:
You'll encounter stresses. Are you sure you are ready for them?:
Consider not only groceries, rent, and entertainment. Once you know what your living allowance would be in the corps, work out a budget. Can you make ends meet? Read more on financial management for the corps member.
Generally speaking, it's preferable to research the program's web site and literature thoroughly before asking any questions of program staff. To learn more about preparing for an interview, check out Chapter Nine of the Idealist.org Guide to Nonprofit Careers.
It's important for you to find a supervisor who can balance attention to you, with freedom for creativity and autonomy. Once at site, you can get what you need from your supervisors by asking for it clearly.
You must balance what you have heard about the program, with what the program truly offers.
Sometimes the true benefits cannot be listed on a page.
This is helpful in getting a different perspective from someone who has completed the program.
Treat your search for a service corps as you would a job search—cast your net widely, and make sure you know what you are getting yourself into.
For more on nonprofit careers, see the Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers. Chapter Five includes a table that compares a handful of the most famous corps: service programs for early-career professionals (PDF), service programs open to mid-career professionals (PDF), and service corps focused on education (PDF).