How do you take the best years of your life (so far), build on them, and continue to live those best years in different ways in different places? How do you take your skills of language, empathy, the ability to live without creature comforts, adaptability, and your new found views of yourself, your life, your country, and the world and put them to use for the future?

Right now, you may feel most confident of your accomplishments, but returning to a world so far away from those experiences may be humbling.  Amidst all the necessary readjustments after the Peace Corps, and to keep your commitment to make changes and make a difference, you may choose to get a degree to move to the next step in your life.

Your future may mean a step back - back to school. This column will discuss the various ways and means to obtaining a graduate degree after your Peace Corps service and the amazing variety of professional fields that are open to the skills and vision of returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

The First Step: Finding a Graduate School Program that Suits You
If you are still in your Peace Corps site or if you are back home, search now for the best programs and degrees. Graduate education is not one size for all, but the Peace Corps ethic of international service matches quite well with the service ethic found in graduate programs in international affairs, public affairs, and public administration.

You can review schools and offerings in international affairs is the website of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA). This is a useful portal to over thirty programs vetted by APSIA for quality and commitment to academic and professional training in international affairs.

There is a comparable website for schools of public service not explicitly geared toward international affairs. Take a look at the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). This site links you to over two hundred schools and programs.

From either website, you can jump to the sites of their member institutions to view profiles, compare their offerings, investigate scholarship policies, and begin the admission process.

How Can I Afford This?
If you are asking this question, you probably can’t! Tuition for a master’s degree may cost $60,000 or more! By all means, do not pay for this education on your own unless your trust fund allows for it.  The financial rewards for holders of degrees in public and international affairs can be respectable, but avoiding graduate school debt is crucial. You may already be paying for your undergraduate loans. It is likely you do not wish to rely on your parents. So, how can you afford this?

Some Tips
Find out what level of scholarship support is available in the programs that are most appealing to you. If you want to be a full time student, try to find a program that offers a full tuition scholarship. If you are going to be employed in a full time job while in school, find a program that will permit part time study that is also scholarship supported. Try to find an employer who will pay for your graduate courses. Alas, you may need to rely on a financial aid package, i.e., student loan debt, but try to keep this within set bounds and make your school decision accordingly.

There is a graduate education funding stream ready made for you  — the Peace Corps Fellows program. Take a look at this website and you will find a very attractive package — scholarships and stipends for graduate study. And an opportunity to bring the Peace Corps experience back home with you. In return, you pledge to do what you may have already planned to do — work in under-served U.S. communities as a teacher, in community development, or in health and other community needs. There are more than 40 universities that participate in this program.

So, in fact your future may mean a step back — back to school. I am available for your questions and comments and I will pursue these issues and more in detail in upcoming blogs.

Good luck!