One of the biggest challenges in the American public education system is giving each student the individual attention he or she needs to learn. You can use your education to help fill that gap. Find a school or community center where you can volunteer your time to tutor local kids. You'll do the most good in poor neighborhoods where families and schools lack the resources to hire more teachers and tutors.
According to the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), also known as the nation's report card on schools, one-third of America's fourth graders can't even read at a basic level. Literacy is one of the most important skills anyone can have - look for a local literacy tutoring center to make a real difference in a child's life.
3. Show and Tell
Teachers are always looking for help in the classroom. Whether you have a special skill - know how to make really cool homemade volcanoes? - or just want to share some basic knowledge - kids love to learn how to write limericks - look for a local teacher who's willing to let you sit in on her or his classroom for a couple of hours.
4. Field Trips
Teachers also always need help on field trips - especially from an expert. Were you a science major? Go on a field trip to the science museum! Did you study history? Take a group on a historic tour of your town or city.
5. Nursing Homes
One of the most important ways to fight age-related dementia is to keep the mind active. Head to a local retirement center armed with crossword puzzles, Sudoku and other fun mind games to help an elderly person have fun and stay sharp.
Nonprofits of all kinds always need volunteers, especially from educated people who can do more complex tasks. Look for one that matches your interests: Passionate about homeless advocacy? Find a shelter or youth center. Feel strongly about women's health? Check out Planned Parenthood or another community clinic.
7. Community Radio
If you're excited about media or broadcasting, you should check out your local community radio station. Stations always need volunteers, and after a while you may even find yourself on the air!
8. Community Arts Centers
If you studied studio arts, or just love to make things, look for a local community arts center. Many of these organizations provide free art classes to local kids and homeless youth, and they're always looking for teachers and tutors.
Want to dive into community service full time? Check out the AmeriCorps. This government-run program places volunteers in schools and needy organizations nationwide. In exchange for a set time commitment (typically one to two years), you'll earn a small stipend and get reimbursed for a chunk of your student loans.
10. Peace Corps
Interested in traveling? Then the Peace Corps might be right for you. Like AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps is an organization operated by the government that places volunteers where they're most needed. But in the Peace Corps, you can go places like Africa, Central and South America, Asia and the Middle East. Peace Corps members also earn a stipend and some loan forgiveness.
Looking for places to volunteer in your community? Check out Volunteer Match, a free service that links up volunteers with organizations in need.