Until her junior year of college, Pamela Bookbinder thought she was heading to law school after graduation. Her plans began to change when she received an e-mail out of the blue.

It mentioned her leadership role as vice president of Washington University's student government and asked if she was interested in meeting with a recruiter from Teach for America.

After many follow-up meetings, interviews, phone calls and more e-mails, Bookbinder, who graduated this May, is gearing up for a five-week training session this summer before she is thrown into a high school classroom in the Bronx to teach social studies.

"I've just always wanted to make a difference," she says. She notes, though, that she might not have signed up had she not been actively sought.

Buoyed by increased recruitment efforts to target the brightest and most dedicated students, a surprising number of students such as Bookbinder are hoping for a spot in the highly selective Teach for America program. The program, aimed at boosting academic success in poor urban and rural areas, places recent college graduates in classrooms for two years.

Nationally, about 19,000 people applied this year —up from 17,000 last year — for 2,400 positions.

So why is Teach for America becoming one of the most sought-after post-graduation jobs?

Word of mouth has helped, as the 15-year-old program matures and more alumni share their experiences. Some officials think an interest in service after 9/11 could also be a factor.

Mark Smith, director of the career center at Washington University, notes that the increasing number of applications to Teach for America coincides with students applying to more places for jobs. And while most students at his school plan to go to graduate school, they don‚t always want to do it right after college.

"This is a perfect way to fill in that two-year break period, and you can feel good about what you're doing before going to law school or medical school," he says.

Teach for America has a major physical presence on campus, too, with a marketing strategy so dogged that it amazed Smith.

"They interview pretty much every student that applies and come multiple times to interview," he says. "Most other employers will come to campus [to interview] once and do an information session maybe once."

Teach for America‚s stepped-up recruitment efforts are aimed at doubling its teaching corps to 7,500 teachers by 2010.

The program, like teaching, is not for everyone. Ten to 15 percent of teachers in Teach for America nationwide don‚t continue for the required second year. Some have personal reasons for leaving, others find it too demanding or feel they lack enough support.

Many in the program end up continuing to teach or staying involved in public education. But officials also know that many will reconvene on their original career paths, which is also part of the purpose: to produce a cadre of leaders in various fields who are committed to education.

There have been bumps in the road. Teachers unions have sometimes resisted. Some critics have questioned if these teachers have enough qualifications to be thrown into difficult teaching situations and if five weeks of training is enough.

Colette Sims, who graduated from Washington University in 2004, recently finished her second school year as a special-education science teacher at Long Middle School in St. Louis.

"It definitely is challenging," she says. "It pushes you harder than anything I've ever done before."

But she loved it so much that she‚s planning on teaching for a third year while she takes classes at Webster University to get a master's in special education. It‚s not the life she imagined while in college, when she thought she would get a Ph.D. in neuroscience.

"I didn't envision myself as a special education teacher," she says. "But now that I am a teacher, I can't imagine doing much else."