Each year, AmeriCorps deploys 75,000 Americans to serve at nonprofits, schools, and public agencies across the country. These dedicated people help tackle major issues like illiteracy, economic development, and public safety.
While workers get the satisfaction of strengthening their communities, at the end of their AmeriCorps jobs they also get a stipend to help with their tuition or student loans, empowering them to start their career with minimal debt.
If you’re considering a public service career, find out more about the AmeriCorps program and whether or not it’s for you.
What is AmeriCorps?
AmeriCorps members can serve in full- or part-time positions for terms of three to 12 months. While the AmeriCorps salary is small, those who participate contribute in a meaningful way to the benefit of their community.
Many AmeriCorps members are students taking a gap year — the year between graduating high school and attending college — but that is not a necessity. Though specific requirements vary by assignment, AmeriCorps members can usually be any age as long as they are over 17.
There are three different programs within AmeriCorps: AmeriCorps State and National, AmeriCorps VISTA, and AmeriCorps NCCC.
AmeriCorps State and National provides local services directly to the community, working closely with established nonprofits and public agencies who know the neighborhoods and the needs of the people who live there. Members can serve during times of disaster, such as after a hurricane, helping a community access emergency services.
AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) focuses on fighting poverty. VISTA members work with one agency or nonprofit on a specific program, providing support so the organization can increase its capacity and help more people.
Finally, AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) members complete service projects in designated regions, such as building housing for low-income residents. NCCC members travel throughout the region completing their projects, and in some paths, work directly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in times of crisis.
What are the benefits of AmeriCorps jobs?
Working with AmeriCorps is not an easy assignment. It’s an immense sacrifice that requires dedication and perseverance. But if you can handle the demands of the service year, there are benefits to completing your term.
Full-time AmeriCorps members get a modest living allowance and health insurance. In addition, AmeriCorps members are eligible for student loan forbearance. If you successfully complete a term of service, you will also receive an AmeriCorps stipend in the form of the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.
The education award is tied to the maximum amount of the federal Pell Grant, so the exact value can change from year to year. As of 2016, the federal Pell Grant (and thus, the education award) is worth $5,775.
AmeriCorps members can earn up to two education awards for their service.
How can you use the education award?
If you have already graduated from school, you can use the money to pay for federal student loans or student loans offered by a state agency. All federal loans, except for Parent PLUS loans, are eligible. Unfortunately, you cannot use the funds to repay private loans.
For those currently in school or attending school in the future, you can use your education award to pay your tuition at an eligible college. Eligible institutions participate in the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IV student aid programs, which include most post-secondary colleges and technical schools.
You can also use the education award to pay for school expenses, such as those related to the cost of attendance. Those costs include books, supplies, and room and board.
After completing your service term, you have seven years to use your education award. However, in extenuating circumstances, that period can be extended.
Unlike many other scholarships, the education award is considered taxable as income by the federal government. Whether you use it to repay student loans or pay for current college expenses, it is subject to federal tax.
To receive the education award, you must fully complete your term of service. If you drop out of AmeriCorps before completion, you are ineligible to receive the award.
What’s it like to serve in AmeriCorps jobs?
Taylor Vickery of Orlando, Florida has worked with AmeriCorps VISTA for 22 months. When she first applied, she wasn’t really sure what AmeriCorps was, but has since fallen in love with the program and the impact it has made on the local community.
“The first year, I was a volunteer coordinator with a local high school. I helped the school completely transform their volunteer process,” says Vickery.
“The second year, I served as a reading initiatives coordinator focused on helping four-year-olds. I went into the community to find volunteers to read with a preschool student for 30 minutes once a week,” she adds.
Vickery feels a strong calling towards public service, and she finds that AmeriCorps has helped her fulfill that passion.
“Military life was never for me, but AmeriCorps is allowing me to serve my country in a meaningful way. I am able to be part of a federal government program that lifts people out of poverty,” says Vickery.
And because of her service, Vickery can benefit from a four-year degree without worrying about student loan debt.
“When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, many of my classmates had crippling fear of student loans. Thanks to AmeriCorps, I do not have that fear,” says Vickery.
“I did receive the education award for two years of service, which will pay off my student loans. It’s an amazing feeling to graduate and not have to worry about how I’ll pay off debt on a nonprofit salary.”
What you should know before signing up
While Vickery loved her time with AmeriCorps, she does caution that it is a challenging and trying experience.
“Know that AmeriCorps is a sacrifice. You will have to budget because you are paid so little. There will be days where all you want to do is quit. But nothing beats the rewards you will feel when you finish your year of service. Even if you can’t see it at first, you are making a difference in people’s lives,” says Vickery.
If you are interested in AmeriCorps jobs, you can find out more and apply via the AmeriCorps site.
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