How to Find a Job in Public Service That’s Eligible for Student Loan Forgiveness

public service careers

Your desire to go into public service likely has nothing to do with student loan forgiveness. Maybe you want to change the world, give back, or work in a field where bright minds and giving hearts are desperately needed. Still, student loan forgiveness for those working in public service careers is a nice perk, and it’s estimated that a quarter of the U.S. workforce is employed in a field that may qualify.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re seeking public service jobs, and how to ensure you qualify for public service loan forgiveness.

What are public service jobs?

Perhaps the best part about searching for public service jobs is the huge number of career paths available to you. Here are the types of roles and companies that are both rewarding to work for and qualify for public service loan forgiveness:

  • Federal, state, and local government positions
  • Americorps or Peace Corps
  • Teach for America
  • 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organizations
  • Military and public health services jobs
  • Law enforcement positions
  • Public school jobs (both administrative and teaching roles)
  • Public service law

It doesn’t so much matter what you do in your job, as long as you are working at an organization that qualifies for public service loan forgiveness.

What do you need?

You can get into a career in public service with any type of degree, but business and liberal arts majors tend to fit in well in the non-profit world. Prefer a job with government instead? Degrees in public administration, economics, and public health will serve you well.

As you climb higher up the ladder in your chosen line of work, additional education may be helpful to move into management positions. Two common advanced degrees are Master of Public Administration (MPA) and Master of Public Policy (MPP), which will require one to two years of additional education.

Even if you don’t have the type of degree recommended for your desired field, you can still take on roles to make yourself more competitive in the job market. Internship opportunities, such as the Pathways Program or the U.S. Department of State’s internship program, are great ways for current students or recent grads to learn the ropes and develop their professional skills. Even something as simple as volunteering for an organization related to your career aspirations can give your resume a competitive edge, and prove your dedication to that line of work.

What matters most, however, is a penchant for empathy and a willingness to work your way up through the organizations. Non-profits and public service positions often work similarly to startups; funds and resources are limited, so everyone has to pitch in and fill multiple capacities.

Consider your interests

Before you start your search, take some time to decide what’s really important to you in a public service job. Is there a specific issue you care deeply about, a particular organization you dream of working with, or certain tasks you envision yourself doing? Do you want to provide aid in your local community, or serve the public in other countries? Is it important that you work in the field, or do you prefer a desk job?

Create a list of a few non-negotiables that you need to be happy, and each time you consider applying for a job, run through your list to ensure it will meet your needs. While it’s important to keep an open mind during your search, making sure each position meets your basic expectations will ensure the right fit when you do land a gig. In addition, it can stop you from wasting time on applications for jobs that you aren’t what you really want.

Where to search for public service careers

Newly minted graduates who desire a career in public service may want to start with national options like Teach for America or the Peace Corps in order to gain real-world work experience and training. Large organizations like these typically have more entry-level positions available, and a greater variety of roles and issues you can contribute to. If you’re not sure what exactly you want to do for your public service career, national organizations like these could be a good place to discover where your interests truly lie.

Others seeking jobs in this field can search on a public service jobs list such as:

  • Idealist.org
  • TheNonProfitTimes.com
  • BridgeSpan.org
  • USAJobs.gov
  • MakingTheDifference.org
  • BestPlacesToWork.org
  • GovLoop.com
  • PublicServiceCareers.org

Automate the process as much as possible by signing up for job board newsletters and setting up public service job alerts at more traditional employment sites like Indeed and Monster. As with any job search, networking with those in your desired industry and interning with relevant organizations go a long way, too. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for informational interviews with public service workers you admire.

How to qualify for public student loan forgiveness

To qualify, you must be employed full-time (or work a total of 30 hours at two qualifying part-time jobs) at an eligible public service or non-profit job. You have to be employed at a qualifying organization at the time you apply, and you must also have made 120 eligible on-time payments in no less than 10 years.

Carefully track your public service employment history with W-2s and paystubs, and update the program whenever you change jobs. It’s recommended that borrowers interested in PSLF fill out and submit the Employment Certification for Public Service Loan Forgiveness form. Once you’ve made your 120th payment, you must fill out the application, which has yet to be released from the Dept. of Education.

While the paragraphs above may indicate a lot of hoop-jumping in order to qualify for public service student loan forgiveness, eligible applicants can receive forgiveness on their remaining loan balance after they qualify. This could potentially be worth tens of thousands of dollars in student loan forgiveness, so the work seems worth it, particularly for those with high student loan debt.

Whether you’re a new grad searching for your first job or a young professional looking for more fulfilling work, finding a career in public services is a path that could set you up for future professional (and financial) success.

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