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Getting Financial Aid for College by Serving with AmeriCorps

By Peterson's Staff updated on Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Your country needs your help and is willing to help pay for your college education in exchange. AmeriCorps, a federal service agency dedicated to meeting the needs of Americans through public service, offers education benefits that may serve as financial aid to help pay for college, educational training, or student loans in exchange for your service in the program.

With 70,000 Americans working with over 3,000 agencies annually, AmeriCorps provides services ranging from tutoring at-risk youth to disaster response. AmeriCorps has three main programs and service in any one of them can make you eligible for student aid in the form of an AmeriCorps Education Award.

AmeriCorps State and National
This is the largest group of AmeriCorps programs, providing financial support through grants to public and nonprofit organizations that sponsor service programs around the country, including hundreds of faith-based and community organizations, higher education institutions, Indian tribes, and public agencies.

You could be recruited to participate in direct service with one of these agencies to address unmet community needs. Some of the things you could do include mentoring youth, assisting crime victims, building homes, or restoring parks. So not only will you be providing much-needed service to the community, but also you will be earning student financial aid.

AmeriCorps VISTA
Through the VISTA program, you would be dedicated full-time for at least a year to a nonprofit program, a faith-based or other community organization, or a public agency to create and expand programs intended to bring low-income individuals and communities out of poverty. You could be involved in projects that improve community health services, provide more housing, or bring technology into schools.

The primary purpose of VISTA programs is to diminish poverty and to promote self-reliant individuals and communities. Participation in this program may also make you eligible for financial aid for college.

AmeriCorps NCCC
You may perhaps be most familiar with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, a full-time residential program for men and women, ages 18 to 24. The NCCC strengthens communities while developing leaders through direct, team-based national and community service.

If accepted to participate, you will live on one of four campuses in Denver, Colorado; Sacramento, California; Perry Point, Maryland; or Vinton, Iowa for at least 10 months. Your campus location dictates the region in which you will participate in service projects.

Financial aid information: AmeriCorps Education Award

As long as you have a high school diploma or GED and you successfully complete your commitment in AmeriCorps, you can earn an AmeriCorps Education Award. One year of full-time service is awarded with $4,725. If you only work part-time in AmeriCorps, you can still earn an award that will be prorated accordingly. This money can help pay for tuition, for educational training, or for student loans that you already owe.

You can take as long as 7 years after you leave AmeriCorps to claim your financial aid award, and you are not eligible to receive more than two awards.

If you complete your AmeriCorps commitment through the VISTA program, you have an option of choosing to receive an end-of-service stipend of $1,200 and possibly a partial reduction in certain outstanding student loans. This is in lieu of an Education Award, but may be a better option if you are concerned about tax liabilities — education awards are considered part of your taxable income for the year.

Another nice benefit of being an AmeriCorps volunteer is your eligibility for a forbearance of your student loans while you are performing national service. Although interest will continue to accrue during this time, the National Service Trust will pay at least some of the interest (if not all of it) at the end of this period, as long as you have successfully completed your commitment.

Eligibility for AmeriCorps student aid

There are a few rules regarding eligibility, as well as tax implications from Education Awards and your actual service (you may receive an allowance during your time as a volunteer). For more information about the AmeriCorps programs and AmeriCorps Education Awards, go to www.americorps.org.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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