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5 Ways AmeriCorps Service Pays

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National Service
Greg Tucker

The latest estimates show that Americans have more than $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt and in 2011 the average borrower owed $23,300. What if there was a way for students to reduce their college costs while gaining some valuable experience at the same time? Look no further.

AmeriCorps members and volunteers work with local non-profit Our City Forest to plant shade trees for elderly residents in San Jose, CA.

As tuition continues to march upward, students must consider every option to reduce college costs. Our AmeriCorps members -- whether they serve with State and National, VISTA, or NCCC – have several options to translate their experience into funds to pursue or pay for their education. Here are five ways national service can literally pay off for AmeriCorps members:

Like Money in the Bank: Every AmeriCorps member who completes a one-year term of service is eligible for a $5,550 Segal AmeriCorps Education Award that can be applied to college costs or previous qualified student loans. More than 600,000 Americans have earned over $2 billion in Segal awards since their inception in 1994, and AmeriCorps members can collect the award for two terms, meaning they could have up to $11,110 to apply to their education for two years of national service. VISTA members have the option to take an end-of-service stipend of $1,500 per term in lieu of the Segal award.

The Match Game: A long list of institutions have committed to matching the Segal Education Award either 1-for-1 or 2-for-1 for students who have completed an AmeriCorps term.

Cut College Costs: Included in the list of higher education institutions that match the Segal Education Award are several that will reduce or wave tuition or provide additional scholarships if an AmeriCorps member pursues a specific course of study. Some colleges will even provide academic credit for your service experience, and will wave admission or other fees.

Loan Forbearance: AmeriCorps members may qualify for postponement, or forbearance, of the repayment of their loans during your service. Check with your lender for more specific information about this program and if your loan qualifies.

Experience: Many college grads feel like they're living in a Joseph Heller novel. To get a job, you need experience, but to get experience, you need a job. AmeriCorps members have the opportunity to gain experience in a wide variety of areas, as well as the chance to learn how to solve problems, communicate, and take leadership roles that are often limited for people just entering the workforce.

It's not actual money, but any job seeker can tell you that experience counts. And sometimes, as another famous author wrote, that makes all the difference.

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