The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award is intended to help AmeriCorps alumni pay for education, and the requirements are strictly enforced. Used wisely, though, the award offers great benefits for its recipients.
If you've decided to use your education benefits to pursue a traditional four-year degree, you've got a lot of planning to do. To get the most out of your award, choose your school carefully. Some colleges and universities have benefits designed to attract alumni of AmeriCorps and other service programs. These benefits include a financial match to the award (the school gives you extra money in the form of a grant or a tuition discount), scholarships or course credit for the service you've already completed. You can find a list of participating schools on the AmeriCorps Web site [source: EnCorps].
Even though AmeriCorps has a national focus and aims to build community in government-funded schools, there are options for students with wanderlust. Do you want to travel, learn a new language, study international affairs or apply your newfound service skills abroad? The U.S. Department of Education maintains a list of foreign schools that are qualified to accept the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award [source: EnCorps].
If you already have a college degree or you aren't interested in becoming a traditional student, the award can still be put to good use. Since it can be used to pay for non-degree programs at community colleges or public universities, you can develop a hobby or skill, such as cooking, art or music. Some trade schools are qualified to accept award funds, so the AmeriCorps award can be used to pursue a career in cosmetology, culinary arts, mechanical repair and many other vocations [source: EnCorps]. Keep in mind, the education award is available for seven years after you complete your service. There's no rush if you're not sure what path is right for you.
If you combine your Segal AmeriCorps Education Award with low interest federal student loans, it can provide flexibility even after you've graduated from school. You might be able to take some time off from loan payments, or you can enjoy the satisfaction of quickly paying down debt. We'll discuss student loans and other ways to apply your education award in the next section.