Service Awards for Education: The Basics
Find out how volunteering can help you pay for a college education.
As you’re exploring your options in financial aid for college, you will hear a lot about the college loans, scholarships and grants that may be available to you. But do you know about all of the volunteer opportunities that also offer money for college?
Scholarships and grants may not cover all of the costs of your college degree, and you may not want to spend the 10 to 25 years after you graduate paying off huge student loans. Instead, consider applying for a position at a service organization as a way to receive college funding.
There are many volunteer organizations that offer financial aid service awards to pay for your college program or to pay off your college loans. Here are four of the largest service organizations available to help a college student with education costs.
The AmeriCorps State and National program pairs people with local or national nonprofit groups to perform community service in areas that include education, health, public safety and the environment. During the program, you receive health benefits and money to cover your living expenses, and after the program, you can receive money for college.
When you complete this program, which takes a maximum of 12 months, you are eligible to earn an AmeriCorps Education Award of up to $5,350, which can be used to pay off existing college loans or pay for college or university, as well as for a graduate school program like a masters degree. Full-time AmeriCorps members can earn up to the full amount, while part-time members can receive a lesser amount.
To join AmeriCorps, you must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or permanent resident and at least 17 years old. You can learn about volunteer opportunities and submit an application on the AmeriCorps website.
Peace Corps educational opportunities are geared toward students pursuing a graduate degree. In the Peace Corps, you can travel to other countries to volunteer in areas including education, community development, agriculture and information and communications technology. You are paid for your service and receive an allowance for your living expenses.
While you’re enrolled in the Peace Corps, you can defer your federal college loans, as well as some private loans. Some loans are also eligible to be partially canceled. For example, for four full-time years of service, a Federal Perkins Loan would be 70% canceled.
Your Peace Corps experience can be incorporated into your masters degree program at several schools. In this program, you complete one year of study on campus at your college or university and then travel overseas for two years to earn academic credit while volunteering for the Peace Corps on a project related to your degree. Submit a Peace Corps application on their website.
National Health Service Corps
This organization offers a scholarship and repayment of college loans to medical school students in exchange for service in areas in desperate need of adequate health care. To receive a scholarship, students training to become primary care doctors, dentists, nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives or physician assistants perform between 2 and 4 years of service to receive money for college tuition, education expenses and a living allowance.
When you’ve earned your medical degree and become a primary care medical, dental or mental health clinician, you can receive up to $50,000 to repay college loans after two years of service. You can then choose to extend your service in exchange for additional support. You can apply for an NHSC scholarship on their website.
Armed Forces/ROTC Programs
When you serve in the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines or Air Force, you are eligible for tuition assistance for college classes that you take when off-duty from the military. Serving in the military can cover up to 100% of your tuition and related fees.
Students involved in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) can also receive financial aid for college. ROTC offers tuition assistance in the form of scholarships. Contact the military branch you’re interested in for an application.
Service Awards for College Education Tips & Tactics
- If the idea of working to pay for your college education appeals to you, you can also pursue work-study programs. To apply for federal work-study assignment, check the box on your FAFSA form asking you if you’re interested in student employment. Colleges and universities may also have their own work-study programs that are not part of federal aid.
- If you’re considering one of the service organizations above, talk to people who’ve completed the program to find out about their experiences and learn more about the process for receiving college aid.
- Some of these service organizations allow you to earn college funding either before or during your volunteer term, and/or to commit to working for the organization after you graduate. Be sure you think long-term about your career goals and budget to see which time frame will suit you best.
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