Although it’s been around for over 20 years, many people still don’t know about AmeriCorps. The shorthand definition says it’s the domestic version of the Peace Corps.
However, AmeriCorps is actually much more than Peace Corps Lite. Every year, AmeriCorps dispatches over 75,000 young adults to make impact and strengthen communities all over the country for a year of service.
AmeriCorps has several different arms, including State/National, VISTA and NCCC. Each program has distinctive features, such as pay and job responsibilities, but all fall under the AmeriCorps umbrella.
Members work in nonprofits, schools, public agencies and community and faith-based organizations around the U.S., with positions related to education, public safety, health and the environment. Some members do direct service, like teaching or tutoring, others work in capacity-building.
Considering applying? We’ve complied a list of six AmeriCorps qualities and misconceptions, so you can decide if a year of national service is right for you.
Let’s start with what AmeriCorps IS:
1. A chance to establish yourself in the job market and get experience.
Most of those opting to complete a year of AmeriCorps are fresh out of college. Many enter without clear, professional goals or past work experience.
A year of service introduces young adult workers to an authentic full-time work setting. Throughout this year, many AmeriCorps members define or refine their career aspirations.
Upon leaving the program, AmeriCorps members carry a special status that opens them up to different opportunities, including the AmeriCorps Alums network, Employers of National Service, or offers from universities, like tuition waivers and special scholarships for former AmeriCorps members.
2. A way to help finance past or future education
As mentioned above, one great appeal of the AmeriCorps program to young graduates is the Eli Segal Education Award. This awards $5,775 to those who have successfully completed a year of full-time service with AmeriCorps. In addition, AmeriCorps members are eligible to put any Stafford Loans in deferment while they complete the program, and any accrued interest on those loans during the year will be paid for by AmeriCorps.
AmeriCorps alums have up to 7 years to utilize their award, whether for past or future education. They can also opt to transfer the award to someone else.
3. Different for everyone
Reviews of AmeriCorps may vary widely depending on who you talk to. With over 21,000 program locations across the country, some less-than-stellar organizations likely squeak by unnoticed. This may lead to some members feeling overworked, underutilized, bored, frustrated or a host of other undesirable adjectives.
When gathering information, make sure to ask questions about an individual’s particular program and try to discover whether their elation or discontent over their experience was caused by their service site or another aspect of the AmeriCorps experience.
Here’s what AmeriCorps IS NOT:
4. A way to avoid the real world
People enter AmeriCorps for many reasons, as varied as those who choose to serve. While many types of motivations can make for a successful year of service, one certainly will not: escape from adulthood responsibilities.
With the label of “service”, some people mistakenly assume that AmeriCorps is not real work and thus, a way to occupy time while staving off the real world. This is of course, misguided. With a steep 1,700-hour requirement, AmeriCorps members must put in full days with typical work hours in order to complete on time. Service assignments are often mentally and physically demanding, so those looking to skate by need not apply.
5. Only for college grads interested in social work
Upon first glance at the description, some might assume that AmeriCorps is specifically designated for a particular group of people, be that college graduates, teachers and social workers, or the like. In actuality, program demographics vary widely.
Depending on the particular program requirements, those of various ages, education levels and career interests can find their niche within the AmeriCorps world. Even those who do not plan on a career of socially conscious work can find great perspective and education from an AmeriCorps year.
6. A great way to make money
If you’re looking to strike it rich, you may want to aim elsewhere.
In general, AmeriCorps members serve for 10-12 months, and receive a yearly stipend of around $12,000, a figure that gets adjusted depending on the state where you serve. In addition, full-time members receive an Education Award of $5,775 at the end of each year served, for up to two years.
Part of the AmeriCorps experience is learning to live on a low income. Depending on the program rules, you may be able to moonlight elsewhere for extra money, but you should be prepared to figure out how to make it work with the allotted salary.
Bonus IS: What you make it
AmeriCorps is a program that boasts over 800,000 alums and over 9 million people served or mobilized.
While every experience can vary greatly in its location and nature, one huge factor greatly influences you AmeriCorps service: your attitude. Choosing to view the entire process as a learning experience from the start, and taking the bright spots and low points in stride can make a world of difference.
Interested in applying? Check out the opportunities here.
Have more questions? Find answers.
Photos courtesy of the Corporation for National & Community Service.
Let's change the world.
Who wrote this?
Gina Edwards, Impact Explorer founder and lover of all pun jokes, making a positive change in the world, Stephen Colbert, Jif Peanut Butter, and staying inside on rainy days. Order may vary.