Best use of my americorps award?
July 21, 2009 6:36 PM   Subscribe

2 parter...1) I have an americorps education award thats around $4200. Should I use it to take some courses, or pay back student loans? I'm jobless, back at home, deciding between working and saving money, or taking prereqs for grad schools. 2) Going crazy and want OUT of home asap...job or school?

A little background:
-already have a B.A. and loan debt
-2 years of internships ended a few weeks ago, so am unemployed and back at home
-want to change career fields from liberal arts to environmental sciences/ecology
-if I took classes, they would be prereqs to get into a good masters program
-no working car and educational options in my area aren't that great/aren't related to my goals
-decent 4 year in the next county that offers everything + is affordable + can get there by bus
-job market is horrible in home county
-loan people want their money
-I can find a quick job to save and move closer to 4-year by end of '09, but won't be able to take classes and work because of commute times
-live close enough to Sacramento/San Jose/East Bay

Times are hard, I'm grateful I have a place to regroup, but I would obviously like to be on my own again. Family is driving me crazy, but I don't want to make my decision based on that. And I don't want to squander my education award. Advice?
posted by shinyshiny to Work & Money (7 answers total)
Either take classes in something that can get you a job, or use it to pay back your loans. Do you have to spend it on a traditional 4-year school, or could you go with a tech school? Apparently they need people badly in the trades -- electrical, auto mechanic, plumbing -- and these jobs pay well.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:41 PM on July 21, 2009

the interest rate on student loans is so low compared to other loans that you'll be best served using the money to improve your lifeā€”take classes!
posted by lia at 6:55 PM on July 21, 2009

Best answer: I also was in AmeriCorps prior to switching from liberal arts to an MS in ecology (now in a PhD program in ecology). I used my education award to "prove myself" by taking an intro level stats course, 2 semesters of organic chemistry, and an upper level invertebrate zoology class. Doing well in those classes definitely helped my grad applications, as did my undergrad GPA and GREs, but my eventual advisor was actually most impressed with my AmeriCorps experience (which was very closely related to my research area).

Get in contact with the grad program you're interested in and find out what kind of pre-reqs they expect. It varies hugely, and you may be better prepared than you think. You may need more math, or an intro level ecology class, or orgo.

Go ahead and start talking with potential advisors as well. You may be able to get a part time job in a lab while you're taking your pre-reqs. That's one of the best ways to boost your application because you're gaining skills plus people at the school are getting to know you.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:53 AM on July 22, 2009

My opinion is that you should pay off the loans. But, you have to come to your own decision on that.

You might try looking into additional scholarship options for covering the cost of new classes.
posted by Citrus at 7:06 AM on July 22, 2009

I'd pay down the loans and seek out a job that's at least semi-related to the field you want to get into. In a heartbeat.

Be very purposeful in your search for a job and look for a position under somebody you can learn from. Figure out who's doing exactly what you want to do and bug them for a job. Passion goes a long way and if you can find the right mentor, you'll be leaps and bounds (knowledge-wise) ahead of where you'd in a few years after another degree.

You'll have less debt, more money, more freedom, and be jumping straight into the real-world application of the education you want.
posted by BirdD0g at 10:11 AM on July 22, 2009

Best answer: Brandon Rogers is sort of an Ed. Award guru who happens to also be a really nice and funny guy. He was an AmeriCorps and has worked for VISTA and AmeriCorps uses his studies/articles on their websites and other materials and brings him to their trainings. He also used to be a financial aid counselor at Evergreen State College. This is his blog about using your ed. award to fullest advantage. He also encourages people to email him with their own specific issues dealing with using the ed. award so you might try asking him some questions.

He may not be able to help you figure out what you want to do in life, but he may help you identify what will be the best use of the money/how to get the very most out of it. For instance, some institutions will match your ed. award with more financial aid. Also, how you report your Americorp "benefits" can also effect your FAFSA.
posted by dahliachewswell at 4:14 PM on July 22, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses everyone.
posted by shinyshiny at 5:10 PM on July 22, 2009

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