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Applying For Graduate School: An AmeriCorps Alum’s Perspective

September 24, 2012

This article originally appeared in our September Career Newsletter on September 11, 2012 and is written by Diana Epstein, AmeriCorps NCCC Alum 2001-2003.

When I served in AmeriCorps NCCC , my work in diverse communities allowed me to gain a first-hand view of the challenges facing our country. After that year I decided that I wanted to help fix some of these problems on a policy level, and to do that I would need to get a graduate degree in public policy.

I applied to graduate school during my second year in NCCC and started the program a month after finishing my term of service. I’ve since gone on to earn a PhD and my doctoral dissertation examined the long-term impacts of service on AmeriCorps members. Now I work as an education policy researcher, and the combination of AmeriCorps and graduate school has shaped my career path.

The grad school application cycle starts fairly early in the school year, so plan to research schools in the summer, get your applications ready in the fall, and submit them as early as you can prior to the deadlines in late fall/early winter.  Some schools offer an Ed Award match or other special scholarship for AmeriCorps Alums so be sure to consider those options if they offer the program you’re interested in. For a complete list click here.

Grad schools are competitive and they expect an applicant to write essays explaining why he/she is interested in that particular field of study at that specific school. Don’t take shortcuts by using the exact same essay for each school, and include details about how your AmeriCorps experience has impacted your decision to pursue an advanced degree.

If you aren’t using your Ed Award to pay off student loans from college, then using it for graduate school is an obvious choice. Make an appointment to see someone in the financial aid or scholarship office as soon as possible so that you get the process started. Fortunately most universities have encountered at least a few AmeriCorps alums by now, so they should know what to expect. Bring all documentation of your Ed Award and service year(s) and any other materials you’ve received from the National Service Trust.

Remember, you can use your Ed Award for tuition or qualified living expenses in grad school, so even if you are getting your tuition paid you can still use the Award to buy groceries or help with your rent.

Diana Epstein is a member of the AmeriCorps Alums Advisory Council, and can be reached at diana.epstein[at]gmail.com.

Join AmeriCorps Alums for our September Professional Development webinar on September 25, 2012 on “Choosing a Grad Program.” Register here.

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