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Going to Grad School as a Current or Former Service Program Member

If you’re a current or former participant in a service program such as Americorps or Peace Corps, you may have some additional considerations and resources for your graduate education. We explore some that may be available to you as you plan your next steps.


Resources for current and former service program participants 

Application fee waivers

Some graduate schools waive application fees for individuals who will be alumni of service programs such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps by the time they enroll in the graduate program. Other grad schools do not provide an application fee waiver specifically to those who are service program alumni, but do offer application fee waivers more generally to anyone who takes the GRE and receives a GRE Fee Reduction Certificate. Visit the ETS (Educational Testing Services) website to learn more about if you qualify for reduced fee vouchers. Specific schools may have other fee waiver criteria so be sure to do your research and ask about options at your schools of interest.

Admission deferral

A deferral is offered if you apply to your service program and grad school at the same time, and are admitted to both. The graduate school may allow you to put off enrolling until you’ve completed your term of service but typically only do so under very specific circumstances. Check with the grad school to find out if admission deferral is available to you.

For the most part, admissions staff prefer that you apply to their schools after you complete your service and that upon admission, you enroll in their program.

Scholarships

As you search for and research grad schools, look for schools that offer scholarships to admitted students with public service experience or who have participated in specific service programs. Be sure to also ask admissions or financial aid officers. Scholarships for service may vary from school to school in amounts and conditions so make sure to read and review carefully.

Credit for service experience

Some graduate institutions, especially those who administer or are associated with a service program, may offer course or licensing credit for your service experience. For example, the University of Oregon’s RARE AmeriCorps program offers nine graduate credits from the University of Oregon’s Community and Regional Planning program to members who successfully complete their service.

Teach for America Corps alumni can also continue to work towards earning a teaching certification, if they have not already completed the requirements, after their two-year service depending on their assigned region’s certification process. Check with Teach for America’s alumni career services and resources. Certain states will also allow Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to count their service towards earning a teaching credential or license. Since certification standards vary by state, check the specific requirements for accreditation in the state you are interested in getting your degree and certification in.

For Peace Corp members, there is also the Master’s International Program. The program is a partnership between Peace Corps and over 50 grad schools in which individuals can earn academic credit for Peace Corps service towards a degree in a participating graduate program. After applying and being admitted into Peace Corps and the graduate program separately, members spend one to two years on coursework and then take their knowledge and skills overseas to serve. Upon completion of Peace Corps service, members receive academic credit towards your degree and return to the United States to finish your graduate program.

In-state tuition

In-state tuition rates at public universities may be available to you if you have lived and served in a state where you are considering a grad program, even if it’s not your home state. Reciprocity agreements that exist between some states can provide more affordable education options if you wish to enroll in one of a neighboring state’s state schools. Be aware, however, that certain graduate programs at public universities do not give discounted in-state tuition rates, as is the case with business schools and other professional graduate programs. Research the specific eligibility requirements in your state to determine if in-state tuition may be available to you.

Segal AmeriCorps Education Award

Individuals who complete a term of service with an AmeriCorps program earn the Eli Segal Education Award. The award amount depends on the length of service and varies by year. Recipients can use the award to pay for education costs at qualified colleges and universities (including grad school). The Educational Award can also be used to pay off qualified student loans from college or grad school. A number of grad schools match or double the Segal Education Award so be sure to ask what options are available as a part of your program.


Explaining your service experience/program

Your participation in a service program can also make your application for grad school stronger. Service experience, like work experience, is an asset to your graduate application and demonstrate your interest, practical knowledge, and actual experience in a field. Your personal statement, graduate interviews and short answer responses are all places to share about your service experience. Be specific about the work and connect it to your larger journey to grad school and beyond. Read our article The Importance of Sharing Your Story with the Admissions Team for more information about how to talk about your experience.

We hope this summary helps you understand the options that may be available to you as a service program alumnae. As always, speak with the admissions staff at your specific schools of interest to determine what other resources or tuition benefits you may qualify for and consult your service program websites for the most current information on award amounts and eligibility requirements.