Pros and Cons of AmeriCorps: My Experience So Far

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Last June (2012), I received my M.A. in Arts and Cultural Management. I had a job lined up for the summer (2 jobs actually, but only one was in the realm of what I wanted to do). In August, I began a job search for a marketing or communications position in a nonprofit. I had plenty of interviews, a few close calls, but ultimately took a position as an AmeriCorps member at the Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a difficult decision at the time. I knew what  I was getting in to in regards to pay and everything. This position was at a nonprofit doing something I believe in, and I would gain a ton of experience out of just one year of work. I got to be the entire Communications Department. So far, this has been challenging and satisfying. I have accomplished more than I ever thought and I still have 5 months left of service. I get to run with my own ideas and not just “plug and chug” information that is passed down to me.

AmeriCorps is great for a few reasons, just as there are a few reasons it could be better. But I’ll start with the positive. First, you get some awesome incentives. You get a guaranteed year of work and, after you complete that year, you received an education award of $5,550 to go towards student loans (taxes are taken out but it is still $5,000 towards loans that you didn’t have before). You also can get your loans deferred for your year of service. Meaning no payments. And certain loans qualify for AmeriCorps to pay the interest on them. Second, my AmeriCorps position has provided me with many opportunities for professional development that may not have been possible at other organizations. AmeriCorps positions expect that this may be one of your first full-time gigs, and offers you more than enough learning opportunities. I have also met a ton of people I would never have interacted with otherwise. I have sat down and talked with several district school board members, a city council member, several individuals who are doing wonderful things to support the community, and many other individuals from awesome organizations.

“Mediocre” aspects. You can receive health insurance, which works well for simple visits to Target Clinic and is great for prescriptions  but anything serious or that requires hospital stays requires that you call them to discuss it. But it is something!

A few “drawbacks” of AmeriCorps include the pay, which in MN is about $983 per month BEFORE taxes. Unless you have a roommate, are living at home, or have an amazingly cheap apartment, you cannot do it alone very easily. This is why it is called a “year of service.” One good thing is that you qualify for food stamps (SNAP in MN), which guarantees that you will be able to eat. Another potential drawback is if you cannot find employment after your service, you do not qualify for unemployment through the state. Because it was considered a year of service, it is like you were volunteering and not actually working.

I will say that my experience in my position is probably far different from others. I have heard of people quitting because the organization they were at was taking advantage of them and making them work 50+ hours. It is all about where you end up.

Overall, I think AmeriCorps is great for experience and great for those who can afford to do it. Once my year is completed, I will have so much to put on my resume because I have literally done a bit of everything.

I am nervous about beginning my job search this fall (even end of summer). I don’t want to be jobless again. However, I do know that having this position on my resume is fantastic and the skills and knowledge that I have acquired is more than I expected. And  I have 5 months to really polish those skills I may not be so confident about. Plus, the staff at the Foundation is all about supporting their members and helping them find jobs, so I will have more people to go to during this transition. And, if I don’t find a job right away, I have already decided that I will start selling my art. I have so much to look forward to in the next 5 months and I know I will be sad to see this position end.

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2 thoughts on “Pros and Cons of AmeriCorps: My Experience So Far

  1. Hi Rachel! I found your blog post by doing a random Google search of “Americorps Pros and Cons” and honestly, this is just what I needed to read. I am in a very similar position at current, having finished my Master’s in Public Health and struggling to find a full time job that is a good fit. I was recently offered a position with Americorps and have been on the fence about accepting it. I am curious, since this post is over a year old, were you able to easily find a job afterwards? Were the connections you made during Americorps helpful? Either way, it sounds like you had an incredibly positive experience.

    • I keep meaning to write more posts and it seems that I always get too busy! 🙂 I did manage to find a job that started a week and half after my AmeriCorps position ended. However, I was searching every single day starting 2 months prior to the end of my position. I would say that I applied to probably 8-10 jobs and had 3 different interviews. I was more picky about the positions I applied for as I wanted a job that I could stay at for awhile. I did make a lot of connections and there were a lot of opportunities to network and meet new people. I did talk to some of them about jobs and my career path, which helped when I was applying as well. However, I don’t really keep in contact with many of those connections now, but I am sure that if I emailed or called them, they would be willing to chat.

      I think the AmeriCorps position gave me the experience I needed to land the job I have now (I work in a communications division at a department in the Minnesota government) and I absolutely love my job (I have great coworkers). My boss has even recently said that I was the pick from the start and no one else came close.

      But all in all, AmeriCorps, although stressful at times, was a good experience. It helps that I rarely get sick, so the health benefits worked just fine for me. Also, in Minnesota since we made such little money and it was considered volunteering, we were all eligible for food support, which was an addition $180 a month to support ourselves. So, I would say, seriously weigh the pros and cons based on your situation. And be honest about it. Living on the stipend can be hard, so be sure that you are willing to it. I needed more experience so I could get the better job in the future and could afford to live off of the salary (since I was living with my now fiancé), which made it much easier.

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