Six years ago, I completed an Americorps year of service. It was a difficult but rewarding experience. I was placed at an elementary school and tasked with managing their volunteer program on a shoestring budget. Because my placement stipend only paid $13,000/year, I learned a lot about living on a shoestring budget myself. The experience outweighed the difficulties. Also, earning $5500 toward school expenses through the Segal Americorps Education Award excited me.

Americorp issues the award at the successful completion of your service term. You must use it within seven years. Many people choose to use their award to pay off student loans, but I lucked out with graduating debt-free from UMBC.

Lifespan of a Segal Americorps Award

Over the years, I kept waiting for the right time to use my Segal Americorps education award. The award benefit always sat in the back of my mind. But, seven years seemed so far off that I didn’t worry too much about it. Until this summer, that is, when I suddenly realized that time was running out.

In January, I took the plunge to return to school by signing up for UMBC’s Master’s in Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Leadership. Unfortunately, it didn’t cross my mind to use my award in my first semester. But, by the summer I realized I needed to do something with it or else I might miss out on taking full advantage of my benefit.

Because I’m an employee of UMBC, I receive tuition remission. So, I didn’t need to use my award to pay for the cost of tuition. I had heard that the award could also be used for expenses such as equipment or even living expenses. I needed a new computer so I got in touch with the Financial Aid office to find out how to take advantage of my Segal  Americorps Education Award. Here’s what I learned:

At UMBC, Student Business Services Oversees Americorps Education Awards

I began my search by contacting a Financial Aid officer. The officer told me that no one in their office had ever coordinated an Americorps award before. So, the officer said she would get in touch with her director. After nearly 2 weeks of back-and-forth, she told me that I needed to talk to someone in the Student Business Services office because Financial Aid never touches the process of coordinating Americorps awards.

Your Award Eligibility Depends on Your Cost of Attendance

Because I work full-time while I’m completing grad school, I am only taking one class per semester. This impacts how much of my Segal Americorps education award I can qualify for. You cannot receive more than the Cost of Attendance per semester (which you can calculate here). So even though my total award is worth $5500, I would have to receive it over the course of three semesters because the COA for one 3-credit graduate-level course is $2328.

How to Receive Your Award

I assumed that if I wanted to use my education award to pay for a new laptop, I would need to purchase the computer through UMBC. I discovered something different. If you are using your award to cover things like books, the money will be released directly to the bookstore and added to your account. Essentially, you never actually interact with the funds. A clerk at the bookstore originally told me that the bookstore oversees laptop sales, so I assumed this would be the process for me as well. It wasn’t.

After speaking with the front desk at the Technology Support Center, I learned that UMBC now simply coordinates a discount for Dell and Apple purchases made by UMBC students. Each individual student takes responsibility for ordering their own equipment online. This concerned me. Did this mean my funds would be released to the bookstore and I wouldn’t end up receiving the money since I was going to be purchasing my books through Amazon? Thankfully, no!

You’ll Receive Your Award as a Refund

Again, I reached out to someone in Student Business Services and learned that in those cases, the money is simply issued as a refund. They would break down the payment into two installments: I received the first during the first week of classes and expect to receive the 2nd one this week as we are just about halfway through the semester. They automatically notified me that the funds were available and had to sign up for an account through BankMobile to transfer the money to my personal checking account.

For all of my fretting and running around, the process of receiving my Segal Americorps Education Award through UMBC turned out to be incredibly simple and painless. Whether you are using it to pay for tuition, books, or necessary living expenses, the staff at UMBC will ensure that you are able to use your Americorps education award in the best way possible.

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