You've decided to take a gap year after graduating high school and before attending college, but how do you choose a program? Price is one important factor that can help narrow down the options for gap year students. AmeriCorps programs can be affordable options for a gap year since they provide a living stipend, health benefits, and an educational scholarship at the end of the service. City Year is one of the largest programs run by AmeriCorps and involves a 10-month commitment to working in high poverty communities and school districts across the country.
Currently there are 1,550 City Year participants, ages 17 to 24—known as corps members—serving in 20 cities nationwide, says Rob Gordon, City Year's chief brand officer and senior vice president for civic leadership. Four days a week, corps members serve as tutors, mentors, and role models, and lead after-school activities. The members work in elementary, middle, and high schools that tend to have a high percentage of students off track for high school graduation, poor student attendance, poor student behavior, or below-average performance in math or English, Gordon says. Every Friday corps members participate in a leadership development program or complete a day of service in their community, Gordon says. Some corps member teams teach in the classroom Tuesday through Thursday, and then work on Saturdays to run leadership development programs for middle schoolers, known as Young Heroes, and for high schoolers, known as City Heroes.
Costs: City Year is one of the largest programs run by AmeriCorps. All corps members receive a living stipend of about $900 to $1,000 per month, after taxes, to pay for housing and food. They receive a cell phone from T-Mobile, uniforms, health insurance, and—for most communities—transportation passes, Gordon says. Each member also receives the $5,350 Segal AmeriCorps Education Award at the end of his or her service. They often communicate with one another through a City Year community webpage prior to the start of their service and arrange to live together, Gordon says. City Year member Paula Weiss, 18, from San Mateo, Calif., is working with City Year during her gap year. She uses the majority of her living stipend to pay her rent, and since it's not enough to qualify as income, she is able to use government food stamps to purchase her groceries. Weiss, who is working in a middle school in the South Bronx section of New York City, says most corps members also use food stamps and live with other members to reduce their rent. The corps members are informed of the food stamps option by City Year, but they can choose whether to use them.
Benefits: Weiss says living in a three-bedroom apartment with four other City Year members on a small stipend and food stamps in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood has been a life changing experience. "Not only do I work and live in low income areas, but I am a low-income person as well. I've learned a lot about [managing] the money I do have and really budgeting." Kate Carlow, 18, from Cheshire, Conn., who is working in an elementary school in Queens, N.Y., during her gap year, says she never realized she could live on so little until she had to during City Year. Weiss also says she's learned to manage her time, getting up at 6 a.m. to get to work, and not returning home until around 6 or 7 p.m., four days a week. Both Weiss and Carlow say they're going to continue volunteering throughout their lives and want to continue to work with kids, especially in college. Weiss will be attending St. John's University, in New York, and Carlow will be going to Harvard University this fall.
How to apply/deadlines: City Year programs last from late August or early September through mid-June. People can apply at CityYear.org and have to send in two recommendations, write several essays, and participate in several interviews. In 2009, nearly 8,000 people applied for the 1,550 positions. However, Gordon says there will be 1,800 positions available for the 2011-2012 year. There is a rolling application process, with four separate deadlines of Nov. 30, Feb. 15, April 15, and May 31, according to the website.