Miss America 2003 Erika Harold graduated from Harvard Law School in 2007 in an enviable position.

"When I walked on that stage to get my diploma, I walked off debt-free," Harold said.

That was all thanks to her participation in the Miss America program, which provided her about $80,000 in scholarship money.

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Today, she is a practicing lawyer in Illinois and a candidate for the state's 13th congressional district Republican primary.

Winning the title in 2003, she recalled, was a surreal moment.

"I remember trying to force myself to remember the details because this was a moment I would not want to forget," she said. "I remember hoping I would be able to represent the organization with dignity."

Harold had always dreamed of law school and when she was accepted to Harvard she saw the Miss America program as a way to help pay for the estimated $175,000 it would cost to complete her degree.

"I thought if I can become Miss America, I can go to Harvard Law School," she said.

She ran for Miss Illinois three times, winning the third time and then headed to Atlantic City for the competition.

Winning the title sent her across the country and provided her with the money she needed to finish school without any student loan debt.

She practices civil, constitutional and healthcare law and is pursing another dream - running for public office in next year's Republican primary.

Harold, 33, credits Miss America with honing some of the skills needed for politics - the ability to communicate with people, speak to the press and work with people from various walks of life.

"I think serving as Miss America was a great preparation for running for political office," Harold said. "It empowers young women to be leaders at a very early age."

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