Community service scholarships reward you for helping others. It’s a nice way of doing well by doing good.
In addition to the resources listed below, students who are involved in volunteering and community service should ask whether there are any awards available at the location where they perform their community service. It is quite common for hospitals and nursing homes, veterans groups, churches, mosques and synagogues, historical societies, fraternal organizations and other community service organizations to provide scholarships to recognize outstanding community service by young volunteers.
This list of awards is intended to be illustrative. For a more complete list of community service scholarships that you qualify for, complete the student activities section of your profile.
AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National Service
This page provides news and updates, award notices, information about AmeriCorps, Learn and Serve America, and Senior Corps.
Segal AmeriCorps Education Award
The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award provides several thousand dollars for each year of full-time service (prorated for part-time). The money can be used to pay for college costs or to repay student loans.
National Civilian Commounity Corps (NCCC)
This AmeriCorps program is an 11-month residential national service program intended for 18-24 year-olds. Participants receive education awards to pay for college tuition or to help repay education loan debt.
The Bonner Foundation provides four-year community service scholarships to students each year at participating colleges and universities across the country. The Bonner Scholars, in turn, commit 10 hours per week to volunteer service and participate in a summer community service internship.
Comcast Leaders and Achievers Scholarship Program
The Comcast Leaders and Achievers Scholarship Program, formerly the Comcast Foundation Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarship Program, awards scholarships for community service and leadership to high school seniors in communities served by Comcast.
Jesse Brown Scholarship
The Jesse Brown Memorial Youth Scholarship Program honors young volunteers who are dedicated to serving veterans. Each year, one outstanding applicant receives the top scholarship.
James H. Parke Memorial Scholarship
James H. Parke Memorial Scholarships can be used to cover tuitions and fees, books and supplies and/or room and board or other educational needs purchased through the school of the students’ choice. Applicants are nominated by a medical center where they serve.
Echoing Green Public Service Fellowship
The Echoing Green Public Service Fellowship provides a stipend to graduating college seniors from participating institutions to develop and implement a community service project.
Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes
The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes is awarded annually to ten US and Canadian students, aged 8-18, who have developed an extraordinary service project that helped people and the planet. Half of the winners are focused on helping their communities and people, and half are focused on protecting the environment.
The Heroes of the Heart Scholarship Awards Program
The Heart of America Christopher Reeve Award is awarded annually to a student for extraordinary community service.
Kohl’s Kids Who Care Program
The Kohl’s Kids Who Care Program (www.kohlskids.com) honors students age 6-18 who are involved in community service. Candidates enter by being nominated by an adult age 21 years or older. Nominees are considered by two age groups, 6 – 12 and 13 – 18, with three prize levels within each group.
National Caring Awards
The National Caring Award is sponsored by the Caring Institute and the Pay It Forward Foundation. Each year 10 adults and 5 young adults (12th grade and below) are recognized through this program.
Prudential Spirit of Community Awards
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards recognize children in grades 5-12 who have engaged in volunteer activities and have demonstrated exceptional community service. The program is sponsored by Prudential in conjunction with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Samuel Huntington Public Service Award
The Samuel Huntington Public Service Award provides a stipend to a graduating college senior to pursue a year of public service anywhere in the world. The money may be used for any project that helps others. Candidates submit a proposal as part of their application. US citizenship is not required.
William R. Simms Award for Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy
The William R. Simms Award for Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy is awarded by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) to individuals and groups of people aged 5-17 and 18-23 who have "demonstrated outstanding commitment to the community through direct financial support, development of charitable programs, volunteering and leadership in philanthropy.”
VISTA Volunteers in Service to America
VISTA is part of ACTION, the federal domestic volunteer agency. This program offers numerous benefits to college graduates with outstanding student loans.
Youth Action Net
YouthActionNet awards grants to youth leaders aged 18-29 for projects that promote social change in their communities.
Youth Service America
Youth Service America administers several awards for community service by students.
The Congressional Award
The Congressional Award honors young Americans aged 14 to 23 for excellence in volunteer public service. It is sponsored by the United States Congress.
Daily Points of Light Award
The Daily Points of Light Award recognizes significant contributions to volunteer service by individuals and organizations. A particular emphasis is placed on efforts that identify a community need, take an innovative approach to addressing that need, and make a significant impact on the problem.
The Jefferson Award is sponsored by the American Institute for Public Service in conjunction with more than 100 media partners.
Green Mountain’s Make a Difference Scholarship
The Make A Difference Scholarships are awarded by Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont to up to 10 students each year. The full four-year scholarships cover tuition, room and board for students who have made a "significant positive difference in their communities and/or in the lives of others.”
Mary A. Mades Volunteer Scholarship Award
The Mary A. Mades Volunteer Scholarship is awarded by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston to a Beth Israel Deaconess volunter who is pursuing a degree or certification in health care.
HCS Donor Recruitment Scholarship
The Miller-Keystone Blood Center sponsors a scholarship for volunteer efforts by a graduating high school senior.
University of Iowa Health Care Volunteer Scholarship
The University of Iowa Health Care offers several scholarships for Iowa high school seniors and college students who have contributed significant volunteer service at UI hospitals and clinics.
Washington Hospital Service League Volunteer Scholarships
The Washington Hospital Service League awards scholarships for high school seniors and college students from the Washington Hospital District (Fremont, Newark, Union City, Hayward, Sunol) who are pursuing a degree in a health-related field.
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By Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Imagine you are a scholarship judge. You have an enormous pile of applications to review. From these forms, you can get basic information about each applicant. But without being able to meet each candidate, how do you get a sense of who they are and if they are the most deserving of your money? One of the best (and often only) ways to get to know the applicants beyond their cut-and-dried statistics is through their essays.
For many scholarship competitions, the essay is the most important part of the application and where you should spend the most time. Scholarship judges view the essay as their window into who you are, your passions, and your potential. Regardless of your accomplishments and academic achievements, you need to write a powerful essay if you want to win a scholarship. Here’s how to do it
1. Be Original
For your essay to be a winner, it needs to be original. Remember that your essay will be among hundreds of other essays that are being judged. If your essay does not stand out, it will be forgotten, along with your chances of winning. There are two ways to be original. The first is to find a unique topic. Think about what makes you…well,you. What point of view or life experience can you share that is unique? One judge we know uses the “thumb test.” Place your thumb over your name at the top of the essay, and ask yourself if any of your classmates could have written this essay. If the answer is “yes,” then it fails the thumb test and is probably not original enough.
Unfortunately, finding a unique topic is very difficult, and that leads us to the second way that you can be original: Take an ordinary topic and approach it in an original way. For example, if you were writing about your career goal to become a doctor, it would be tempting to talk about how you want to help people or how your interest in science led you to medicine. This will be the same approach for many applicants. If your essay is going to have any chance of winning, it needs to be different from those written by other competitors. So spend some time thinking. What is it specifically that makes you want to become a doctor? Can you cite a concrete example? Maybe when you were young, you broke your arm and had a front row seat to how doctors and nurses helped transform your damaged limb back to a regular and healthy arm. Focusing on this event and examining and analyzing it may yield a very powerful and certainly original essay. The truth is that we all have experiences that make us unique. The key is to zero in on these and use them in your scholarship essays.
2. Answer the Hidden Question
Have you ever been asked one question but felt like there was an underlying question that was really being asked? Maybe a parent has asked you something like, “Tell me about your new friend Katelyn.” But what your parent is really asking is, “Tell me about your new friend Katelyn. Are her 16 earrings and tattoo-laden arms a sign that you shouldn’t be spending so much time with her?” In most cases the essay question is just a springboard for you to answer the real question the scholarship judges want addressed. An organization giving an award for students who plan to study business might ask, “Why do you want to study business?” But the underlying question they are asking is, “Why do you want to study business, and why are you the best future business person we should gift with our hard-earned money?”
For every scholarship, you will be competing with students who share similar backgrounds and goals. If you are applying to an award that supports students who want to become doctors, you can bet that 99% of the students applying also want to become doctors. Therefore, the goal of every scholarship judge is to determine the best applicant out of a pool of applicants who at first glance look very similar.
So let’s distill the underlying question that the scholarship judges really want answered, that is: Why do you deserve to win? (Your answer should not be, “Because I need the money!”)
3. Serve a Slice of Life
As you are explaining why you deserve to win, it is important that you also reveal something about yourself. Obviously, in the short space of 500 to 1,000 words, you can’t cover everything about you. This is why one of the most effective techniques is to share just a “slice of your life.” In other words, don’t try to explain everything. Just focus on one aspect of your life.
If you are writing about your involvement in an activity, it may be tempting to summarize your involvement over the years and list numerous accomplishments. However, this would sound more like a resume and it would not tell the judges something that they could not learn by reading your resume. However, if you focus on just one aspect or one day of an experience, you could spend some time below the surface and share something about who you are. In other words, you would be sharing a slice of your life.
4. Get Beyond the Superficial
If you are writing about involvement in a sport, don’t use common topics like how sports taught you the value of teamwork or how you scored the winning touchdown, goal, or point. These are repetitive topics. Using them risks having your essay lost among the hundreds of others that sound similar to yours. It’s perfectly fine to write about common topics like sports, but think of a different angle. Maybe you had a unique experience or can focus on an aspect of athletics that is often overlooked.
One way to do this is to make sure you include specifics. A common mistake in essay writing is to use general statements instead of specific ones. Don’t write, “Education is the key to success.” Instead, give the judges a slice of your life. Show them how education has impacted your life in a single experience or realization. If you are writing about your desire to become an astronaut, you might explain how this began when your father bought you a model rocket for Christmas. Focusing on a specific example of your life will help readers relate to your experiences and ensure that your essay is memorable and (as a bonus) original.
5. Share Something Personal
While some questions ask about a national or international problem or event, the scholarship committee still would like to know something about you. After all, they are considering giving their money to you—the person.
Some of the better essays written about serious issues like drug abuse or nuclear proliferation have also found ways to incorporate information about the author. One student who wrote about the U.S. arms policy spoke about his personal involvement in a club at school that hosts an annual peace conference. He was able to tie in the large international policy issues with the more personal aspect of what he was doing on an individual level. It was a great policy essay, which also revealed something about the writer
6. Expand on Your Accomplishments
Winning a scholarship is about impressing the judges and showing them why you are the best candidate for a monetary award. Your accomplishments, activities, and talents all help to prove that you are the best fit. Since you will probably list your activities on the application form, use the essay to expand on one or two of the most important ones.
However, don’t just parrot back what is on your application. Use the opportunity to focus on a specific accomplishment, putting it into the proper context. Share details. Listing on the application that you were a stage manager for a play does not explain that you also had to design and build all of the sets in a week. The essay allows you to expand on an achievement to demonstrate its significance.
7. Avoid the Sob Story
Tear-jerking stories may be popular subjects for television specials and song lyrics, but they rarely, if ever, win scholarships. A common theme students write about is why they need the scholarship money to continue their education. While this is a perfectly legitimate topic, it is often answered with an essay filled with family tragedies and hardships—a sob story. Again, there is nothing wrong with writing about this topic, but don’t expect to win if the intent of your essay is to evoke pity.
If your main point is: “I deserve money because of the suffering I’ve been through,” you have a problem. Scholarship committees are not as interested in problems as they are in solutions. What have you accomplished despite these hardships? How have you succeeded despite the challenges you’ve faced? This is more significant and memorable than merely cataloging your misfortunes.
Plus, don’t forget that to win you have to be an original. The sob story is one of the more common types of essays, and it is hard to compete when you are telling the same story that literally hundreds of other students are also writing. Remember that every applicant has faced difficulties. What’s different and individual to you is how you’ve overcome those difficulties.
8. Have Someone Read Your Essay
There is an old writer’s saying: “Behind every good writer is an even better editor.” If you want to create a masterpiece, you need the help of others. You don’t need a professional editor or even someone who is good at writing. You just need people who can read your work and provide useful and constructive feedback.
Roommates, friends, family members, teachers, professors or advisors all make great editors. When others read your essay, they will find errors that you missed and help make the essay clearer to someone who is not familiar with the topic.
You will find that some editors catch grammar and spelling mistakes but will not comment on the overall quality of the essay. Others will miss the technical mistakes but give you great advice on making the substance of your essay better. It’s essential to find both types of editors.
9. Recycle and Reuse
Recycling in our context has no relation to aluminum cans or newspapers. What we mean is that you should reuse essays that you have written for college applications, classes, or even other scholarships. Writing a good essay takes a lot of time and effort. When you have a good essay, you’ll want to edit it and reuse it as much as possible. Sometimes, to recycle an essay, you must change the introduction. Try experimenting with this. You may find that while you might have to write a few new paragraphs, you can still use the majority of the original essay.
One word of caution: Don’t try to recycle an essay when it just doesn’t fit. The essay must answer the question given by the scholarship organization. It’s better to spend the extra time to write an appropriate essay than to submit one that doesn’t match the scholarship requirements.
Writing scholarship essays may not be the ideal way to spend a Friday night or Sunday afternoon. But remember that these essays can win you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for college. Try to keep this in mind when you feel burned out. If you really get down on writing, take a break. Go outside. Watch a meaningless show. Then when you are refreshed, get back to your essay.
Every successful scholarship winner that we’ve met—and we’ve literally met thousands—has gotten tired or set back and contemplated quitting. But each and every one of them persevered and didn’t give up. They pushed ahead and finished their essays. If they had given up, they would never have won the money that they did, and that all-important college diploma would have been a far more expensive (and for some impossible) accomplishment.
Gen and Kelly Tanabe are the award-winning authors ofHow to Write a Winning Scholarship EssayandThe Ultimate Scholarship Book.