Scholarships: Community Service Optional? (Counselor Buddy!)

I have a friend who’s a high school counselor and, despite how often I complain to her about poorly prepared high school students, still talks to me and seems to like me at least a small amount. Let’s call her “Counselor Buddy” from here on out. Counselor Buddy does a great job advising her students about college admissions and the like, but sometimes she’ll hit me up for some additional advice from a judge’s perspective. Here’s the latest of our discussions, this time focusing on community service in scholarship apps.

Get down to your local soup kitchen. Preferably because you want to, but if not, because it'll help your scholarship chances.

Read your scholarship post today.  I chuckled a bit at your hate mail.

Hey, on that subject, wait until you read my all-time favorite piece of hate mail, which I’m going to post here in the next few days. This guy’s really…um, unique. Preview: He wants me to eat a bunch ground-up glass and then endure the resultant painful bowel movement. But anyway, back to Counselor Buddy…

I still have honors kids who about break down if they get a B, thinking they are doomed for both scholarships and admissions. I’m definitely with you, and I don’t think GPA is as important in admissions either.

What are your thoughts on community service for scholarships though? I usually encourage the kids to show the total package: rigorous
courses, decent grades, extracurricular involvement (or work), and community service.

Very well-said, of course; you’ll find very few areas of life where being the “total package” is viewed as a negative. 🙂 However, let’s focus on the community service angle for today.

Community service is one of very few areas where a student has a great deal of CONTROL over how his application looks and how well he can distinguish himself from other applicants. Let me explain by first illustrating some examples where a student does NOT have a great deal of control over his application.

GPA, academic rigor, school clubs, etc., all fall into the second category. Everyone has a GPA and they all fall within a certain familiar range. Even if your GPA is off the charts, it’s no more off-the-charts as the next applicant with the same GPA. It’s a number, and everyone has one. It’s hard to impress people with this number.

Same way with courses taken. You take what your school offers, and that’s about all you can do. And, speaking very GENERALLY here, most high schools offer similar courses.Yeah, there are some super-rigorous schools out there that offer some pretty heady stuff, but they’re rare. Again, not a lot of area to distinguish yourself — chances are, there are a few dozen students in your own school who have exactly the same coursework that you have.

Clubs? Same deal. The pool of school-related clubs is fairly comparable from school to school. Not a lot of chance to really stand out there.

BUT…community service is different. Both the breadth and depth of community service opportunities is FAR greater, and that whole side of your resume is completely up to you. I mean, the people and causes that could use some pitch-in from energetic young people are truly limitless. Just from the top of mind, I’m thinking homelessness, poverty, disadvantaged youth, hungry people, the elderly, the addicted, the sick, the abused, etc. And those are just the ones that can be applied locally. Obviously there are more nationwide and worldwide causes than you can even name.

That’s the “breadth” issue I referred to. The “depth” part just means that you can show up for an hour every other weekend, or four hours, or a couple hours every day after school. It’s all up to you, what you care about and what you have time for. But rest assured, the more you do, the more attention you garner from the committee.

The community service that you choose to do also gives the committee insight on who you are and what’s important to you. In some cases, it gives you the chance to demonstrate that you “walk the walk” that you’ve been talking in those essays. For instance, let’s say I read two essays from two students who both tell me they’re concerned with — oh, I don’t know, the homeless — and one of them actually works with the homeless a few hours a week and the other one doesn’t. Guess which one I’m gonna take more seriously?

And here’s one more tip: you don’t have to necessarily join someone ELSE’s organization to do community service; the truly ambitious among you can start your own (Hint: People who actually have the wherewithal to start their own organizations get MASSIVE points from scholarship committees).

Let me also say a small piece about the notion of “compulsory volunteer work” or whatever bit of contradictory word salad that your school might be calling it these days. I’m hearing a lot these days about schools who are “requiring volunteer work” (ugh…I actually have to roll my eyes in *print* every time I see that) of their students.

  1. Yes, it’s still great that you did the community service work, even if it was required. But if it was required, don’t call it “volunteer” (even if your school calls it that) — because it’s not. This seems elementary, but “voluntary” and “required” are opposites.
  2. If you don’t have to disclose that it was required, then don’t. What the committee doesn’t know won’t hurt them. Saying you were “required to do community service” is not unheard of — it’s just usually associated with people who got their 2nd DWI and narrowly escaped prison, or embezzled just enough money from their employers to avoid hard time.

It’s hard to say whether community service an absolute MUST for every scholarship application; I mean, surely there are still plenty of scholarships out there that are won by students who don’t do any volunteer work. But there’s no doubt whatsoever that community service makes you a stronger candidate for nearly every scholarship you’ll ever apply for.  And in the hyper-competitive scholarship environment, that’s always a good idea.

Oh yeah, it’ll also make you feel really good just as a human being in most cases as well — let’s not lose sight of that, either. That may mean more to you than the actual scholarship, honestly, but you’re probably not gonna believe me about that just yet, but that’s OK.

OK chaps, that’s enough for today. I need to go take a shower and then work on my Facebook Fan Page, which you could, ahem, join (PRETTY PLEASE). I’m in a battle with my good friend Big Robbo from about who can get more Facebook fans, and he’s kicking my butt.

Have a great rest of the week! I’ll be back tomorrow with my all-time-favorite hate mail.

All the best,
Judge Josh

8 thoughts on “Scholarships: Community Service Optional? (Counselor Buddy!)”

  1. Dear Sir/Madam,

    I wish a scholarship for foreigners concerning P.H.D. in Interior Architect.(Scenography, landscaping,..). I am living in Lebanon, a country with a lot of political and economix problems and a lack of jobs opportunities.
    Thank You in advance for your cooperation,
    Miss Jocelyne Mrad
    Interior Architect ( graduated 1998, Lebanese University Inba I, Raoucheh, Lebanon).

  2. I found this article particularly encouraging. I believe I owe it to the community anyway. I’ll strive more to find opportunities for community service.

  3. I am looking for sponsor to finance me for masters degree for academic year 2010/2011. Please help me, my mobile 0714992540 or +255714992540.

  4. I concur with the article above. I would also like to add that I hate scholarship applications that look for volunteer work and then only give you a limited amount of space to LIST your activities. And there is no essay section for you to elaborate.

  5. We live in a very small town of less than 600 people, so there are no soup kitchens, various community service organizations, nor even many organized community service projects. What does happen is individual activities within the community and the school to help others. Many of these activities do not even have sign-up lists or organized help, but rather everyone helps out or the “organizers” call on the people whom they know can and will help. It is all rather informal and unstructured.

    On my daughter’s scholarship applications, she explained all this and then said that she was one of those people who was known to be able and willing to help and had some useful skills, so that she was often requested to help with a variety of projects and willingly did what needed to be done.

    The judges on the scholarship committees must have understood because my daughter did receive a number of scholarships. So even if community service preformed was not part of formal projects sponsored by service organizations, it still is important and should be noted.

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