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Community Service Can Be Very Rewarding... Can It Get You a Scholarship?

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[Woman In Graduation Cap And Gown, Front And Back View.], Digital ID 817205, New York Public LibraryIt's scholarship season and many students will be thinking about who they should ask for a recommendation letter to help secure a scholarship. If you've been an active volunteer, asking your volunteer supervisor is a great idea. While volunteering can be personally rewarding for you and beneficial to the organization that you volunteer with, it can also help to add needed money to your tuition fund.

Many scholarships have a necessary component of community service. Academic and athletic performance is important, but being a volunteer can give scholarship applicants a needed edge.

Do your research well in advance. Don't wait until senior year. There are many organizations that award money based on community service. U.S.News & World Report has a great website called The Scholarship Coach. I may be a bit of a Type A personality, but I started a scholarship folder for my son when he was in 4th grade. That was the year he announced he wanted to go to MIT! I knew we would need lots of help paying for that, so I got started early. Every time I hear of or read about a potential scholarship, I write it down and drop it into our red scholarship folder. It is now bulging with ideas, and as he gets ready for high school, I feel slightly better prepared.

Before asking your volunteer supervisor for a recommendation letter, please make sure your own essay is top notch. We have hundreds of books here at NYPL to assist you with both your college search and your essay. How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay by Gen and Kelly Tanabe is just an example.

Here are a few tips to insure that you get a great recommendation letter:

Ask early. Many websites that assist students in college and scholarship searches suggest asking 4-6 weeks in advance. I say eight weeks is even better. Mention it to the person via phone call or email or in person and then follow-up with detailed instructions. Let three weeks pass and if you have not heard back, you can send the person a gentle reminder by phone call or email.

Give detailed instructions. What type of scholarship is this? Are there forms to fill out? Should this be on organizational letterhead? Is this an online application? Do I need a password? Many times I have had to call a teen and ask if I mail the letter to their home or to the organization offering the funds. Should the envelope be sealed? With my signature across the back? If instructions are not followed carefully your application can be disqualified.

Make sure the person you ask actually knows you. I've said it before and it is worth repeating, volunteering for only 20 hours while in high school will not make a lasting impression on anyone. Find something you love and do it consistently. Start in middle school. Ask your recommender first and then remind them in an email or in a letter detailing all that you have accomplished for their organization. Make it easy for them to write a wonderful letter. Include your start date that you began volunteering and list any projects that your supervisor may have forgotten about.

Recently, I had a former teen volunteer ask for a recommendation letter for a scholarship. The teen did not tell me any details, and I had to look up the information online. All I could remember was that the teen volunteered last summer for four weeks and was on time. That's not much to go on, but that is all I had. The scholarship that was being applied for required outstanding community service contributions. The teen gave me less than 7 days to get the letter turned around. I wrote a nice letter, but this teen is swimming in the wrong pool. He's competing against kids who have been volunteering and making positive impressions on their volunteer supervisors for years. As the Volunteer Manager here at NYPL for many years, I can think back on outstanding teens and I know them all by name. I don't need to look them up in a database. So, make a lasting positive impression on someone before you ask them to write a letter on your behalf.

Now, get out there and do some volunteering!

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