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Volunteer Scholarships Reward Doing Good

By Brianna McGurran
Nerd Scholar

Volunteering in high school and college is fun, fulfilling and an easy way to make new friends with similar interests. Plus, there can be a major bonus to giving back to your community: scholarship money that helps you pay for college. Some scholarships reward you for community service you’ve already done, while others require you to participate in specific activities. Depending on your college, you might qualify for work-study funds that reward you for community service, too.

In 2013-14, students received nearly $123 billion in scholarships and grants, according to the College Board.

Don’t miss out on college aid that you’ve earned. Apply for these scholarships and get ready to get rewarded for doing good.

DoSomething is a nonprofit that organizes volunteering projects, or “campaigns,” that you can lead in your hometown. So far, almost 4 million high school and college students have signed up for projects such as collecting and donating used SAT books and creating dog toys for animal shelters. You can even start campaigns of your own.

Certain projects listed on DoSomething’s website come with the chance to win a scholarship. When you complete a qualifying activity and send DoSomething a photo to prove it, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a scholarship specific to that campaign. Plan a manicure party at a senior center or nursing home, for instance, and you could win a scholarship of $5,000.

Alternatively, sign up for any campaign through DoSomething, and the organization will enter you in a drawing for a $10,000 seasonal scholarship. This drawing happens four times a year, so the more campaigns you take on, the more chances you have to win.

Bonner Scholars and Bonner Leaders
Looking for a way to make volunteerism a big part of your college experience, and get scholarship money for it? Apply for the Bonner Scholars or Bonner Leaders programs if they’re available at your college. You commit to a minimum number of volunteer hours per semester in exchange for financial support. Previous volunteer experience makes you a great candidate for these four-year, immersive community service opportunities.

The primary difference between the two programs is where the scholarship money comes from. Bonner Scholars receive funding from the Bonner Foundation based on financial need, and they serve at a community organization for 140 hours a semester and 280 hours over the summer. Bonner Leaders receive stipends directly from their schools, sometimes in the form of a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award if their school enrolls them in AmeriCorps as part of the program. Check with your college for specific application deadlines and award amounts. Many participating colleges give Bonner participants leadership training, mentorship opportunities and alumni support as bonuses for completing the program.

A huge number of volunteer opportunities are available through the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that runs the AmeriCorps program. After serving full-time in these programs, you’ll be eligible to receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award of $5,730 that you can apply to tuition or use to pay off student loans. Some colleges and graduate schools will even match your education award, doubling your scholarship.

  • AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) is a full-time, 10-month volunteering program for 18- to 24-year-olds. You will be based at one of five campuses nationwide and will complete service projects throughout the region. In exchange for your service, you’ll get housing, meals, a $4,000 living allowance and an education award.
  • AmeriCorps VISTA is an anti-poverty initiative that offers full-time and summer volunteer opportunities at nonprofit organizations all over the country. You’ll mostly focus on helping the nonprofit build its organizational capacity to serve the community, rather than working with clients directly. After a year of VISTA service, you can choose to get either an education award or a cash stipend of about $1,500.


Other notable service scholarship
Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

What’s Next?
On average, tuition and fees at a four-year public college for an in-state student costs $9,139 a year, while at private colleges the average is $31,231 a year, according to the College Board. Avoid paying full price by searching smart for volunteer scholarships and staying organized during the application process.

Keep track of the number of community service hours you complete; develop strong relationships with teachers, coaches and mentors who can provide letters of reference for you; and keep your grades up, even when senioritis kicks in. Make sure you fill out your FAFSA as early as possible so you can take advantage of federal grants and loans, too. You probably already feel rewarded by serving your community; don’t pass up the chance to get a well-earned financial reward, too.

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer for NerdWallet, a personal finance website.

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