Are you applying to a college or a scholarship that requires a community service essay? Do you know how to write an essay that will impress readers and clearly show the impact your work had on yourself and others?
Read on to learn step-by-step instructions for writing a great community service essay that will help you stand out and be memorable.
What Is a Community Service Essay? Why Do You Need One?
A community service essay is an essay that describes the volunteer work you did and the impact it had on you and your community. Community service essays can vary widely depending on specific requirements listed in the application, but, in general, they describe the work you did, why you found the work important, and how it benefited people around you.
Community service essays are typically needed for two reasons:
1. To Apply to College
- Some colleges require students to write community service essays as part of their application or to be eligible for certain scholarships.
- You may also choose to highlight your community service work in your personal statement.
2. To Apply for Scholarships
- Some scholarships are specifically awarded to students with exceptional community service experiences, and many use community service essays to help choose scholarship recipients.
- Green Mountain College offers one of the most famous of these scholarships. Their "Make a Difference Scholarship" offers full tuition, room, and board to students who have demonstrated a significant, positive impact through their community service
Getting Started With Your Essay
In the following sections, I'll go over each step of how to plan and write your essay. I'll also include sample excerpts for you to look through so you can get a better idea of what readers are looking for when they review your essay.
Step 1: Know the Essay Requirements
Before your start writing a single word, you should be familiar with the essay prompt. Each college or scholarship will have different requirements for their essay, so make sure you read these carefully and understand them.
Specific things to pay attention to include:
- Length requirement
- Application deadline
- The main purpose or focus of the essay
- If the essay should follow a specific structure
Below are three real community service essay prompts. Read through them and notice how much they vary in terms of length, detail, and what information the writer should include.
From the AXA Achievement Scholarship:
"Describe your outstanding achievement in depth and provide the specific planning, training, goals, and steps taken to make the accomplishment successful. Include details about your role and highlight leadership you provided. Your essay must be a minimum of 350 words but not more than 600 words."
From the Laura W. Bush Traveling Scholarship:
"Essay (up to 500 words, double spaced) explaining your interest in being considered for the award and how your proposed project reflects or is related to both UNESCO’s mandate and U.S. interests in promoting peace by sharing advances in education, science, culture, and communications."
From the LULAC National Scholarship Fund:
"Please type or print an essay of 300 words (maximum) on how your academic studies will contribute to your personal & professional goals. In addition, please discuss any community service or extracurricular activities you have been involved in that relate to your goals."
Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas
Even after you understand what the essay should be about, it can still be difficult to begin writing. Answer the following questions to help brainstorm essay ideas. You may be able to incorporate your answers into your essay.
- What community service activity that you’ve participated in has meant the most to you?
- What is your favorite memory from performing community service?
- Why did you decide to begin community service?
- What made you decide to volunteer where you did?
- How has your community service changed you?
- How has your community service helped others?
- How has your community service affected your plans for the future?
You don’t need to answer all the questions, but if you find you have a lot of ideas for one of two of them, those may be things you want to include in your essay.
Writing Your Essay
How you structure your essay will depend on the requirements of the scholarship or school you are applying to. You may give an overview of all the work you did as a volunteer, or highlight a particularly memorable experience. You may focus on your personal growth or how your community benefited. Regardless of the specific structure requested, follow the guidelines below to make sure your community service essay is memorable and clearly shows the impact of your work.
Samples of mediocre and excellent essays are included below to give you a better idea of how you should draft your own essay.
Step 1: Hook Your Reader In
You want the person reading your essay to be interested, so your first sentence should hook them in and entice them to read more. A good way to do this is to start in the middle of the action. Your first sentence could describe you helping build a house, releasing a rescued animal back to the wild, watching a student you tutored read a book on their own, or something else that quickly gets the reader interested. This will help set your essay apart and make it more memorable.
Compare these two opening sentences:
"I have volunteered at the Wishbone Pet Shelter for three years."
"The moment I saw the starving, mud-splattered puppy brought into the shelter with its tail between its legs, I knew I'd do whatever I could to save it."
The first sentence is a very general, bland statement. The majority of community service essays probably begin a lot like it, but it gives the reader little information and does nothing to draw them in. On the other hand, the second sentence begins immediately with action and helps persuade the reader to keep reading so they can learn what happened to the dog.
Step 2: Discuss the Work You Did
Once you’ve hooked your reader in with your first sentence, tell them about your community service experiences. State where you work, when you began working, how much time you’ve spent there, and what your main duties include. This will help the reader quickly put the rest of the essay in context and understand the basics of your community service work.
Not including basic details about your community service could leave your reader confused.
Step 3: Include Specific Details
It’s the details of your community service that make your experience unique and memorable, so go into the specifics of what you did. For example, don’t just say you volunteered at a nursing home; talk about reading Mrs. Johnson her favorite book, watching Mr. Scott win at bingo, and seeing the residents play games with their grandchildren at the family day you organized. Try to include specific activities, moments, and people in your essay. Having details like these let the readers really understand what work you did and how it differs from other volunteer experiences.
Compare these two passages:
"For my volunteer work, I tutored children at a local elementary school. I helped them improve their math skills and become more confident students."
"As a volunteer at York Elementary School, I worked one-on-one with second and third graders who struggled with their math skills, particularly addition, subtraction, and fractions. As part of my work, I would create practice problems and quizzes and try to connect math to the students' interests. One of my favorite memories was when Sara, a student I had been working with for several weeks, told me that she enjoyed the math problems I had created about a girl buying and selling horses so much that she asked to help me create math problems for other students."
The first passage only gives basic information about the work done by the volunteer; there is very little detail included, and no evidence is given to support her claims. How did she help students improve their math skills? How did she know they were becoming more confident?
The second passage is much more detailed. It recounts a specific story and explains more fully what kind of work the volunteer did, as well as a specific instance of a student becoming more confident with her math skills. Providing more detail in your essay helps support your claims as well as make your essay more memorable and unique.
Step 4: Show Your Personality
It would be very hard to get a scholarship or place at a school if none of your readers felt like they knew much about you after finishing your essay, so make sure that your essay shows your personality. The way to do this is to state your personal strengths, then provide examples to support your claims. Take some time to think about which parts of your personality you would like your essay to highlight, then write about specific examples to show this.
- If you want to show that you’re a motivated leader, describe a time when you organized an event or supervised other volunteers.
- If you want to show your teamwork skills, write about a time you helped a group of people work together better.
- If you want to show that you’re a compassionate animal lover, write about taking care of neglected shelter animals and helping each of them find homes.
Step 5: State What You Accomplished
After you have described your community service and given specific examples of your work, you want to begin to wrap your essay up by stating your accomplishments. What was the impact of your community service? Did you build a house for a family to move into? Help students improve their reading skills? Clean up a local park? Make sure the impact of your work is clear; don’t be worried about bragging here.
If you can include specific numbers, that will also strengthen your essay. Saying “I delivered meals to 24 home-bound senior citizens” is a stronger example than just saying “I delivered meals to lots of senior citizens."
Also be sure to explain why your work matters. Why is what you did important? Did it provide more parks for kids to play in? Help students get better grades? Give people medical care who would otherwise not have gotten it? This is an important part of your essay, so make sure to go into enough detail that your readers will know exactly what you accomplished and how it helped your community.
Compare these two passages:
"My biggest accomplishment during my community service was helping to organize a family event at the retirement home. The children and grandchildren of many residents attended, and they all enjoyed playing games and watching movies together."
"The community service accomplishment that I'm most proud of is the work I did to help organize the First Annual Family Fun Day at the retirement home. My job was to design and organize fun activities that senior citizens and their younger relatives could enjoy. The event lasted eight hours and included ten different games, two performances, and a movie screening with popcorn. Almost 200 residents and family members attended throughout the day. This event was important because it provided an opportunity for senior citizens to connect with their family members in a way they aren't often able to. It also made the retirement home seem more fun and enjoyable to children, and we have seen an increase in the number of kids coming to visit their grandparents since the event."
The second passage is stronger for a variety of reasons. First, it goes into much more detail about the work the volunteer did. The first passage only states that she helped "organize a family event." That really doesn't tell readers much about her work or what her responsibilities were. The second passage is much clearer; her job was to "design and organize fun activities."
The second passage also explains the event in more depth. A family day can be many things; remember that your readers are likely not familiar with what you're talking about, so details help them get a clearer picture. Lastly, the second passage makes the importance of the event clear: it helped residents connect with younger family members, and it helped retirement homes seem less intimidating to children, so now some residents see their grand kids more often.
Step 6: Discuss What You Learned
One of the final things to include in your essay should be the impact that your community service had on you. You can discuss skills you learned, such as carpentry, public speaking, animal care, or another skill. You can also talk about how you changed personally. Are you more patient now? More understanding of others? Do you have a better idea of the type of career you want? Go into depth about this, but be honest. Don’t say your community service changed your life if it didn’t because trite statements won’t impress readers.
In order to support your statements, provide more examples. If you say you’re more patient now, how do you know this? Do you get less frustrated while playing with your younger siblings? Are you more willing to help group partners who are struggling with their part of the work? You’ve probably noticed by now that including specific examples and details is one of the best ways to create a strong and believable essay.
Compare these two passages:
"As a result of my community service, I learned a lot about building houses and became a more mature person."
"As a result of my community service, I gained hands-on experience in construction. I learned how to read blueprints, use a hammer and nails, and begin constructing the foundation of a two-bedroom house. Working on the house could be challenging at times, but it taught me to appreciate the value of hard work and be more willing to pitch in when I see someone needs help. My dad has just started building a shed in our backyard, and I offered to help him with it because I know from my community service how much work it is. I also appreciate my own house more, and I know how lucky I am to have a roof over my head."
The second passage is more impressive and memorable because it describes the skills the writer learned in more detail and recounts a specific story that supports her claim that her community service changed her and made her more helpful.
Step 7: Finish Strong
Just as you started your essay in a way that would grab readers’ attention, you want to finish your essay on a strong note as well. A good way to end your essay is to state again the impact your work had on you, your community, or both. Reiterate how you changed as a result of your community service, why you found the work important, or how it helped others.
Compare these two concluding statements:
"In conclusion, I learned a lot from my community service at my local museum, and I hope to keep volunteering and learning more about history."
"To conclude, volunteering at my city's American History Museum has been a great experience. By leading tours and participating in special events, I became better at public speaking and am now more comfortable starting conversations with people. In return, I was able to get more community members interested in history and our local museum. My interest in history has deepened, and I look forward to studying the subject in college and hopefully continuing my volunteer work at my university's own museum."
The second passage takes each point made in the first passage and expands upon it. In a few sentences, the second passage is able to clearly convey what work the volunteer did, how she changed, and how her volunteer work benefited her community. She also ends her essay discussing her future and how she'd like to continue her community service, which is a good way to wrap things up because it shows your readers that you are committed to community service for the long-term.
Are you applying to a community service scholarship or thinking about it? We have a complete list of all the community service scholarships available to help get your search started!
Do you need a community service letter as well? We have a step-by-step guide that will tell you how to get a great reference letter from your community service supervisor.
Thinking about doing community service abroad? Before you sign up, read our guide on some of the hazards of international volunteer trips and how to know if it's the right choice for you.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
I think that students should be required to do a community service project before they graduate. Besides their graduation project, I think that it would be great to see students give back to the community. They could clean up roadsides, help out at the humane society, or help raise money for a good cause like breast cancer research
There are a lot of things that a student could do. I can think of tons of places that could use helpers for non-profit. I also think that it can give the students good work ethics even though they won't receive money for the good things that they do. It might even give them a glimpse of what they might want to do with their lives.
By KATRINA SPINELLI
Community service should absolutely be necessary in order to graduate high school. Most students already do community service outside of school or for school related functions so getting it done would not pose a significant problem.
For example, I know that our local churches and youth groups do community service annually. Doing things for the community can help introduce students to important people that may help them later in life. Also, it may give them an advantage when applying to college. Community service will look very good on any college application, can provide interesting essay material, and supervisors may write wonderful recommendation letters. It is a fantastic and necessary requirement for students to complete community service in order to graduate high school.
By KAYLA SMITH
When people donate their time, money, or material possessions, a warm feeling surrounds them and their communities.
This helps build a tight community. All seniors should definitely be required to perform community service in order to graduate for several reasons. The first reason is that those students moving on to college are required to include service hours on their college applications; however, even if students do not plan to attend college, they should experience what it is like to help others. When they help others, they give something back to their communities. The community helps support school functions; their tax dollars provide their education. Performing community service gives the community a big thank you and helps create a positive community.
By JEN JOHNSON
In a time when gratitude and thankfulness seem to be in decline, community service should be a mandatory requirement of students before they graduate. The task is not one which entails an outrageous amount of work and can leave students with an experience that shows them that giving back is not only good for those they are giving to but for themselves as well.
The community gives the school and education system support, funding, and other various aids. For students to do a reasonable amount of service that gives back to these people and organizations is asking very little. For example, at Rockwood, National Honor Society members are asked to complete five hours of community service. For most, this task is completed within a few weeks of the school year starting.
While some schools require great amounts of hours of service, some require none. A moderate amount of service hours is very little to ask and would help students to see that being helpful is a wonderful thing as well as a new perspective of their community.
By EMILY ST. CLAIR
Performing community service is a great way for young adults to learn the concept of civic responsibility. However, it should not be mandatory for high school students to complete in order to receive a diploma.
Many high schools require seniors to complete a "senior project." This project can range from anything to career exploration, job shadowing, or simply helping with an important event. While taking part in these projects students have the choice as to whether or not they would like to perform community service or not.
Rather than high schools attempting to make community service part of their curriculum, universities, community colleges, and technical schools could have their enrolled students perform a community based project in the school's community during the student's senior year of college in order to receive their college degree. By these students participating in a community service project at an older age, they will appreciate and be honored to benefit their school's community.
By RILEY PAPSON
Personally, I feel that students should perform community service to graduate. Many good things can come from volunteering your time. Community service not only helps you to give back and improve your community, but it also helps you as a person stand out amongst others. When writing scholarships and college applications, colleges will notice and like the fact that you volunteer your time for a cause. There are also awards for community service such as the Challenge Program Award for Community Service.
Giving back to your community also gives you recognition amongst your fellow neighbors. If you help out, then they will respect you. In turn, this gives you a new, brighter image that people will come to know you for. Volunteering can also be done at a number of places: a fire station, a humane society, a Birthright office, or even a local charity. Volunteering also helps to introduce students to real life. It gives you a feel of the world outside of high school and lets you get a feel of different jobs and professions.
By LORA SKYLLING
Required community service offers its benefits to high school students. Students whose community service is done voluntarily gain unique experiences not afforded to those who opt out of the service hours. If schools required community service from their students, everyone would participate in community service that they would have otherwise never known. The experience would therefore assist the students in realizing the impact of volunteer work and open further opportunities for them.
Colleges look for students who have participated in their share of volunteerism as it helps distinguish students from the large number of applicants who have done well in school. Students may continue to participate in forms of helpful volunteer work later on in their lives, and without the mandated community service as required by the students' high schools, that aspect of life experience would likely not be ventured.
By ELENA THOMPSON
As a student that is involved in the student life at my school, I do not think that community service should be mandatory to graduate.
I firmly believe this for one reason, some students are just too busy to try and fit something else into their already hectic schedules. I am involved in various sports, clubs, and activities, as well as being employed part time, and I just do not have the time to fit in community service. The school encourages its students to become involved and to throw another thing to be mandatory to graduate is just too much. I think that community service is great thing, don't get me wrong, but for a student that is active in and out of the school, it's just too much to handle. If a student isn't involved in as many activities, I think that the school should recommend for them to do some community service, but not make it mandatory to graduate.
By LINDSEY BUNCICH
Students today have many opportunities to be well-rounded with extracurricular activities. They can participate in athletics, musical activities, academic clubs, and many more.
However, one activity I think students should have to experience is some form of community service. Community service teaches students many lessons. Helping people, cleaning up around your community, or even donating something to a local charity can be a very rewarding experience for students. In addition it makes them more well-rounded.
By KELLY VAUGHN
Every teenager should learn to appreciate serving others. Requiring each graduating senior to perform several hours of service would give them an opportunity to experience what serving others can do for them.
Community service is an honorable endeavor that benefits both ends of the deeds. When a teenager volunteers their time and talents, they are doing things for others that will also impact their own lives. Often times I have found that the service I perform does more good for me than those I am helping. All teenagers should learn to selflessly give of themselves to better the lives of others.
Not only does service benefit one's character, it also improves their resumes. In relation to future job opportunities and college acceptance, community service is very important. Those who obtain numerous hours of service are set above those who do not. Students who value community service are given more opportunities in their future undertakings because of their willingness to lend a hand.