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:
Of all the different types of text you will have to write in the academic world, the statement of purpose is one of the most difficult, not least because it is about you. We spend our time trying to eliminate ourselves from other academic writing, from research proposals or from term papers. Now you have to write a paper about yourself. Like any other academic genre, a statement of purpose has a logical structure and development, and its purpose is to simultaneously show why you are the best candidate for a given course or grant, and why this course or grant is the most suitable one for you. This page will tell you how to do this. But don't leave it at that: when you have finished, come to the Writing Center and discuss your statement of purpose with us. The resulting revised draft will be even more effective.
Do Answer the Question!
Before you start writing your statement of purpose, look careful at any instructions you have been given. If, for example, you have been asked to specify why you want to study at this university, make sure you answer that question, and that your paragraph starts with a sentence that will signal that you are answering it (e.g."My reasons for studying..."). Do not omit to answer any of the questions you are asked, and consider carefully before providing information you were not asked for. If you have 500 words, they expect you to spend most of them answering their questions, not volunteering other information. Frequently, however, universities do not give any guidance as to what they want, perhaps wanting to test if you are intelligent enough to work it out for yourself. If so, the guidelines below are designed to help you.
Attracting the Reader's Attention
When you write a statement of purpose, you need to remember that you are just one of many, perhaps even hundreds of applicants for your chosen study place. The person who reads your statement will have read dozens of others. If yours does not stand out in some way that shows that you are original, different and interesting - which of course you are (but at the same time not eccentric or peculiar - which you may be, but don't emphasize the fact!), it will be consigned to the heap of also-rans, the people who may get a place if there are some left over at the end.
If a statement of purpose fails to catch the reader's attention, it may be due to one or more of the following problems:
- It starts with flattering comments about the university they are applying for - the person who reads your statement already knows how good their institution is: they don't need you to tell them.
- It provides an entire life history, starting from birth, - by the time you reach the important bit, your reader will have lost interest. Unless your high school days are especially interesting, concentrate on your university career.
- It starts off by explaining exactly how the writer heard about this particular course - unless this information shows something important about you, leave it out.
- It begins by providing personal details that can be found on the résumé, such as age or place of birth.
- It begins by trying to second-guess the reader's thoughts, for example: 'You are probably wondering why a specialist in... should be applying for a place at...' This strategy might possibly work, but it will probably be more effective if you go ahead and answer the question.
- Although they do grab attention, the sort of statements that are least successful are those that use over-theatrical and silly introductions that are inappropriate for an academic environment. If you start with 'I am a really special person', or 'Ever since I was a baby, gazing happily at the world...', you shouldn't be surprised if you get rejected.
- Some statements dive straight into the complex field of the specialist, immediately discussing obscure areas of theory. Remember that while you are expected to show familiarity with your subject, not all readers may be specialists in your chosen field. If they can't understand you, they may not realize how good you are.
Capturing the reader's attention - examples
Look at the following two efforts at starting a résumé and see which you think would be more likely to capture the reader's interest:
I am applying for the Central European University, based on the reputation this University has in the academic community world-wide. I have also spoken to several alumni of your university. I am very interested in admission to the graduate program in Economics. I know that research programs in Economics are very diverse and this is the main reason why I prefer this university.
Recent Moldovan government figures show an alarming 40% increase in mental illness amongst young people in the last ten years. These figures are just one more factor that persuades me that my choice of a career in neuroscience was the right one, and motivates me to study further at Ph.D. level in this field in order to help combat this serious problem.
Sample A has several weaknesses:
- it is too general - one could insert the name of any university
- it does not mention any of the specific features of the university nor does it justify the flattering claim of a 'world-wide reputation'
- it simply says that the university has a good reputation and a range of courses - neither very original nor interesting for the reader
- it does not start by answering the question 'Why economics?' but immediately starts with the more specific question of 'Why economics at CEU
Sample B, in contrast, shows several positive features:
- it grabs the reader's attention with an alarming piece of information
- it starts with a reference to the real world, thus moving from the general to the specific
- it shows that the writer is aware of the link between academe and the real world and has a desire to put theoretical learning into practice
- it very succinctly expresses the link between the applicant's past studies, proposed studies and subsequent career
How to start off
Ideally you need to start with an interesting fact or detail about you, your situation or your interests which makes you appear interesting and intelligent. You might also try a more general truth or saying, then show how this applies to your situation. You may want to quote someone famous who has said something relevant, but if so, keep it short, quote correctly, and make sure that the relevance to your position is absolutely clear. Don't quote for the sake of it.
Do give enough time to creating a good initial paragraph. It is the first thing your audience will read, and first impressions are quickly formed. If your first sentences are dull, irrelevant, eccentric or pompous, or worse still, full of grammatical or spelling mistakes, your reader will quickly form a negative impression which will be hard to dispel.
The Structure of a Statement of Purpose
The word 'purpose' normally means 'what you want to do', however, it has a secondary meaning, which is the quality of knowing 'that you want to do something'. Purpose in this sense means having a direction, and it is essential that your statement of purpose shows that you do have a direction and know both where you are going and how you can best get there. A good statement of purpose will usually have the following structure:
How your studies at undergaduate level and at graduate level, as well as any other work or study experience, has prepared you for the course of study that you wish to take.
Your Proposed Course Of Study
Should be shown to be a logical follow-on from your studies/work to date and to prepare you for your future career.
Your Future Career
Should be something for which your proposed course of study is valuable or essential, and should have some logical connection to what went before.
Of course, you own career may not be as simple as this. Perhaps you started studying biophysics, then later developed a passion for medieval poetry. This is not going to disqualify you, but you need to ask yourself 'why should a university choose me rather that someone who has always been interested in medieval poetry?' If you can answer this question, you have a chance of being considered. If, however, your reader gets the impression have suddenly for no good reason conceived an interest in a field you have never studied before, they may equally assume you will lose interest just as quickly. You best chance usually lies in showing that there is a meaningful progression to your career which is driven by your sense of purpose and academic or professional ambition.
The above model suggests that a statement of purpose should move from your past and present studies, to your proposed studies and finally to your future career. If you want to be innovative, you are not obliged to follow this pattern, but the elements and the connection should be there and should be clear to the reader. Before you start writing, draw yourself a clear structural plan, perhaps allowing a paragraph or so for each stage. Obviously, your past will be much clearer and more detailed than your future, but don't neglect the second and third boxes in the diagram above, or you may look like an eternal student, always hunting for something new to study.
How much detail to provide
1. Keep to the word limit
Universities often provide a word limit or a page limit to guide you. Keep to it. If they say they don't want to read three pages, they mean it. Bear in mind that academics have to do an awful lot of reading, not only of statements of purpose but also of essays and theses. If you can't keep to the word limit for a statement of purpose, they may be worrying that you will write a 450 page thesis when 150 pages was the limit. Writing too much is never a way to make yourself popular. If a limit is given, it is good to set yourself a personal maximum limit of 10-15% less than that. And don't feel you have to fill a word limit. If you have said all you want to in 700 words and the limit is 1000, great! Stop. Don't go looking for verbiage to pack in the spaces.
2. Set yourself section word limits
If you have 800 words, have in mind how many you want to spend on each section of your statement. If you use 750 words describing your studies to date, you will have nothing left for the other sections. By setting yourself rough word limits for each part, you ensure that the statement is balanced.
3. Be selective
With any piece of writing where there is a word limit, you will not have enough space to say everything about everything. This means you have to be selective. You have to gather all the necessary information, look at it and throw away the things which are less necessary. It may hurt not to be able to say that you got top grades in your school for physics (when you're applying to study sociology) but you have to be ruthless. Remember that the ability to evaluate and select what to include and what to leave out is valuable academic skill in its own right, and demonstrating that you have that skill can count powerfully in your favor.
4. Use appropriate language
Obviously you need to show you have a good command of the English language: avoid slang, use vocabulary appropriate to your field and show that you can write a sentence of more than 5 words. At the same time, don't start looking for long words to impress with. If an ordinary word will do, don't go thesaurus hunting for a bigger one, not least because you may use it wrongly.
5. Edit thoroughly
When you have written a first draft, go over it and check whether any of your phrases are wordy or clumsy. Try to re-express them clearly and succinctly. While it is good to use longer sentences sometimes, don't ramble. If your sentence has more than 30 words, read it over and see if it would be better to split it into two. Reading aloud may help you to feel if your ideas are clearly expressed.
Some sample statements of purpose
The following sample thesis statements, though well written and successful, are not perfect and may contain mistakes or weaknesses. They are also not about you. It is not included to show you a model that you can copy but to provide an example of how it has been done by others. You will need to write your own statement ion your own words.
My interest in International Relations and my decision to continue my education in this field is the outcome of my profound interest in Asian studies. Majoring in History of India, during my final year I became especially interested in the sphere of International Relations and Foreign Policy of India, writing my thesis on Indian Foreign Policy during Nehru's Government and Indian-Chinese relations. Two trips to India 1997 and 1998 allowed me to become better acquainted with this country, refine my knowledge of Hindi and collect unique data for my research. This unforgettable experience convinced me that I had made the right choice of study, leading me to apply for a PhD Degree so as to extend my research in this field.
I have so far completed two years of the PhD program at St. Petersburg State University. My dissertation aims at disclosing those problems which still hinder the process of normalization between the two Asian countries, India and China, reflecting on how Indian scholars perceive these issues. Thus my research covers both Regional Studies and field of International Relations as a global world system where these two countries play an important role.
My presentation of a paper on Indo-Chinese Relations in 1980s at the international conference "East Asia - St. Petersburg - Europe: inter-civilization contacts and perspectives on economic cooperation" held in St. Petersburg a year ago gave me the opportunity to meet many outstanding researchers, including my referee, Marcia Ristaino, who encouraged me to continue my studies focusing specifically on International Relations and Regional Studies. For that reason I applied and was accepted to the MA Program in International Relations and European Studies at Central European University in Budapest with a scholarship from Soros foundation. The courses I am taking here will provide me with a sound background in theoretical issues in International Relations.
The reason of why I am applying for another Master's Degree is that the CEU program, despite its theoretical strength, has very few courses directly related to my major interest, Regional Studies and conflict resolution and peacekeeping. For this reason I would like to deepen my practical understanding of International Relations and relate it to a more focused concentration on conflict analysis and resolution through the program of the Carleton University.
I am aware of the high reputation of your school and the excellent Master's program that you offer at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. I believe it will certainly help me with my research and career objectives either through work in diplomatic service or at an international organization where I will be able to apply my knowledge and skills obtained through studies at your University.
Courses such as Conflict Analysis, International Mediation and Conflict Resolution and International Organizations in International Affairs will be very helpful for my analyzing of the problems in the South Asian subcontinent and beyond it and will allow me to deeper understand the reasons for numerous interstate and intrastate conflicts that persist in the region. Moreover these courses will be of particular relevance to my career plans which are to find employment with UN or a similar institution in the field of conflict resolution and peacekeeping. The possibility to combine theoretical studies with practical skills in conflict analysis and resolution at the Carleton University will enable me to become a good specialist who will be able to contribute to the common cause of peace in the world. I am eager to become a professional orientalist, as I believe this field of study will always be important in the changing world where Asian countries such as India and China play significant roles in the international arena. MA at the Carleton University would be a precious experience both in terms of my academic and professional career. I hope you will give me the opportunity to realize my ambition.
(A CEU Student - reproduced here with kind permission)
Having majored in literary studies (world literature) as an undergraduate, I would now like to concentrate on English and American literature. I am especially interested in nineteenth-century literature, women's literature, Anglo-Saxon poetry, and folklore and folk literature. My personal literary projects have involved some combination of these subjects. For the oral section of my comprehensive exams, I specialized in nineteenth century novels by and about women. The relation ship between "high" and folk literature became the subject for my honors essay, which examined Toni Morrison's use of classical, biblical, African, and Afro-American folk tradition in her novel. I plan to work further on this essay, treating Morrison's other novels and perhaps preparing a paper suitable for publication.
In my studies toward a doctoral degree, I hope to examine more closely the relationship between high and folk literature. My junior year and private studies of Anglo-Saxon language and literature have caused me to consider the question of where the divisions between folklore, folk literature, and high literature lie. Should I attend your school, I would like to resume my studies of Anglo-Saxon poetry, with special attention to its folk elements.
Writing poetry also figures prominently in my academic and professional goals. I have just begun submitting to the smaller journals with some success and am gradually building a working manuscript for a collection. The dominant theme of this collection relies on poems that draw from classical, biblical, and folk traditions, as well as everyday experience, in order to celebrate the process of giving and taking life, whether literal or figurative. My poetry draws from and influences my academic studies. Much of what I read and study finds a place in my creative work as subject. At the same time, I study the art of literature by taking part in the creative process, experimenting with the tools used by other authors in the past.
In terms of a career, I see myself teaching literature, writing criticism, and going into editing or publishing poetry. Doctoral studies would be valuable to me in several ways. First, your teaching assistantship program would provide me with the practical teaching experience I am eager to acquire. Further, earning a Ph.D. in English and American literature would advance my other two career goals by adding to my skills, both critical and creative, in working with language. Ultimately, however, I see the Ph.D. as an end in itself, as well as a professional stepping-stone; I enjoy studying literature for its own sake and would like to continue my studies on the level demanded by the Ph.D. program.
(Stelzer pp. 40-41)
Some further sources to help you:
Writing the Personal Statement - Purdue University Online Writing Lab
Hunter College School Of Social Work Writing Center – The Personal Statement: Writing A Statement Of Purpose
How to Write a Personal Statement - Essay Edge.com
Text sources for this page were taken from:
How to Write a Winning Personal Statement for Graduate and Professional School. by Richard Stelzer (Princeton, NJ: Peterson's Guides, 1989)