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.
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Are you interested in performing community service? Do you want examples of service projects you can do? Community service is a great way to help others and improve your community, and it can also help you gain skills and experience to include on your resume and college applications.
Read on for dozens of community service ideas to help you get started volunteering.
What Is Community Service?
Community service is work done by a person or group of people that benefits others. It is often done near the area where you live, so your own community reaps the benefits of your work. You do not get paid to perform community service, but volunteer your time. Community service can help many different groups of people: children, senior citizens, people with disabilities, even animals and the environment. Community service is often organized through a local group, such as a place of worship, school, or non-profit organization, or you can start your own community service projects. Community service can even involve raising funds by donating used goods or selling used good like clothing.
Many people participate in community service because they enjoy helping others and improving their community. Some students are required to do community service in order to graduate high school or to receive certain honors. Some adults are also ordered by a judge to complete a certain number of community service hours.
Why Should You Participate in Community Service?
There are numerous benefits to participating in community service, both for yourself and others. Below are some of the most important benefits of volunteering:
- Gives you a way to help others
- Helps improve your community
- Can help strengthen your resume and college applications
- Can be a way to meet new friends
- Often results in personal growth
- Gives you a way to gain work experience and learn more about certain jobs
How Should You Use This List?
This list of over one hundred community service examples is organized by category, so if you're particularly interested in working with, say, children or animals, you can easily find community service activities more related to your interests.
In order to use this list most effectively, read through it and make note of any community service ideas that match your interests and that you may want to participate in. Some considerations to keep in mind are:
- Who would you like to help?
Is there a specific group of people or cause you are passionate about? Look for projects that relate to your passion and interests. You may also just want to perform particular community service activities that allow you to do hobbies you enjoy, like baking or acting, and that's fine too.
- Do you want a community service activity that is reoccurring or a one-time event?
Perhaps you don't have enough time to regularly devote to community service. In that case, it may be better to look for opportunities that only occur once or sporadically, such as planning special events or helping build a house.
- What kind of impact do you want to have?
Some people prefer to participate in community service activities that have a quantifiable impact, for example, activities where you know the specific number of kids you tutored, dollars you raised, or cans of food you collected. This is in contrast to activities that don't have such clear numbers, such as creating a garden or serving as a volunteer lifeguard. Some people prefer quantifiable activities because they feel they look stronger on college applications, or because they simply enjoy knowing their exact impact on the community.
- What skills would you like to gain?
Many community service activities can help you gain skills. These skills can range from teaching to medicine to construction and more. If there is a particular skill you'd like to learn for future classes, jobs, or just out of personal interest, you may want to see if there is a community service activity that helps you learn that skill.
List of Community Service Examples
Below I've listed over 100 community service ideas to get you started with brainstorming.
Donate or raise money for your local Red Cross
Organize a community blood drive
Send cards to soldiers serving overseas
For your next birthday, ask for charitable donations instead of gifts
Hold a bake sale for your favorite charity
Read books or letters to a person who is visually impaired
Organize a wheelchair basketball team
Participate in a charity race
Organize an event or parade for Memorial Day
Volunteer to help at a charity auction
Participate in National Youth Service Day in April
Contact a tree farm about donating Christmas trees to nursing homes, hospitals, or to families who can’t afford to buy their own
Collect unused makeup and perfume to donate to a center for abused women
Help register people to vote
Organize a car wash and donate the profits to charity
- Help deliver meals and gifts to patients at a local hospital
- Write articles / give speeches advocating financial literarcy. First you should learn about the topics themselves, like calculating housing costs, or understanding personal loans, and then give presentations on these topics.
Helping Children and Schools
Tutor children during or after school
Donate stuffed animals to children in hospitals
Organize games and activities for children in hospitals or who are visiting hospitalized relatives
Knit or crochet baby blankets to be donated to hospitals or homeless shelters
Collect baby clothes and supplies to donate to new parents
Organize a Special Olympics event for children and teenagers
Sponsor a bike-a-thon and give away bike safety gear, like helmets and knee pads, as prizes
Collect used sports equipment to donate to families and after-school programs
Volunteer at a summer camp for children who have lost a parent
Sponsor a child living in a foreign country, either on your own or as part of a group
Coach a youth sports team
Put on performances for children in hospitals
Give free music lessons to schoolchildren
Become a volunteer teen crisis counselor
Organize a summer reading program to encourage kids to read
Organize an Easter egg hunt for neighborhood children
Create a new game for children to play
Organize events to help new students make friends
Babysit children during a PTA meeting
Organize a reading hour for children at a local school or library
Donate used children’s books to a school library
Work with the local health department to set up an immunization day or clinic to immunize children against childhood diseases
- Volunteer to help with Vacation Bible School or other religious camps
Helping Senior Citizens
Read to residents at a nursing home
Deliver groceries and meals to elderly neighbors
Teach computer skills to the elderly
Drive seniors to doctor appointments
Mow an elderly neighbor’s lawn
Host a bingo night for nursing home residents
Host a holiday meal for senior citizens
Make birthday cards for the elderly
Donate and decorate a Christmas tree at a nursing home
Organize a family day for residents of a retirement home and relatives to play games together
Ask residents of a retirement home to tell you about their lives
Pick up medicine for an elderly neighbor
Perform a concert or play at a senior center
Help elderly neighbors clean their homes and organize their belongings
Rake leaves, shovel snow, or wash windows for a senior citizen
- Deliver cookies to a homebound senior citizen
Helping Animals and the Environment
Take care of cats and dogs at an animal shelter
Clean up a local park
Raise money to provide a bulletproof vest for a police dog
Plant a tree for Arbor Day
Place a bird feeder and bird fountain in your backyard
Start a butterfly garden in your community
Sponsor a recycling contest
Grow flowers in your backyard then give bouquets to hospital patients or people who are housebound
Help create a new walking trail at a nature center or park
Update the signs along a nature trail
Adopt an acre of rainforest
Help train service dogs
Participate in the cleanup of a local river, pond, or lake
Foster animals that shelters don’t have space for
Organize a spay and neuter your pet program
Care for a neighbor’s pet while they are away
Sponsor an animal at your local zoo
Train your pet to be a therapy animal and bring it to hospitals or nursing homes
Build and set up a bird house
Organize a carpool to reduce car emissions
Campaign for more bike lanes in your town
Volunteer at a nature camp and teach kids about the environment
Test the water quality of a lake or river near you
- Plant native flowers or plants along highways
Helping the Hungry and/or Homeless
Build a house with Habitat for Humanity
Donate your old clothes
Volunteer at a soup kitchen
Donate old eyeglasses to an organization that collects that and distributes them to people in need
Donate non-perishable food to a food bank
Donate blankets to a homeless shelter
Host a Thanksgiving dinner for people who may not be able to afford their own
Offer to babysit or nanny for a family in need
Make “care kits” with shampoo, toothbrushes, combs, etc. to donate to homeless shelters
Prepare a home-cooked meal for the residents of a nearby homeless shelter
Collect grocery coupons to give to a local food bank
Help repair or paint a local homeless shelter
Donate art supplies to kids in a homeless shelter
Help organize and sort donations at a homeless shelter
Babysit children while their parents look for jobs
Become a Big Buddy for children at a homeless shelter
Take homeless children on outings
Bake a batch of cookies or loaf of bread and deliver it to a soup kitchen
Build flower boxes for Habitat for Humanity houses
Organize a winter clothes drive to collect coats, hats, scarves, and gloves to be donated
Make first aid kits for homeless shelters
Reducing Crime and Promoting Safety
Volunteer at a police station or firehouse
Become a certified lifeguard and volunteer at a local pool or beach
Paint over graffiti in your neighborhood
Organize a self-defense workshop
Organize a drug-free campaign
Sponsor a drug-free post-prom event
Start or join a neighborhood watch program
Create and distribute a list of hotlines for people who might need help
Teach a home-alone safety class for children
Create a TV or radio public service announcement against drug and alcohol use
Become CPR certified
- Volunteer as a crossing guard for an elementary school
Promoting Community Enhancement
Paint park benches
Donate used books to your local library
Become a tour guide at your local museum
Repaint community fences
Plant flowers in bare public areas
Organize a campaign to raise money to buy and install new playground equipment for a park
Participate in or help organize a community parade
Clean up vacant lot
Produce a neighborhood newspaper
Campaign for more lighting along poorly lit streets
Create a newcomers group in your neighborhood to help welcome new families
Petition your town leaders to build more drinking fountains and public restrooms
Volunteer to clean up trash at a community event
Adopt a local highway or road and clean up trash along it
Help fix or raise funds to repair a run-down playground
Clean up after a natural disaster
Now that you know what your options are for community service, you can take the following steps to start getting involved:
1.Look over your interests: Which activities seem most appealing to you? Were they mostly in one particular category, like children or the environment? If so, that's a good starting place for choosing specific organizations to contact.
2. Figure out how much time you can devote to community service: Are you available for two hours every week? Are you not free on a regular basis but can volunteer for an entire weekend now and then? Think about transportation as well and how you'll be able to get to different locations. Knowing this information will help you choose which community service projects to pursue, and it's helpful information for volunteer coordinators to know.
3. Do some research to see what projects you can do in your community: Check at your school, place of worship, or town hall for more information on volunteering. You can also contact the place where you’d like to perform your community service, such as a particular animal shelter or nursing home, and ask if they take volunteers.
4. Start volunteering! This list ranges from small projects that you can complete on your own in a few hours, to much larger projects that will take more time and people. If you find a project you can start on your own, do it! If you want to do a project where you’ll need more resources or people, check around your community to see if a similar program already exists that you can join. If not, don’t be afraid to start your own! Many organizations welcome new volunteers and community service projects.
Considering doing volunteer work in another country?Read our guide on volunteer abroad programs and learn whether or not you should participate in one.
Are you in college or will be starting soon? Extracurriculars are one of the best parts of college! Check out our guide to learn which extracurricular activities you should consider in college.
Did you know that you can use your community service work to help pay for college? Check out our step-by-step guide on how to win community service scholarships.
Struggling to write about extracurriculars on your college application? Check out our in-depth guide to crafting a compelling narrative about your extracurriculars. Read it for free now: