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Published: Friday 25th of January 2013

How to Write a Community Service Essay: 9 Steps to Follow When Writing Your Paper

In case you are applying to a scholarship or a college right now or you intend to do this in the near future, most probably you are well aware of the terms and conditions required, one of them being to write a community service essay that truly stands out. You really need to create impact and to make the readers accept your application. So if you want to know how you can do that and what are the most important aspects to follow when writing such an essay, you should definitely read on the rest of the article.

What does a community service essay imply and why it’s so important?

First things first, in order to know what the most essential steps to follow in the writing process are, you need to have a clear idea on what exactly a community service essay is and why it’s so vital to have it. This essay has the main purpose of describing in details your complete volunteer work you performed until that moment, how it changed you and, most importantly, how it impacted the community. Of course, requirements for how to write or what to include in this essay might vary depending on the institution you are applying to, but basically you will be asked to give these details previously mentioned.

Why people ask for community service essays?

Many institutions around the world ask their applicants to submit community service essays and there are two main situations in which they are requested:
  1. When applying to college – as part of the application, students are asked to include a community service essay; worth mentioning is that you can also opt for mentioning the most important community service work you performed in your personal statement.
  2. When applying to scholarships – some scholarships have some very strict selection criteria and one of them is submitting an excellently written community service essay. Thus, only those that prove to have exceptional writing skills and exceptional volunteering experience will be awarded with those scholarships. One very good example of an incredible scholarship is the one offered by the Green Mountain College. They carefully review each essay and only offer scholarships (which consist of board, room and full tuition) to those students who have significantly impacted their community in a positive way through their volunteer work.
In the following sections, you will find the most important steps you need to take in this journey. You should know that the first two ones will help you get started with everything and the rest of the steps are going to reveal you what aspects you should pay attention to when writing the essay.

Step 1 – get well informed

Now that you know what a service community essay is and why institutions require it, it’s time to get to the real business. The first thing you need before you even get started with writing the essay is to know all the requirements and conditions your application has. Take some time browsing the Internet, reading different articles, browsing the official website of the institution you are applying at in order to know exactly what they are asking and only when you have all these information, you can go to the next step. To make things easier, you can write down the aspects you find most important. You should pay special attention to details such as:
  • The length required for the essay
  • The deadline for application
  • The main focus or purpose of the community service essay
  • If there is any structure to follow
You should know that prompts can vary a lot, depending on the institution. Read the following prompts examples and notice how different they are, not only in terms of length, but also in the information the writer is required to include in the essay: 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.” 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.” 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.” As you can see, the all have different ways to explain their essay requirements. You should take these into serious consideration, as they can make the difference between getting accepted in the scholarship program and getting rejected.

Step 2 – it’s time for some brainstorming

So, you know now what the essay’s topic should be. Start writing then, right? Well, you’ll notice that it’s not that simple. Even with all these details at your fingertips it can still be quite challenging to begin writing. You should make a plan and think how to organize the essay. Here’s a short list of questions that you might use as a guideline. Through answering them, you can brainstorm your essay ideas and have at least a draft.
  • Is there any community service activity in which you’ve participated that has had a more powerful impact on you? Why is that?
  • What do you remember first when you think of that period? Describe your favorite memory.
  • Why and when did you first decide to get involved into community service?
  • What were the reasons?
  • Has volunteering changed you in any way?
  • How has it influenced your plans for the future?
  • Do you believe that your volunteering experience changed the community in any way?
Keep in mind that this is only an indicative list to help you begin your writing. It’s not necessary to answer all of them, but the more you answer and the more detailed your answers are, the better. The structure of your essay will most probably depend on the requirements made by the scholarship you’re applying to. Whether you choose to highlight the way your community benefited from your volunteering or the way it has influenced your personal growth, and whether you choose to present your complete volunteering experience or focus on only one or two memorable moments, make sure you write the essay with the requirements in your mind.

Step 3 – take the reader along with you in the story

Make sure you tell a story in your essay. Don’t make it sound like something a robot wrote or use too complex words, because it will only make the essay seem unrealistic and not written by you. Present your volunteering experience as a story and make sure you also hook the reader in that story as well. You want the ones reading your community service essay be impressed and find the story interesting, so ensure that you get their attention from the very first sentence. One very good method you can apply here is to start the essay as if you are right in the middle of the action. You can either describe a situation, something that will stir the reader’s imagination right away or you can start the essay with a dialogue line for instance, something powerful and important that someone said to you in your first day volunteering. It’s your choice. Here are two examples of opening sentences:
“I have volunteered at a center for rescued wild animals for one year.” “Nothing compares to that feeling you get when you release a wild animal back into its natural habit, seeing the happiness in its eyes and experiencing along with it that the sense of freedom.”
Notice how different these two sentences are and how they manage to place you in completely different universes, although they are meant to express nearly the same thing? The first sentence is a bland and general statement that has nothing special about it. The second one on the other hand, immediately stirs the reader’s imagination and makes him feel like his part of the story. This is the kind of sentence you need in the beginning of your essay. It makes the reader want to know what happened to that animal before it was released back into the wild, how you took care of it and whether or not it has a name.

Step 4 – get to the point of discussion

ou don’t have to make your essay a thriller article that will keep the reader in suspense all the time. Now that you’ve hooked them in your essay, it’s time you give them some more down-to-earth details and start describing your volunteering experience. Mention in your essay the place you did community service, the amount of time you spent there and when it happened, as well as some of the duties you had there. It’s essential to mention these details from the first paragraph of the essay, because they are vital to put the reader in context and help him understand the general idea. If you skip this step, you will only confuse the reader and most probably, he will lose interest in reading the rest of the essay.

Step 5 – give even more details

Details do make the difference. Your essay is about the community service you did, so how else to make the reader understand why that period was important to you if you don’t provide enough details about it? After all, those small aspects were the ones that actually made that experience both memorable and unique, so be specific about it. Mention what activities you liked the most, what moments marked your experience and who from the people you worked with influenced you the most. Talk about that evening when you had to feed that scared baby animal and how scared you were too, as it was the first time in your life you did something like that. Don’t be afraid that your audience might be bored by such details, because this is not the case. On the contrary, they will get a much clearer image on your volunteering experience and will understand how you felt and why you felt that way. This is what will get the reader convinced that the work you did there was important and that volunteer experience is different from anyone else’s. Try to avoid giving basic information about your experience as in this example “My volunteering work consisted of tutoring children at an elementary school in my hometown and help them improve their language skills and their self-esteem level.”. There’s nothing engaging here and your reader would have probably stopped reading after the first four words or so. Instead, choose to tell a specific story and use it to explain what your work consisted of. For instance, tell how you tried to connect with those children and helped them improve their skills, what teaching methods you used, what kind of activities you thought were a best match in that situation and so on. The details you provide will help you to support claims.

Step 6 – make it personal

The main topic of the essay is to talk about your volunteering experiences, but not adding a personal touch to this will not make it a complete beautiful story. Keep in mind that by the moment the reader finishes your essay, they should get the feeling that they know what kind of person you are. Thus, make sure that you also show your personality in the article. The safest way to do this is by talking about your personal strengths (and sometimes even weaknesses and provide valid examples that can support your ideas. For instance, in case you had the chance to organize a certain event or to be a supervisor for other volunteers, you can use this example to state that you have leader qualities. Talk about when you had the chance to help a specific group of people in order to make them work together efficiently and use this as an example to support your teamwork skills. If you take a moment and think about your volunteering experience, it’s impossible not to find at least one such example that you can use in your essay.

Step 7 – talk about your accomplishments

So, you’ve mentioned what your volunteering work was about, you gave more details about it, you even talked about how it influenced you and about your strengths. You should already have more than half of your essay done. But hold your horses, because it’s not ready yet. At this point, you’ll have to start wrapping your essay up and talk about your accomplishments. Begin with stating the impact your volunteering work had on your community. Did you clean up the park? Or did you help build a house for a family who had been through an unfortunate event? Or maybe you helped those students improve their language skills? The crucial thing to consider here is to state the impact of your work clearly. There’s no need to be modest here, but on the contrary, now’s the time you brag about it. Now’s the time you tell how much difference you made in your community by volunteering even for a couple of months.
Something that would support your impact even more are specific numbers. Mention the number of rooms that house had, or the number of students you helped have their skills improved, or the number of houses you delivered meals to. Numbers will make your example more powerful and realistic, rather than saying “I helped a lot of students”. Give even more details and explain why your volunteering work was so important. Did you provide more places for children to play? Or did the students you helped get better grades in school? This is one essential part of your essay and you should pay great attention when writing it. Make your reader step into your shoes and see your volunteering experience from your perspective. The more details you give, the clearer the picture your reader gets and convinces them about the great impact you made on your community through your volunteering.

Step 8 – how did it impact you?

One of the last things that must be included in a community service essay is the impact your volunteering experience had on YOU. Discuss the things that you learned during and after this experience, whether it changed you in any way and whether you would do some things differently from now on due to this experience. Mention whether you got any skills improved or acquired some new ones after being a volunteer. Maybe you became a better public speaker or nurtured a greater love for animals. How did this experience influence and change you personally? Have you become more understanding of others, more organized or more patient after these couple of months? Did you get a clearer image on the type of career you wish to follow in the future? Any such information would work as long as it’s honest. Don’t talk about something you don’t believe it or don’t feel and don’t say that this volunteering experience changed you in a certain way if it hasn’t. Your readers will only be impressed if they feel that what they’re reading is true. Support your ideas by going into more details and providing relevant examples. What situation made you be more patient? What event forced you to be more organized than you usually are? Give specific examples, because these are the things that will make your essay believable and strong.

Step 9 – think of a memorable ending

Every essay has both a beginning and an ending. If your beginning is a powerful one and able to hook your reader in from the first five words, your ending shouldn’t be any different. The essay should be finished on a strong note, just as it began and one great way you can do that is to mention once more the great impact your volunteering experience had both on your community and on yourself. Using other words, state how you changed and how you managed to change your community and whether or not you would like to repeat the experience. Use the ending of your essay as an anchor to bring your reader back into reality.

Final thoughts

Now you know the essential steps to follow in the process of writing your first community service essay, so you have no more excuses to postpone this task. Also, keep in mind that there’s a deadline until when you can apply for that scholarship, so the sooner you start writing your essay, the better it will be. It may seem like a lot in the beginning, but once you create a plan based on the instructions mentioned above, you’ll be surprised how quick you’ll finish writing your essay. Once again, the aspects to keep in mind are:
  • Present your volunteering experience as a story
  • The more details you give, the more realistic your essay seems
  • Details and examples will catch readers’ attention the most
  • Have a strong beginning and an even stronger ending
  • Make the reader feel that when reading your essay, they are part of the action as well, that they live each and every moment next to you
  • State the impact your volunteering experience had on you and your community
  • State how you changed after this experience and how it has influenced your future
  • Be original and honest, because only this way you’ll convince your audience to accept your essay and give you that scholarship you most want.