04/29/2013 04:27 pm ET

Community Service Can Pay Off with College Scholarships | U.S. News & World Report


This piece comes to us courtesy of U.S. News & World Report.

Volunteering can bring many kinds of rewards.

Harriet Naylor, an advocate of volunteering in the 1970s and author of "Volunteers Today: Finding, Training and Working With Them," wrote in her book, "Volunteering can be an exciting, growing, enjoyable experience. It is truly gratifying to serve a cause, practice one's ideals, work with people, solve problems, see benefits and know one had a hand in them."

Beyond these immediate benefits, there's another great benefit to getting more involved in your community: scholarships are available to those who want to contribute to social change, gain valuable experience and meet new people. Take advantage of the thousands of scholarships across the country that are geared specifically to students who give back!

One great opportunity to check out is the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards Program. Unlike some service-oriented scholarships, this program allows you to have volunteered anywhere, as long as you engaged in a volunteer activity that occurred at least partly during the 12 months prior to the date of application.

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Whether you volunteered a few hours each week at an animal shelter or you helped out with regular neighborhood clean-ups, you are eligible for this scholarship. State honorees are awarded $1,000, and national winners an additional $5,000.

Rather than volunteering at an organization, why not create your own? Youth Action Net is giving twenty $500 grants to young people between the ages of 18 and 29 who have created a project or an organization that promotes social change in their communities.

The organization has a yearlong fellowship program that provides skill-building, advocacy and networking opportunities. Fellows have support from their peers, volunteers and mentors to help build their entrepreneur networks.

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Not an entrepreneur? No problem. Whether you're a current student or a graduate, the Partnership for Public Service Fellowship may be the perfect fit. This fellowship accepts applicants with any academic major, but does require a past that has been committed to public service.

Current undergraduate students will receive an $800 per month stipend, and fellows with an undergraduate or graduate degree will earn a $1,000 per month stipend. Enhance your communication and teamwork skills, while paving a path to a future in public service.

If you're a graduating college senior, you probably have one question always on your mind: "What will I do after I graduate?" Here's one idea: The Samuel Huntington Public Service Award provides a $10,000 stipend for a student to pursue one year of public service anywhere in the world!

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You can choose to volunteer alone or work through established charitable, religious, educational, governmental or other public service organizations. Enjoy a year of giving back, exploring another culture, and learning about yourself before you begin graduate school or a career in the real world.

Not only can community and public service create wonderful scholarship opportunities, it can also provide you with engaging experiences and leadership skills. Best of all, volunteering is a great way to meet people and start building a network of valuable relationships – and it's never too late to get involved!

Meghann Rand interned at Scholarship America in 2013. She attends the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where she is majoring in advertising and public relations.