Use Summer to Boost Scholarship Applications for Fall

Students, spend your summer break wisely, and it could pay off in scholarships later.

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Summer break is officially here for most American students: time off from early mornings, hitting the books, and taking tests. In years past, many teens looked to the summer months as a time to increase the hours they worked at their part-time jobs or take on summer gigs, such as babysitting, lifeguarding, and festival work. Unfortunately, the recession has taken a toll on teen employment; today, according to a report by the Center for Labor Market Studies (CLMS) at Northeastern University, "The Steep Decline in Teen Summer Employment in the U.S., 2000-2010 and the Bleak Outlook for the 2011 Summer Teen Job Market," only about a quarter of teens can find paying jobs.

But don't let that tempt you to spend your days sleeping until noon and watching daytime talk shows. You can do plenty this summer to help boost your scholarship applications in the fall. Many scholarship applications give you points for your extracurricular, leadership, and community service activities. Although you may not be able to make money now, the time you volunteer could pay big dividends during scholarship award season.

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Here are some places to get started:

1. Look close to home: College Board suggests starting in your local community to find a good volunteer match. Visit your town's website, or contact your local United Way, cultural arts associations, or student organizations for ideas. You may have to look no further than your local library or religious organization for volunteer activities. Another idea: check out your community recreation center. If you're athletic, consider volunteering as a coach or assistant coach for youth sporting teams.

2. Look online: VolunteerMatch is an online matching service for opportunities and interested volunteers. A quick search on all opportunities good for teens within 20 miles of my hometown of Minneapolis brought up 600 different opportunities.

[Read about more ways to make a jobless summer a productive one.]

3. Craft a volunteer opportunity: Turn your love of knitting into a volunteer opportunity with World Vision's Knit for Kids Program. All you have to do is download a free pattern, knit a sweater, and send it to World Vision's office in Pennsylvania; the organization takes care of the rest.

4. Find opportunities to help families: Ronald McDonald House Charities in many states offer opportunities for teens to volunteer to spend time with the families by providing meals, crafts, and other fun activities.

5. Create your own opportunity: If you're into creating your own opportunities, you owe it to yourself to check out DoSomething.org. DoSomething.org is aimed at helping young people—25 and under—"rock causes they care about." The site is aimed at helping teens find causes to get fired up about, and has ideas for getting involved, as well as social action training opportunities to help you get started. You can even sign up to have "take action alerts" texted to your cell phone once a week, providing suggestions on how to help in your community. (Text "DoSomething" to 30644 to sign up.)

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Before you finish your summer volunteer gig, ask your supervisor or volunteer coordinator for a letter of recommendation, and find out whether he or she would be available to act as a reference for you in the future. Have a great summer!

Janine Fugate joined Scholarship America in 2002. She is an alumna of the College of Saint Benedict, Saint Joseph, Minn., and is currently pursuing a Master of Public Affairs at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Fugate is the recipient of numerous scholarships at both the undergraduate and graduate level.