Public Service Pays Off With These Scholarship Opportunities

Federal programs and other aid opportunities are available for those interested in the public sector.

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On June 23, the United Nations will observe its 9th annual Public Service Day. In the words of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the honorees at this year's event in Tanzania are public servants and groups who "embody the essential building blocks of good governance: integrity, citizen participation, respect for diversity and gender equality, and effective knowledge management." These are great guidelines for students, too, and if you're aspiring to a career in the public service sector, there are plenty of scholarship, fellowship, and financial aid opportunities for you.

As you'd expect in the public service sector, there are a number of federal programs that can help keep your debt down. Loan forgiveness plans for public servants began in 2007, and if you're serious about a long-term commitment to a public service career, they can pay off.

[See if the student loan forgiveness act would help you.]

Graduates who make 10 years worth of monthly payments on federal student loans, and who work full-time for a government organization or a nonprofit providing public service, are eligible for the remainder of their student loans to be forgiven after that period.

In addition, if you decide to go into teaching, your work in public schools can mean additional loan forgiveness: up to 30 percent of a Perkins Loan and up to $17,500 toward a Stafford Loan. For funding during or shortly after your college career, check out the Partnership for Public Service Fellowship. The partnership is a nonprofit that works closely with the federal government; this fellowship provides a stipend ($800 per month for undergrads and $1,000 per month for those with undergraduate or graduate degrees), as well as the opportunity to work in its Washington, D.C., office and learn the public service ropes.

For general scholarship assistance, many of the public service awards you'll find are community- or state-based. The Senator Robert J. Dole Public Service Scholarship, for example, provides $1,000 awards to students who attend both high school and college in Kansas.

Similarly, the George and Donna Nigh Public Service Scholarship awards provide assistance to aspiring public servants in Oklahoma, and the Gregory A. Chaillé Public Service Scholarship Fund offers a $5,000 scholarship to public service grad students in Oregon. To find out about opportunities in your home state, check with its Department of Education and state and local community funds.

[Learn more about paying for graduate school.]

A public service career tends to go hand in hand with a community service background, and that can mean more scholarship opportunities. In addition to the community service scholarships we've looked at before, you should take a look at the Bonner Scholars Program, which operates at more than 20 colleges and universities around the country. The Bonner mission is "access to education, opportunities to serve," and this unique program provides financial aid to college students who commit to volunteering in their campus community.

There's also a great scholarship opportunity open to a few worthy recipients after graduation: The Samuel Huntington Public Service Award "provides a $10,000 stipend for a graduating college senior to pursue one year of public service anywhere in the world," helping public service-minded grads pursue their passion before moving onto further education or the workforce.

The award's namesake, a former president and CEO of the New England Electrical System, had such an experience teaching in Nigeria; award winners for 2012 are pursuing varied passions, from teaching dance to immigrant students in New York to investing in West African agribusinesses.

Last but not least, grads who are moving onto law school and willing to commit to a career in public interest law can find scholarships across the nation. On the West Coast, the University of Washington School of Law awards five William H. Gates Public Interest Law Scholarships each year; recipients receive a full-ride scholarship and must commit to five years of public service work after graduation.

On the East Coast, the Boston College School of Law's Public Service Scholarship provides a similar level of funding and commitment, and New York University's Public Interest Law Center awards the prestigious Root-Tilden-Kern Public Interest Scholarship along with several others. Of course, those programs are just the tip of the iceberg; make sure to check with your own admissions office to find out what's out there for you.

Matt Konrad has been with Scholarship America since 2005. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and a former scholarship recipient.