We Want to Give Back Too


Public service summer funding and the difficulties that come with being low-income.



To have a summer job or to volunteer? That is the question – whether ‘tis nobler to work to pay your bills, or to work in public service without an income, is the never-ending battle that low income students must wage within themselves when spring term rolls around.

For many of us, the answer is unavoidably the former. We need to work over the summer, we often don’t have a choice. Something that Harvard is rather good at is helping its students find lucrative summer jobs. 

Unfortunately, finding funding to support one’s living expenses while they volunteer is not as easy. The Philip Brooks House website states: “Each year, these programs provide opportunities for more than 200 students to gain experience working at non-profit and public interest organizations.” Compared to the roughly 22,000 students that attend Harvard University, this is a rather small number. Public service summer funding programs, such as the Presidential Public Service Funding Initiative and the Arthur Liman Public Interest Law Summer Fellowship Program, are extremely competitive, with less than 20 students benefitting from them combined.

Other options are Federal Work Study, the Institute of Politics Summer Stipend Program, OCS International Internships and Volunteer Opportunities Funding and the Harvard Clubs Community Service Fellowship. However, those are also, if a bit less, competitive, and their funding is limited as well.

The reality is that many students with noble intentions apply for these programs, and not all of those that require the funding they need to carry out their public service dreams receive it. As a result, not many students, especially low-income students, get the opportunity to even try out public service as a possible career path. This is unfortunate for many reasons, but as President Faust said in her 2010 commencement speech, it’s mainly because “…the most important factor drawing students into public service is the opportunity to try it out. Students involved in public service during their undergraduate years are almost twice as likely as others to enter a public service job upon graduation.”

This statement led President Faust to vow to increase the funding for these programs with her statement, “Given the strong connection between such opportunities and later career and life choices, beginning next year, I plan to create the Presidential Public Service Fellowships program to honor and to fund 10 outstanding students from across the University for a summer service opportunity. Additionally, as part of an anticipated University fundraising campaign, we will include as our explicit goals doubling the current amount of funding for undergraduate summer service opportunities, and a significant increase for graduate students as well.”

Hopefully, the increase of funds for undergraduate summer service opportunities will be one of the many promises President Faust keeps before she finishes her tenure as Harvard’s President.

In the meantime, applications for public service funding can be found at the following:

  • publicservice.fas.harvard.edu/mission
  • iop.harvard.edu
  • ocs.fas.harvard.edu/summer-funding
  • service.harvard.edu.

Alaya Ayala (alaya_ayala@college.harvard.edu) wishes, “May the Funding Application Odds Be Ever in Your Favor!”