Youth's Highest Honor: The Congressional Award

Posted: October 6, 2015

     The Congressional Award program is a terrific way for students to beef up their college applications while learning those soft skills that employers want and turn an ordinary service-learning resume into something extraordinary. This program, set up by the US Congress, teaches kids between the ages of 14-24 those valuable “soft skills” like goal-setting, organization, time management and perseverance, and can be earned in conjunction with extracurricular activities you are already doing. Although the Program has been in place since 1979, it is still relatively unknown, so having such an award on your resume will help you stand out. I encourage every student to look into the Congressional Award as a way to beef up your college applications.
     ​Goals for the awards are set in four areas: volunteering/public service, personal development, physical fitness and exploration/expedition. Students set goals in each of these four areas and work with their advisor and validators to accomplish them. Goals might include:
  • (Service) I want to create a better world for abandoned pets, so I will volunteer for X hours at the Humane Association;
  • (Personal Development) I would like to learn more about the world around me by learning Chinese or the tango;
  • (Fitness) I would like to improve my time in track/walk a half-marathon/lose weight/learn about nutrition;
  • (Expedition) I will travel to another country/take a mission trip/go camping.
Virtually anything you would like to achieve/accomplish during high school can be incorporated into the Congressional Award.
​     And you’re not in this alone. Much like the Eagle Scout and Girl Scouts Gold Award programs, the Congressional Award Program requires students to have an advisor, an adult who works closely with the student to oversee the entire program to keep him or her on track. Advisors can be any adult not related to the student by blood or by marriage, and can be anyone from a teacher, scout leader or guidance counselor to a family friend. Students also need validators--coaches, guides, service work supervisors, tutors or others--who help the student create measurable goals and then achieve them. Both the validators and advisor have to sign off on the students Record Book pages, the required method of documenting the work that has been done. The very first thing students learn is how to approach adults to request their help with the Program.
     The highest level of achievement, the Gold Award, requires 24 months of sustained effort in each area, but there are lower levels of achievement. The Bronze certificate can be earned with only 30 hours. This means that seniors can earn a Bronze certificate in time to add it to regular decision college applications. Students who start earlier can achieve ever ​greater levels of awards. Program months don’t 
need to be consecutive, so your 24 months for the gold award can be spread out across your entire high school (and even college) career to lessen your stress. Hours accumulate across all the levels, so the Gold Award is only 12 months longer than the Silver Award.
​     Students who are interested in earning a Congressional Award should obtain the official Congressional Award Program Book to learn about the requirements. You can register for the program at the Congressional Award website or by snail mail. Only hours completed after you are registered for the Program count toward your Congressional Award. Every student should consider the Congressional Award as a way to beef up your college applications. Given its prestige and relative obscurity, having such a Congressional Award on your resume will help you stand out.

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