Unlike other teenage guys who were more interested in video games than volunteering, Aaron Chadbourne was a kid who was active in his small town of Gorham, Maine. He got involved every way he could -- president of the National Honor Society, collecting Christmas gifts for his less-fortunate peers, and even serving on his town's school board.
When it came time for college, Chadbourne wanted to dream big -- Harvard University -- but paying for the ivy-league school was a challenge, until he found one of the largest scholarships available for young leaders: the Coca-Cola scholarship.
Created in 1986 to honor the 100th anniversary of the Coca-Cola company, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation awards scholarships of up to $20,000 to 250 high school seniors every year. The Coca-Cola scholarships go to young people who not only show academic promise, but are heavily involved in their communities. Each year, as many as 90,000 students apply, hoping to fund their education through this generous corporate scholarship.
Chadbourne was one of those hopeful high school seniors back in 2002. He remembers seeing the poster for the Coca-Cola scholarship on his guidance counselor's wall.
"He encouraged me to apply, but he said it was a very competitive scholarship," said Chadbourne in an interview with WalletPop. "I submitted it, but I didn't expect to hear anything."
But a few months later, he received notice that he was one of 2,000 semi-finalists for the Coca-Cola scholarship, and was asked to send in more information, including essays and letters of recommendation. When he found out he was one of 250 finalists, he was invited to Coca-Cola's headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia other young winners, receiving $20,000 for his college education. The weekend, he says, was exciting and inspiring.
"Coca-Cola for me had always been a brand on a shelf or something you identify with in a vending machine, but I never thought about actually walking into its corporation," he said.
With the Coca-Cola scholarship, Chadbourne was able to attend Harvard, where he majored in government. He then spent a year in Washington, D.C., working as a research analyst for the Corporate Executive Board, a job he found out about through the network of highly-successful Coca-Cola Scholars around the nation.
"It's not just a scholarship -- it's also a network of individuals," Chadbourne said. "It's been a phenomenally supportive network of mentors."
Chadbourne is now back at Harvard -- pursuing a joint degree in law and business administration. And just like when he was a kid, he's using his time to help others, coming up with social enterprise solutions to connect the business world with communities that are struggling. He credits the Coca-Cola scholarship for helping him continue on the path he started long ago.
"It was a huge, huge help to me and my family," he said of the Coca-Cola scholarship. "For me, it means a lifetime connection to Coca-Cola, the scholars foundation and to the other scholars."
Coca-Cola scholarships pay up to $20,000 for college