The college application process is out of control, especially in the area of community service and volunteerism. Teenagers in their junior year of high school, usually between 16 and 17 years old, are going to what I would consider extreme adventures and ventures, usually funded completely by parents, in order to gain the attention of college admissions officers.
Trips to third world countries to help improve living conditions or education used to be part of what Peace Corp volunteers did during or after college. Establishing a 501(c)3 non-profit charity is also now commonplace among those who can afford the attorneys’ fees to take care of the paper work and filing it with the IRS.
If you have kids in high school, then I’m sure you’ve heard about the many established programs out there claiming to advance participating student’s leadership skills while either building wells in Africa, latrines in Guatemala or classrooms in a variety of Latin American countries.
Parents and students alike are feeling the pressure of competition and are willing to fork over upwards of $5,000 for some of these out-of-the-box experiences hoping this will get their application pulled from the pile of 30,000 and away from the rubbish tin.
These extreme community service or volunteer activities are supposed to help potential college students mature, and most importantly, see the world from another perspective. Hopefully, once they come back they’ll also have a greater appreciation for their own back yards.
Which brings me to the point of this post.
As a parent of a college student and a high school senior, who focused their service in their own back yards, I have witnessed those parents and their kids using the extreme adventures I mentioned before; raising money to build a well somewhere in Africa and filing for non-profit status for a charity we, in the community at large, have never heard of — all for mere 16 year-olds.
Am I whining? Perhaps a little. It simply boggles my mind to think that kids not only have to say goodbye to their childhood as soon as they become freshman in high school due to college application pressures, but that they also have to have an impressive resume attached to their college application listing extreme accomplishments and extravagant travels that not many adults have enjoyed! (I also think some of these paid-for experiences and accomplishments could probably get these high school kids a real job without having to go to college. But I digress.)
It’s rather disconcerting that kids have to go to these extremes to prove themselves worthy of acceptance by selective colleges. Going to these lengths was likely unique when it was first done a few years ago, but like everything college-related it has become a business.
There just shouldn’t be a need for high school students to spend money to help others, let alone in another continent, when there’s so much need in our own back yards. Just get out of your comfort zone and look for an area in your own city that needs help. I bet there are quite a few back yards which little old ladies or men can’t maintain either physically or with meager Social Security money.
College-bound teens could also volunteer as mentors, coaches, or tutor kids in less privileged areas. I’m certain you can even find an area right in your own hometown where you can likely practice that second language you’ve been working on so hard on in school .
Granted, maybe Harvard and Yale may not think highly of these low-cost efforts to make the world a better place, but I guess developing an app or discovering an unknown species of fish while diving in Cape Horn will do the trick for them.
For the rest of us, before you go hunting in the back bush for a unique way for your high school student to do volunteer work or outstanding community service, you might want to check these out:
(Disclaimer: We did not try the following suggestions. My teenagers opted to create their own homegrown volunteer and community services activities, and didn’t venture too far away from their own back yard.)
1. YMCA Youth and Goverment Program. http://calymca.org/
2. Orange County Volunteers. http://egov.ocgov.com/ocgov/Info%20OC/Departments%20&%20Agencies/Volunteer%20&%20Intern
3. Start a local chapter of a national club organization . http://www.nationalhistoryclub.org/chapter/documents/HowtoStartaHistoryClub.pdf
4. Traditional volunteering in churches, soup kitchens and shelters are always available and in need of people!
5. Custom Make Your Own Community or Volunteer Service. Identify a need in your community and/or vicinity — any need — and fill it. Best impact for your college application is if you start as a freshman and continue through senior year. The depth and breath of the student’s involvement, commitment, to the cause is key.
While the extreme volunteer activities I mentioned earlier are all well-intentioned and very noble causes, these youngsters and their stressed out parents seemed to be outdoing each other in an effort to stand out on college application,s and have lost sight of the altruistic purpose of it all.
Well, buyer beware. I suspect college admissions officers may be able to see right through these paid-for volunteer adventures. Homegrown philanthropic efforts should be good enough for college admission if the intention is pure and consistent.
In fact, better save the money you’d spend on an extreme volunteer mission and use it to pay for college tuition … which no one is lining up to help YOU pay for.