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Nonprofits for Profit

By Alyana Santillana

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Towards the end of my sophomore year, my high school, like many others worldwide, was closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The transition to online learning was difficult for many students in my community. More importantly, it was difficult to maintain social skills while in lockdown. Out of concern for the community, two of my close friends decided to start a nonprofit organization dedicated to tutoring members of our community who lacked educational resources during this time. They assembled a board of dedicated students and spent months establishing our organization as an official nonprofit recognized by the state. As a board, numerous outreach incentives and events were created to serve our community. Needless to say, everyone involved in the organization is deeply passionate about its cause.

Upon doing research for possible partnerships and resources, we found a common occurrence throughout various Instagram feeds; many of the nonprofit pages were inactive and were posting inconsistently. Evidently, many other high school students started nonprofits for the purpose of adding it to their college applications. Such organizations were often just a small social media presence and a website, and left to be abandoned come application season.

Numerous admissions counselors, alumni, and college students discourage this practice, as its commonality has made the ulterior motives more apparent to admissions officers. It’s become painstakingly obvious that such organizations are a performative ploy to gain recognition. Therefore, many have encouraged high school students to instead contribute to existing nonprofits to truly make a difference in their respective causes. This, however, would diminish from the goal that many students have when starting a nonprofit: to put “founder” on their college resume.

Because of this practice, there is now a surplus of empty organizations plaguing social media. Not only are important issues undermined with these stunts, genuine organizations are harmed in the process. Nonprofits created as performative activism for applications creates the stereotype that all student led organizations are done for personal profit. As a result of this phenomenon, genuine organizations lose notoriety. Dedicated students devoted to their organizations are not rewarded for their efforts. Besides personal consequence to organizers, the causes themselves are hurt by this practice.They lose opportunities for potential partnerships, funding for projects, and grants, as higher powers write them off as performative. The self involved actions of other students undermine their hours spent organizing projects, handling legal affairs, and fundraising for their causes. Not only are performative organizations nearly pointless, as college admissions have caught on to this phenomenon, they harm organizations that genuinely wish to embark change in their communities.

While I condone the actions of students involved in such organizations, they are not entirely at fault. The college admissions process has grown increasingly competitive, and many students must go above and beyond just to be considered for a top college. At my high school, taking 4 Advanced Placement classes is considered average, and along with that, it is expected of you to play a sport, and anyone without a club office position was looked down upon. You have to be beyond extraordinary to have a fighting chance at your dream college. The college admissions process is notorious for being a catalyst of stress in the lives of high school students. We are conditioned to believe that the college we go to is the “end all, be all” for future success. As a result, we spend a large portion of our high school careers creating bullet points for our resumes, as opposed to taking advantage of learning opportunities for what they are; an occasion for enrichment. We are expected to have our career paths figured out early on so that our activities reflect “direction.” The college admissions process requires students to take extraordinary measures just to be competitive.

High school students have started the "one season organization” trend as a means to participate in the competitive pre-college climate. While their actions are harmful to organizations seeking to make real change, they do so for survival. The college admissions process creates an environment that expects students to establish careers in order to be accepted into an institution for education. The process has taken away from the most fundamental aspect of high school: learning. While we work ourselves to the brim for institutions in which we are no more than a statistic and a resume, in the hands of said institutions holds the very reason for our toiling. We work to one day see our acceptance letters as the fruits of our labor.

Written by writer Alyana Santillana

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