Non-Profit for College Admissions

Table of Contents

Share This Post

One of the biggest mistakes we see parents and students making when they come to us is asking “How can I start a new nonprofit as a highschooler?” Now, nonprofits are a powerful force for good in many areas, picking up where the government leaves off, and helping numerous people, places, and causes. The problem is not with nonprofits themselves, but in how high school students approach them.

High school students are, understandably, frequently concerned about their activities, and what colleges will think of how they’ve spent their time. We’ve written a previous guide to extracurriculars in general, but feel more clarity is needed on nonprofits for college admissions. In this article we’ll explain why nonprofits are so popular, why founding them is usually a mistake, and where you should focus your time and energy instead to best impress colleges

Why Nonprofits?

There are a number of traits colleges look for when they read applications, notably leadership ability and community involvement. Many students and parents, however, are looking for a silver bullet, an activity so good and so impressive that colleges won’t be able to ignore it, and that will guarantee their acceptance.

Nonprofits seem like an obvious choice to demonstrate the traits colleges are looking for, and founding one is even better than joining one, for what better way to show leadership than by becoming the leader of a fledgling organization?

Thus many students and parents come to us with bold ideas about starting new nonprofits, gaining valuable experience, and crafting a resume that colleges can’t ignore, one which will guarantee acceptance into the college of their dreams. While starting a new nonprofit can be a good way to spend time for some students, it is far from being a silver bullet, and can sometimes harm more than it helps.

Are nonprofits bad actually?

The biggest problem with students starting new nonprofits is their short half-life. High school students who found nonprofits frequently abandon them when they graduate and go off to college. This is inevitable; while some may be carried on past the founder’s graduation, most up and coming students want to found nonprofits of their own, and gain the same prestige and recognition in turn.

While it is understandable that students may not want to continue their high school activities in college, this can be uniquely harmful in the case of nonprofits, for two reasons. First, colleges are catching on that most students completely abandon the nonprofits that they start, which is decreasing the value admissions officers place on nonprofits as an activity. This is compounded by the increasing number of students following the same path; oversaturation and cliche are the worst enemies of a student trying to stand out in college admissions.

The second problem, which is specific to nonprofits, is that when students start and abandon a nonprofit, they often do more harm than good to the groups their nonprofit is aimed at helping. Successfully impacting the lives of the underprivileged often requires a long and concerted effort to produce real change, and a nonprofit with a built-in expiration date is less likely to produce lasting change in the communities it is meant to assist.

In addition, these new formed nonprofits frequently compete with older and more established organizations for recognition, funding, and volunteer hours. By dividing limited resources, and trying to fill the same niche, existing nonprofits are less able to help the same group of people.

While nonprofits are not intrinsically worthless as activities, these are problems that mean they are not the silver bullet that many expect, and founding a nonprofit is rarely worth it for high school students.

Are nonprofits good actually?

While starting a new nonprofit yourself is rarely worth it, joining an existing one is often a very valuable experience. Working your way up through the ranks of an established organization shows the same dedication and leadership that colleges look for, and is also much more likely to create lasting change.

Founding a new nonprofit can be worth it in some scenarios, when you see a need that is not already being addressed, or a topic or region has been completely overlooked. In most cases, however, long established nonprofits will already be in the niche, with groundwork, infrastructure, and plans already helping people.

To stand out then, look for how you can improve upon existing systems, or act as an efficiency multiplier for an existing process. This is not as glamorous as boldly going where no one has gone before, but frequently produces greater impacts and more lasting results.

Finally, do not come away from this thinking nonprofits are a necessary part of every college application. They are merely one path to take among many, one way you can demonstrate to colleges your leadership skills and devotion to your community. While nonprofits can be a good way for some students to do this, all students are unique, and what works well for one student may go terribly for another. Do not think you can guarantee success by doing exactly what another student did; the college already has one student who did those specific things, they have no need for another.

Nonprofits themselves can be more or less efficient, and not every established one is doing a good job. Finding one that is, and helping out in its mission, however, is a good way to spend your time, and ensures that the work you do will impact the world.

Final Thoughts

This article may feel discouraging, and in some ways it’s meant to be. Our goal is to discourage blindly starting a nonprofit, and then believing that this will serve as a silver bullet to guarantee acceptance into the college of your dreams. While founding a nonprofit can be a worthwhile activity, joining one is usually equally valid, and there is no need to involve nonprofits in your college journey at all.

This can all feel overwhelming, and indeed, the college application process often is. If you have concerns about your own activities, and whether founding or joining a nonprofit is right for you, don’t hesitate to schedule a free consultation with us. We’re well experienced in all aspects of college admissions, and are always happy to help.

Need help with college admissions?

Download our "Guide to Everything," a 90-page PDF that covers everything you need to know about the college admission process.

More To Explore


High Schools for BS/MD Students

We’ve written before about BS/MD applications, and what these programs look for in students. Their demands are intense, both in terms of academic achievement, and

Wendy Y.
Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!

From an admitted student's perspective, I am incredibly grateful to have met Sasha - he has been instrumental in helping me achieve my educational dreams (Ivy League), all while being an absolute joy (he's a walking encyclopedia, only funnier!) to work with.

Many people are dissuaded from seeking a college counselor because they think they can get into their desired college(s) either way. Honestly, going that route is a bit short-sighted and can jeopardize your odds of acceptances after years of hard work. The sad truth is, the American education system (even if you attend a fancy private school and ESPECIALLY if you go to a public school) doesn't really tell students how to write a compelling and authentic application. Going into the admissions process alone, without speaking with an advisor, is like going to court without a lawyer - you put yourself at a significant disadvantage because you don't have all the facts in front of you, or the help you need to negotiate the system.

That said, you need a good lawyer just like you need a good college counselor. And that's where Sasha distinguishes himself from the crowd of people claiming they'll get you into Harvard. I came to Sasha worried about and frankly dumbfounded by the college admissions process. I was unsure what to write about and how to go about drafting the essay that perfectly captured my passion, interests, and self. And I was highly skeptical that anyone could really help me. But, damn, did Sasha prove me wrong. From the beginning, Sasha amazed me with his understanding of the process, and ability to lend clarity and direction to me when I desperate needed it. After interviewing me about my background, experiences, activities, outlook, and vision, he helped me see qualities about myself I had not previously considered 'unique' or 'stand-out.' This process of understanding myself was so incredibly important in laying the groundwork for the essays I eventually wrote, and I'm certain I would've drafted boring, inauthentic essays without it.

Looking back, Sasha's talent is that he can see where your strengths lie, even when you don't see them. The truth is, although we don't always realize it, everyone has a unique story to tell. Sasha helped me see mine, and with his big-picture insight I was able to write the application that truly encapsulated my life and vision. He inspired me to dig deeper and write better, challenging me to revise and revise until my essays were the most passionate and authentic work I had ever written. As clichéd as that sounds, that's really what universities are looking for. In retrospect, it makes sense - in the real world passionate (not simply intelligent) individuals are the ones who make a difference in the world, and those are the individuals colleges would like to have associated with their brand.

In the end, I was accepted to the college of my dreams, a feat I could not have achieved without the direction Sasha lent to me. Essays (and the personal narrative you develop through your application) matter so much, and can literally make or break your application. I have seen so many of my 'qualified' friends receive rejections because they wrote contrived essays that didn't truly represent who they were; conversely, I have also seen so many friends with shorter resumes accepted because they were able to articulate their story in a genuinely passionate and authentic way - I fall into the latter category.

As a former admissions officer at Johns Hopkins, Sasha knows what types of essays jibe well with universities, an invaluable asset to have in the admissions process. He is responsive, flexible, creative, positive, and witty. For anyone who is serious about going into the college admissions process informed and prepared, I highly recommend Sasha.
Arda E.
I used Ivy Scholars to mainly help me with college applications. Within weeks of using this service, Sasha was able to simplify the already complex process. When it came to writing the Common App essay, Sasha didn’t just help with grammar and syntax, he brought my essays to life. Sasha also worked tirelessly to help solidify my extracurricular activities, including research and internship opportunities. Without his help, I would have never had an impressive resume.

Sasha is not only an extremely knowledgeable tutor, but also a genuine brother figure. His guidance, throughout my last two years of high school, was everything I needed to get me an acceptance letter from my dream schools (UC Berkeley, Tufts, Emory).

When it came to testing, Ivy Scholars worked like a charm. Sasha offered a very comprehensive plan when it came to completely acing my standardized tests. Without his test taking strategies I would have never gotten straight 5s on my AP tests and a 35 on the ACT.

Working with Sasha, I didn’t just become a good student, I became a genuine scholar.
Samson S.
We worked with Ivy Scholars during my son's senior year. I was concerned that we may be too late to take advantage of college advising but the Ivy Scholars team quickly and confidently directed us through the steps to ensure no deadlines were missed. Sasha's knowledge about schools, what they looked for in candidates, and how to maneuver the application process was invaluable. Mateo and Ryan worked with my son to help him create an essay that would get noticed and I am so appreciative he had their guidance.

Prior to securing Ivy Scholars, we tried using a less-expensive online service which was a terrible experience. As a parent, Ivy Scholars brought peace of mind to an area that was frankly overwhelming. This service was invaluable in the knowledge that we gained throughout the process. He has also met with my freshman daughter to provide guidance for her high school courses, career paths, extracurricular activities, and more.

Prior to signing with Ivy Scholars, I tried a less expensive online service and was very disappointed.

As a result of our work with Ivy Scholars, I am pleased to say that my son will be attending Stern Business School at New York University this fall! I highly recommend Ivy Scholars. Highly recommend!