How Philanthropy Can Benefit Your College Application

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Many families with access to sufficient means engage in significant philanthropic work, using their money for the benefit of others. This is a noble use of funds. On occasion, these families get their children involved in these efforts, letting them direct some of the projects or try their hand at philanthropy. 

This can greatly benefit the student, both by teaching them valuable life skills, and by helping their college applications. Of course, doing so in a way that colleges will approve of is tricky; requiring careful work to make sure the student doesn’t come across as over privileged or out of touch. In this article, we’ll explore how students can get involved in their family’s philanthropic efforts successfully, and use these efforts in their college applications. Let’s get started!

Step One: Parental Guidance

High school students get involved with philanthropy via their parents, generally through an established family organization. The parents have a long experience in philanthropy, and this experience will be the largest resource for the students. Parents should walk the student through the process for philanthropic giving:

  • Soliciting proposals. Organizations can submit grant proposals for funds, and let the organization know how their money will be put to use.
  • Evaluating proposals. Once bids have been submitted, you need to evaluate the organization and its mission, and determine if your money will be used wisely.
  • Interviewing finalists. Once you have a short list of proposals that you think are high quality, the students should meet with the heads of each organization directly, to learn how their money will be put to use.

Parents can give their students useful guidance on how to undertake each of these steps, but it should be the student doing the work the entire time. It is this work that gives students valuable experience, and what they will be able to write about when it comes time to compose college essays.

Many funds have an explicit purpose, rather than soliciting pitches broadly. The parent and student should work together to determine what causes they want to support, and where they think their effort would be best spent. This can complement other aspects of their interests.

For example, if a student already has a major passion for engineering, they can look for organizations devoted to teaching this to underprivileged, or robotics teams in need of extra funding. Supporting these projects both allows the student to practice philanthropy while exploring their other passions.

Step Two: Follow Up

Philanthropic involvement should not end when the checks are signed. You are making an investment in these organizations, and as with all investments, you should follow up to see how your money is being put to use.

This means students should regularly visit the organizations and efforts their philanthropy is funding. If the organization accepts in person volunteers, the students should also get involved that way if they are qualified to do so. This both heightens their involvement, and shows their dedication to a cause in a way that exceeds philanthropy alone.

It is good for these projects to have clear goals that the students can follow up with. Vague and open ended projects are less likely to make it through the proposals stage. We also recommend students focus on local efforts; Doctors Without Borders is a noble cause, but they can make a great impact by donating to and volunteering with a local clinic.

For this reason, we recommend students look for philanthropic opportunities in their local communities. This both allows for easier volunteering, and shows colleges that students care about the communities they are a part of, something many colleges explicitly look for in applicants. 

Step Three: Continued Involvement

Colleges like to see that students work on things over time, rather than joining and dropping activities as their whims dictate. If you decide to get involved with philanthropy, it should be a long term commitment, rather than something you just do once then never deal with again. 

You should make sure you are choosing topics to engage with that you genuinely enjoy, so that you will be able to continue your involvement at a high level. Some parental encouragement may be needed here, though we find it best if students are self-motivated. 

You can also look for ways to heighten your involvement. The more you volunteer and work with a group through your philanthropy, the more they will come to know and trust you. This opens up new opportunities to engage and give back. What this looks like does depend a great deal on the organization in question, but can include formal internships, leading fundraising efforts, or putting other skills you have to work for the organization.

In this way, you will not just show off your devotion to a community, but display leadership as well. As these are both key traits colleges look for in applicants, this will greatly enhance any application. Of course, you’ve got to tell colleges about your accomplishments for them to know what you’ve done.

Step Four: Discussing Philanthropy

Of course, the ultimate goal of this work is to add to your candidacy, and to contribute to your college applications. When doing this, it is good to frame your philanthropic efforts as part of your commitment to their local community. Everyone gives back to their community in their own way; you have more resources than most, and you want to put them to use.

This is part of why getting involved with the organizations you fund beyond philanthropy is important. Students getting their hands dirty (metaphorically or literally) shows a higher level of commitment to a cause, and comes off as far less out of touch than simply writing a check and maybe taking part in a photo opportunity.

Indeed, while your philanthropic efforts should be mentioned, these should be framed as merely part of a larger effort to give back to a community or to contribute to a cause you care about. You should be self aware of the advantages you have, and acknowledge their unique situation. You do not need to be ashamed of it, but acknowledging your unique opportunities, and how you sought to use them to benefit others, goes a long way.

It should have an entry on the activities list as well, but should not have the top place. Group philanthropy in with other volunteering or community service projects you were involved with, especially if you took part in other successful fundraising efforts.

Final Thoughts

Philanthropy is a wonderful thing to be involved with, though a rare opportunity for high school students. If you do have the opportunity though, we definitely recommend getting involved. A great many students apply to top colleges each year, and anything that helps your application stand out from its fellows is good. 

Of course, this article is somewhat general; each situation is unique, and what you want to get involved with, and the resources you have to do so, are not quite like anyone else’s. We have helped students make full use of philanthropy before, and show colleges exactly what they will bring to college through their essays on it. If you want to speak with us about your own philanthropic efforts, or any other aspect of admissions, schedule a free consultation with us today. We’re always happy to hear from you.

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