Via The Giving Plate

Be Involved, Look Involved

Modern motivation falsely influences student transcript content

Ambitious underclassmen stuff their schedules with mainstream clubs and clique-based sports, racking up a roster. Appearing involved in one’s community and school convinces college admissions that a student will thrive in the university community, in theory. Still, real experience with volunteering trumps any well-fabricated facade. But with social media and teens chronically online, high schoolers are constantly comparing themselves, and their academic achievements. Flashy side hustles are preferred over hard work.

It’s a lifestyle that continues into adulthood: look like you care and you’re a saint. The student who donates their Saturday mornings and fast-fashion clothing to Goodwill is a messiah. With a modern American education system, accomplishments and early entrance into society lead to success—or acceptance into college.

Blossoming National Junior Honors Society members join any club that offers free candy and a promise of success. As soon as orientation opens the doors to high school, overcommitted freshmen flood the halls. Students form misleading ambitions that shorten their sleep schedules and attention spans. Their Serpent? Each other. The Forbidden Fruit? Transcript padding.

Any volunteering that takes the least time, inner-school functions and popular extracurriculars lure those who want to excel. According to Prepory, a college-preparatory website, students should aim for between 50 to 200 hours of volunteering to bolster their application

On paper, these students appear like well-rounded, good-hearted real advocates for their community. But true intent never translates well on a résumé. A majority of students claim they have a passion or simply care for well-being, still, acceptance and validation are always a motivation. 

Sacrificing unconventional activities for requirements can often be necessary to pass advanced courses. Advanced classes like AP and IB—Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, respectively—often require extracurriculars outside of school, fitfully known as CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service) for IB.

“I have found that CAS is more about documentation than initiative,” said Sam Massari, a Bend Senior High student. “I don’t think that reflects the effectiveness of CAS as much as it shows that individuals who are IB Diploma candidates often have other interests that they are passionate about.”

Organizations, programs and projects seek out dedication from students that appear to have a  large stack of interests. The more a student can fill their schedule, the more opportunities open up—an influence that pushes students to prefer the more obtainable, flashy programs.

The Bend Food Project is a nonprofit organization that feeds families of Central Oregon. With a smaller staff, they appreciate support from the community, and would love some more from adolescent advocates.

“My husband delivers the green bags from our neighborhood early on the designated day and has not seen any teens or youth involved in accepting the bags,” said Rita Weick, a Bend Food Project member.

After high school, young adults as a group were less active in community service. Forty-four percent of young adults volunteered in high school in 2015 compared to thirty-three percent in 2023.

“[Required hours] definitely do take away from volunteering because then it feels like it’s a number you have to do instead of something you really want to do,” said Esi Voelz, Summit student and Interact Club board member. “It takes away passion and just the heart out of volunteering.”

According to a National Center for Education Statistics report, 38 percent of student’s participation in community work was strictly voluntary compared to 17 percent which was strongly encouraged by someone else. Seven percent of participation was required for class, and nine percent was required for other reasons.

“One of my core values is giving back,” Voelz said. “That wasn’t required [for Interact Club] so many people would want to do volunteering because it would just be from their heart instead of a need to do it.” Compared to the many disingenuous high school volunteers out there, perspectives like Voelz’s show the true reasons behind community service work. Hopefully, in the future, more students will share that mentality.