“Mission trips” are all the rage for affluent high school students with Ivy aspirations, reports Frank Bruni in the New York Times.
Feeding the homeless at home lacks cachet. Ambitious teens travel to Africa, Central America or Haiti for a week or two of “service” — it’s always transformative — they can hype in their college essays.
Dylan Hernandez, 17, who attends a Catholic high school in Flint, Michigan, tells Bruni he’s sick of seeing well-to-do classmates posing with little African children. He doesn’t see them volunteering at the Flint YMCA, where Hernandez is a long-time tutor.
Child psychologist Richard Weissbourd told Bruni he’d talked to one set of wealthy parents who’d “bought an orphanage in Botswana so their children could have a project to write and talk about” and other parents who’d done the same with an AIDS clinic in an equally poor country.
However, drive-by charity work can backfire, writes Bruni. Admissions officers are on to it.
“The running joke in admissions is the mission trip to Costa Rica to save the rain forest,” Ángel Pérez, who is in charge of admissions at Trinity College in Hartford, told me.
Jennifer Delahunty, a longtime admissions official at Kenyon College, said that mission-trip application essays are their own bloated genre.“Often they come to the same conclusion: People in other parts of the world who have no money are happier than we are!” she told me.
As the college admissions race escalates, some teens are starting their own charities — even though existing nonprofits may be “more practiced and efficient at what they do,” writes Bruni.
Pérez told me that his favorite among recent essays by Trinity applicants came from someone “who spent the summer working at a coffee shop. He wrote about not realizing until he did this how invisible people in the service industry are.”
For some young people, that would not be a revelation.