Why is creating a non-profit so popular?

I see a decent number of Ivy applicants create non-profits, and it seems like (just based off of the results from my area) they’re more successful than most in applying to hyper-competitive elite colleges. Even when looking at the winners of competitive merit scholarships like Coke Scholars or Bryan Cameron Impact Scholars, it seems like a substantial portion of these high schoolers operate their own successful non-profit.

But wouldn’t it be way more efficient to just join a currently existing endeavor and work your way up the ladder than starting a new NPO?

I am curious if they have all done the paperwork for a 501c3,

Harvard Magazine just had an article on why students there continue to create organizations rather than join existing ones- as a continuation of what they did in high schoool. In the case of applicants, the reason seems obvious.

I would imagine the impact on admissions has decreased substantially. I would think that creating a non-profit would appear almost gimicky now that so many are doing it.


Because it is fairly easy to do & creates a leadership position for the creator/founder.

Agree that it is so common as to appear to be a bit gimmicky.

It is similar to reading common app essays that repeatedly use the word platform.

The most selective colleges & universities seek substance over quantity or trendiness.


I’d like to think this is true, but just based off of reading the 2020 winners of the two scholarships I mentioned above, it seems like creating an NPO works.

The plural of anecdote is not data. :grin:

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The ones I’ve seen were properly formed. These non-profits tend to have heavy parental involvement at all stages and especially with fundraising. I think colleges overlook the gimicky aspect of it because regardless of the motivation, the good done and results achieved are still real and a benefit to society.


Are they also overlooking the fact that the parents are the true de facto leaders?


Just based off of my personal experiences with these NPO founders, this also rings true. Actually, I think the whole game of elite college admissions (at least for unhooked candidates from major metro areas) nearly necessitates extensive parental involvement.

I read Erica Meltzer’s blog sometimes since she has tons of great commentary. This post in particular struck me relevant:

So yes, some high-achieving students do genuinely pursue their interests without serious consideration of what top colleges might be looking for, but the reality is that most of the successful applicants to super-elite colleges I worked with had parents who were exceedingly savvy and knew how to mold their children into precisely what those schools were looking for, in some cases over a period of many years.

And I think this post too is also super relevant with the issue of non-profits in particular:

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I would like to point out that this is her reality, and these parents are exactly the sort who hire consultants. Wealthy and obsessed with Ivies. However, this does not tell us much about the likely majority of the kids whose parents are not hiring consultants to ensure that they are accepted to “elite” colleges.

I also think that Ms Meltzer has really very little understanding of how raising a child, especially a teen, actually works.

Hands up all parents here that actually think that they can “mold” their high school aged kids in any real way.



Parents have a difficult time “molding” their kids in any way, except very generally. When these kids are in high school, all bets are off.

The kids are required to do a LOT of work, and a 14/15/16 year old is not going to do that work at the required level, unless they actually want to do it. They are not 6 years old and will happily do something because it makes their parents happy. At that age, kids are pretty selfish and self-absorbed.

The only way in which these parents can actually “mold” their kids is to make the kids focused on Not Disappointing Their Parents at a much younger age.

Meltzer also seems to assume that the kids have no will and interest of their own. There are plenty of kids are themselves obsessed with attending a “super-elite” college, and their equally obsessed parents are participating in the activity. These kids are much more likely to develop that obsession because that is what the rest of their social group is obsessed with.

In neither case is the parent actually “molding” the kid into an Ideal Applicant. What they are molding is the application packet. They are creating the right parts in which to fill the application. It is not even a persona, but an image that they then submit to the college.

I think that the majority who apply to “super-elite” colleges are simply highly competitive, and are trying to “win” at high school. For them, “winning” is being accepted to a “super-elite” college. It is really not that different than the athletes, for whom “winning” is often “being recruited by a college which is famous for its athletics”.

The difference between these and the students who Meltzer sees is that the other ones don’t have parents who are A, equally obsessed, B, have the wealth to indulge their and their kid’s obsession, and C, don’t have a simpler way to gain admission (legacy, donor, athlete, etc)



Read this thread too.

My opinion…creating a non-profile is the 2020 and later version of the mission trip.


Colleges will become increasingly more skeptical of the true motivation behind creating nonprofits. I suspect they will want to see how the nonprofit is going to continue once the kid goes to college. They will want to see real evidence that the nonprofit achieved something tangible. Many nonprofits won’t deliver.


@itsgettingreal21 what is your source? I seriously doubt that many of these non-profits help applicants gain admission, but if you can show otherwise, I would be interested.

There is so much cynicism about top college admissions. But I DO know kids whose interests and activities were “authentic” who got into Harvard et al.

Not everyone who attends top schools has the family money for the kind of molding discussed here. And creating a non-profit is not cheap either.

The numerous non-profits (some students seem to start several) do not ring true to me, but I don’t know for sure how they are perceived by admissions.

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Reposting a comment I made some time ago:


When I click on the link, it says it doesn’t exist or it’s private.

Well, one of my kids needed the nonprofit status so she could receive tax-deductible contributions from major corporations supporting her work. Since I am a lawyer, I did help her set up the 501c3, but funding it was up to her, not me, as I don’t have resources for that.

Funny, we know a kid accepted into MIT last year who started a non profit and published a book on Amazon. Not sure about her You Tube channel. :laughing:


Thanks for reposting your great quote. It’s very perceptive.

So is the link to MIT’s advice to high school applicants. Very down-to-earth! I’ve sent this link to our D for her to consider it too. I have huge respect for MIT to say these things, and I hope other schools have a similar ethos.

I see my role as a parent to give advice to our kids and to give ideas for activities. 99% of what I suggest goes unanswered, and that’s cool. If our D isn’t interested, I’m not going to make her do anything. If you’re passionate about something, it shows. And that goes for life itself, not just college admissions.

I guess what you should look into is how that non-profit is doing now that she is at MIT instead? That might speak to some of the concerns others have expressed on this forum. I am personally very curious. I know one person too. Now that person is at a public ivy and the non-profit is languishing. I can also attest that this person did not get into ivies or MIT.