Fire Up Your Passion, but Don’t Let Mission Trips Backfire

September 12, 2016
Sharon Shin Grandview High School 12th Grade

Sharon Shin
Grandview High School 12th Grade

That humanitarian mission trips have created their own genre in college essays and become a source of joke among admission professionals evinces another misleading trend in a highly competitive college admission process. Many students have been overwhelmed by the notion that one must perform an exotic social service to emphasize their well-rounded, moral characters fit for college.

“The running joke in admissions is the mission trip to Costa Rica to save the rainforest,” told Angel Perez, who is in charge of admissions at Trinity College in Hartford, to Frank Bruni, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.

In the midst of frenzy over college admissions, some parents have taken extensive measures regarding social work. As Bruni explains in his article, Richard Weissbourd, a child psychologist and Harvard lecturer, had met parents who bought an orphan- age in Botswana to provide their children with more philanthropic activities to add on to their college applications and others who bought an AIDS clinic in a poor country for similar motive.

Unsurprisingly, this rising popularity of humanitarian mission trip is particularly common among the wealthy. Traveling abroad to build houses or provide any other social service in developing countries cost money and time that not all parents can afford.

Now, the commonplace of going on a mission trip, by no means, diminishes its value. Many students engage in charity work abroad with a benevolent intention and some in particular gain invaluable lessons from an exposure to impoverished surroundings — an opportunity that they otherwise would not have had.


What really undermines the value of mis- sion trips is the motive behind it: the mere purpose of enhancing one’ s college resume. The very same mission trip could be meaningful, and even life-changing, to those who serve with veracity.

“It’ s not a good idea to engage in something because the student or family believes it will augment their ability to get in,” says Richard Shaw, Stanford’ s dean of under- graduate admission.

Rebecca Davis O’ Brien, a freelance writer based in New York City, further points out

that Shaw distinguishes a“three-to-five day experience to see what poverty looks like,” an abrupt attempt to make up for a lack of involvement in social work within previous years, from summer programs that are“pattern of involvement.”

According to O’ Brien, admissions officers say these trips can fit into a narrative of service or work abroad“. Sustained or meaningful involvement comes through,” Shaw said.

Another important factor to consider before blindly going on a mission trip is whether the trip truly meets the locals’ needs.

“ In truth, [American kids who come in the name of charity] want to bring their‘ Golden State Warriors 2016 NBA Champions’ t- shirts, take photos to post on Facebook and Instagram, then marvel at the African kids, ask where they can find a Maasai warrior to take a photo with (and the Maasai hate this) then go back to the gilded lives and feel competent enough to offer their expert views on development once they join university,” comments “Godfrey” from Kenya on Bruni’ s article.

While students are told to follow their passion, many of them are most likely burdened by expectations to excel in various areas and all the while maintain a high Grade Point Average. In fact, it is normal to be more passionate in certain areas and less in others; if a construction project in Central America or Africa is not where your passion lies, then don’ t spend thousands of dollars to go there! Instead, explore a plenty of other volunteer opportunities within your community and seek for the one that moves your heart.

Both students and parents alike must take time to reflect upon the true meaning and motivation behind mission trips to ensure that we are not abusing our privilege or taking advantage of impoverished residents in developing countries to appeal ourselves on college applications. Not only that the admission officers read through the superficial activities, but more importantly, service trips with a lost cause may do more harm to the locals when the expense could be donated and used more effectively.


  1. get rich or

    September 13, 2016 at 11:21 PM

    News: Breaking stories & updates – News Telegraph

  2. evangelist

    September 18, 2016 at 1:27 PM

    Video: TV Reporter in Louisiana Arrested While Asking for …

  3. pans

    September 18, 2016 at 4:20 PM

    Department of Urban Studies and Planning < MIT

  4. kelly

    November 26, 2017 at 3:40 PM

    yes..I like the basic concepts behind Second Life but it seems incredibly outdated and when I played it was intensely non-intuitive / user friendly to an extent that made EVE look like a game for toddlers. thanks from
    togel online