Opinion: The Transactional Nature of Service at Plano West

Plano West students are notorious for forming and being involved in countless organizations to better the community, yet the motivations behind running these groups may be more than what meets the eye. 

Plano West is home to a National Honors Society, which boasts an impressively large membership of over 800 members. NHS requires students to complete a certain number of service hours each semester; as a result, students clamber for volunteering opportunities to meet their NHS quota. Students line up to donate blood, write cards to refugees, and clean city parks solely for an NHS membership. 

Student service goes beyond NHS, with many students taking it upon themselves to hold the title of “founder” or “president” of a club. The desire for a club title translates to students creating countless organizations (many of which serve similar functions). Every student wants a title to claim as their own; as a result, a unique ecosystem of nonprofits and student clubs is created. Organizations try to out-fund and outperform one another while students compete for the highest-ranking titles. 

This begs the question of why students compete so hard for these titles, and the answer boils down to college admissions. The academic culture of Plano West creates an expectation of AP classes and high GPAs. For many students, simply being a good student isn’t enough to separate themselves from the pack. Even further, as many colleges are now test-optional, students need other ways to distinguish themselves, and many students have found this distinction in community organizations. 

Service to your community is meant to be selfless; you give and expect nothing in return. Unfortunately, the state of college admissions has turned community service into a transaction. At times instead of thoroughly considering the needs of a community, students rather eye the ROI on their service. The connection between college applications and community service is painfully evident through the many students who suddenly drop interest in their volunteering efforts once college applications are submitted. Students do not give back to the community simply because it’s the right thing to do, but because of the expected reward of college in return. 

Yet, at the end of the day, the service is still being done, even if the motivations behind the work have another layer. The community has massively benefited from free tutoring, food and clothing drives, and park cleanups. All of those things get done thanks to driven Plano West students. 

Each year college admissions get more and more competitive. Acceptance rates continue to drop as the number of highly qualified students goes up. Plano West is unique in that it has a large population of students who are the children of first-generation immigrants or first-generation immigrants themselves. Within these communities, there is a high expectation to academically succeed and attend a prestigious university. Students face an insurmountable amount of family and peer pressure to be better than the next student. Volunteering happens to be a step in the journey to staving off that pressure and preparing for college.