Abhilasha Bellapu, 17, is a senior in high school and has spent the last several months navigating the process of applying to college. As a classical violinist and singer as well as a science lover, Abhilasha is interested in ways to bring music into hospitals to treat patients. She has already been involved in music therapy research and hopes to study neuroscience in the coming years.
With her eyes on future, the summer after her school went into lockdown, Abhilasha came up with an idea to compile information on different career options and advice from experts in the field for students to peruse. When she brought the idea to her friend, they decided to narrow down the mission and find resources to aid under-resourced and first-generation students as they find their educational path. It was the birth of AlumniAnswers.
As she waits for an acceptances from colleges, the organization she has built has conducted over 70 interviews with students and alumni, developed of 2,000+ supporters on LinkedIn, and reached over 1000 students vying for spots at their dream school. They’ve organized, written and marketed a 273-page resource book on applying to schools internationally, and as the CEO, she manages a team of 20+ volunteers and ambassadors. Her mission to help students who need extra guidance as they chase their goals is well underway.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I believe that everyone has a role and purpose and should somehow volunteer and give back to their community. It’s a huge aspect of what we do every day, day-to-day, so I think it’s just an important job for us.
Describe your volunteer role with AlumniAnswers.
I co-founded AlumniAnswers three years ago, the summer after my school shut down due to the pandemic. The main reason why I wanted to launch the organization was to help students, especially under resourced, first-generation students, get reliable resources to help them prepare for college and their careers.
Essentially, we do this by interviewing college alumni from around the country who have doctorate degrees or PhDs, on topics ranging from landing internships to choosing a college major. What we believe is that if we get advice from experts and those who’ve been successful in their fields, they can really help students who aspire to be like them.
We work with high school counselors to get the word out and pair alumni with students in order to get one-on-one advice. We also write articles on our website, do podcast interviews and put out resources like lists of scholarships available for underrepresented students.
Why is education important to you, and why should it be important to others?
I think education is essentially how we bring a better tomorrow. Every educated individual is another educated citizen in our society, and only good can come out of that. I think education is at the forefront of every good decision and positive impact we can make.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
In school, a lot of peers come up to my co-founder and me, saying complimentary things. It’s so kind of them. It just makes us feel good that we’re able to help these students who are probably struggling through this process, especially with it being so competitive and there being so much misinformation.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
There’s a lot you can do to contribute. I used to think that starting anything or even attempting to build an organization was a huge, impossible task, but taking baby steps and getting started is actually the biggest milestone. I shouldn’t ever think that anything’s impossible, and I should just keep moving forward. Volunteering has allowed me to see that there’s so much you can do to impact the world or your community, and nothing is too small.
Are there any future partnerships, programs or events you are excited about?
We recently partnered with Charlotte Mecklenburg libraries. They serve around one million citizens in our county, so we’re excited to be working with them and hosting events like book exchanges or even just holding seminars.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
There’s so much toxicity in things like keeping all the answers to yourself, trying to compete with one another and not being kind and generous with your advice. I learned that in my very competitive high school that that sort of culture is very normal, and I want to help break it. I want to help give a hand to any student who wants help and not keep any advice to myself.
What’s in the future for AlumniAnswers?
At the moment, a lot of our team members are high school seniors, including me and my co-founder, so we’re planning to create a resource where we give our own personal advice. It will be a series where you can hear from the AA team on how we went through this journey, and why we started AlumniAnswers, and so on. That’s one the main thing we’re working on. We also look forward to partnering with more organizations and helping more students.
What are some of the ways that people can support others who need help applying to college?
Once you’ve graduated as a high school senior, I think you have so much information and knowledge after going through the application process, you can help high school freshmen and even juniors who are really stressed out about it. Any perspective is really helpful.
There are so many different ways of getting into college and successful students with many different backgrounds who’ve gone through difficulties, that if they just share their story, it could help so many students, shedding light on how this process works and how their future can be bright, whatever path they decide to take.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Abhilasha? Find local volunteer opportunities.