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[A bunch of these points came from Claire Zabel. Thanks to various people who provided feedback.]

TL;DR: I think that lots of EAs have updated against outreach to high school students based on evidence that isn’t actually entirely relevant. I also think that there are some reasons to think that outreach to high school students could be competitive with outreach to undergraduates. There are a variety of downsides to outreach targeting younger people, none of which seem decisive to me.

EAs seem to be too pessimistic about high school outreach

There have been several posts about unsuccessful (according to the authors) attempts to get high schoolers into EA. E.g. see here and here. When I’ve talked to people about different recruiting possibilities (in which these posts were often mentioned if I brought up the possibility of trying to recruit high schoolers), I’ve gotten the sense that many EAs are pessimistic about trying to engage high school students. But I think these past interventions were ineffective for reasons unrelated to their target audience, and that other interventions aimed at high school students seem comparably promising to working with university students.

These posts document attempts to engage high schoolers that were relatively short and untargeted (they didn’t strongly select their audience, other than by age, and didn’t get to select from a very big group). If you imagine the analogous kind of intervention for other age groups where EA recruitment has had notable successes, we predict the results would be (and has been) similarly disappointing. E.g. if you took a random group of a few hundred university students or recent graduates, selected within that group for EA-ness, then showed them a few videos or had them listen to a few hours of talks about EA, we predict the results would usually be similarly lackluster (and, it’s my impression that they have been, when that kind of thing has been tried). 

In contrast, many of the biggest EA groups are at top universities, where they can select from thousands of students, and where the students have been somewhat pre-selected for traits that seem correlated with EA-ness, like intellectual curiosity and openness.

The only somewhat-similarly-targeted analogues I know of for high schoolers are SPARC and ESPR (which recruit from people with evidence of talent in STEM fields, e.g. by looking for high school students that have done well in STEM Olympiad competitions). I know a decent number of SPARC and ESPR alum have gone on to do direct work in top cause areas, some of which seems really promising. It doesn’t seem easy to compare the hit rate of SPARC to e.g. the Yale EA group, and establishing causality is always hard, but the story of SPARC seems totally different from the lack of traction SHIC seemed to get. 

Basically, I think we should treat engaging with high school EAs more similarly to how we treat engaging with older EAs: we should look for places with particularly high density of people who have a chance of contributing to high priority causes and engage them over the course of weeks or months rather than using relatively short means of engagement, and also do structured types of engagement where they can build up connections with other people interested in this. If we do that, I don’t think there’s a good reason to be more pessimistic about interventions to engage high schoolers than university students.

Benefits to engaging with younger people

I see a few big upsides to working with younger people:

  • It seems harder to recruit people the older they are, at least after people get into their thirties, and so maybe it gets even easier if you go younger than the point at which most recruiting efforts start. I’m sure this stops being true at some point — I don’t know if one could effectively recruit a 10-year-old to EA — but the lots of anecdotal experience above + my priors indicates that plausibly, a large fraction of people who were converted to EA could have been and wish they were engaged earlier. If more people could be drawn to EA that way, recruiting efforts focusing on engaging younger people might have greater counterfactual impact, because they engage before some window of opportunity elapses.
  • I think the EA and rationality communities have lots of tools that help people become overall better at thinking, and potentially vastly increase their lifetime impact. Having access to those earlier seems like it might be very useful for practicing using them and thus become more skilled; perhaps it allows people to become more skilled than is possible if one doesn’t encounter these ideas until later in life.
    • Relatedly, hearing about these ideas earlier might cause people to make some decisions better.
  • Anecdotally, a large number of the most dedicated and promising longtermist EAs I know heard about EA in high school (at a workshop I ran for a small group of newish longtermist EAs, if I remember correctly about ⅔ raised their hands when asked if they’d heard about EA before age 18), and most others I know that I’ve asked this question to wish they had, and think their impact would be greater if they’d heard about EA earlier.
  • EA Survey data implies people who are recruited earlier change cause areas more frequently (see here, the section called ‘Cause Preference Change’), which probably causes them to land in high-priority causes at higher rates (assuming EA helps with cause selection). 
  • There’s less competition for the attention and time of younger people.
  • Younger people might be easier to convert for a given level of recruiter quality, because they have lower standards for whether someone is knowledgeable or interesting.
  • Younger people often have more free time, especially in the time between high school and college, to explore ideas and think broadly about their lives, compared to older people.

Downsides and failure modes:

It’s harder to select for the most talented people. There’s less concentration of intellectual talent among high schoolers than college students. So you’d probably want to put relatively less emphasis on outreach at specific high schools (though there are some high schools that are probably as dense with talent as top colleges). Also, it’s probably harder to assess talent among high schoolers than older people. 

This downside might seem extremely important if you think that student groups at top colleges are by far the best intervention for recruiting undergraduates.

Getting into rationality community stuff and EA too early might be bad for people:

  • I think that rationalist community stuff can make people feel more isolated and alienated from society, which seems good in some respects but might make people less motivated to be traditionally successful by drudging themselves through various dumb systems; eg they might do worse at college admissions or getting good grades in dumb college courses.
  • People who get into EA sometimes seem to lose interest in intellectual hobbies (the stereotypical example here is someone who stops thinking about math for fun because they need to focus on learning important things like AI safety). I’m worried that people who get into EA while really young might end up not going down a variety of interesting intellectual rabbit holes and end up as worse thinkers for it.

Anna Salamon’s post Reality-Revealing and Reality-Masking Puzzles talks about how people sometimes get disoriented by thinking about AI risk; my concerns here are pretty similar to those she describes. I think that younger people might be more vulnerable to those pitfalls than older people.

Also, rationality community stuff seems to sometimes really mess people up--they go down weird rabbit holes and then decide to become monks or something--and I feel a bit of hesitation about recommending that young people get too involved with the community given the risk of that happening with them. I don’t have this same concern about EA.

It’s longer before they can do useful EA work. This is most severe if you think that EAs working now can do much more good per hour than EAs in the future. High school students are four years younger than university students on average; so if you have a 10% discount rate per year, this leads to thinking that recruiting a high school freshman is 66% as valuable as recruiting a college freshman. This factor seems likely to be offset by some of the advantages listed above; in particular it seems plausible that recruiting high school students is 35% cheaper than recruiting college students.

Two other brief points that would deserve attention among people trying to do work in this area:

  • It’s more politically delicate to do outreach to high schoolers than older people.
  • If there were more orgs doing this, there’d be the risk of abuse working with minors if in-person.
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If there were more orgs doing this, there’d be the risk of abuse working with minors if in-person.

I think this deserves more than a brief mention. One of the two high school programs mentioned (ESPR) failed to safeguard students from someone later credibly accused of serious abuse, as detailed in CFAR's write-up:

Of the interactions CFAR had with Brent, we consider the decision to let him assist at ESPR—a program we helped run for high school students—to have been particularly unwise ... We do not believe any students were harmed. However, Brent did invite a student (a minor) to leave camp early to join him at Burning Man. Beforehand, Brent had persuaded a CFAR staff member to ask the camp director for permission for Brent to invite the student. Multiple other staff members stepped in to prevent this, by which time the student had decided against attending anyway.

This is a terrible track record for this sort of outreach effort. I think it provides a strong reason against pursuing it further without a high degree of assurance that the appropriate lessons have been learned — something which doesn't seem to have been addressed in the post or comments.

EA seems reliant on nerdy millennial technology, namely long plaintext social media posts.

I'm interested in communicating in Gen Z ways, which I think roughly means "short amateur videos". I've had moderate success on TikTok (35,000 followers as of this writing), and I would encourage more people to try it out.

There's a nice self-selection where your content is only displayed to 16-year-olds who spend their free time watching math videos (or whatever niche you target), which I expect to be one of the best easily-available audiences of young people.

I'm very worried that staff at EA orgs (myself included) seem to know very little about Gen Z social media and am really glad you're learning about this.

I've found High Tea to be a helpful resource for staying in touch with Gen Z trends.

I'm worried about this, though it seems hard to deliver detailed info that explains and backs up our positions via short videos. One hope would be that once we feel like our core advice is all written up, we should turn to short videos as an alternative entry point.

I somewhat agree with this but think it's worth pointing out that a lot of "our positions" are not very complicated or controversial, it's just that most people don't think about the topic. E.g. we just did a video celebrating the extinction of smallpox, and I don't expect that to cause many problems.

Some 80 K things like this might be the value of doing cheap tests or ABZ plans. Or even "maybe do a little bit of thinking before deciding on your career." I'd be interested to talk to you all about this if/when you think videos would be beneficial.

Agreed but maybe there’s scope for spreading some of the core ideas of EA (a la Doing Good Better) as opposed to more specific career advice from 80K?

Agreed! I think they are a good example of transitioning from a medium mostly serving older generations to a different medium that serves younger people.

Also, earlier I had the idea for a YouTube channel similar to many educational YouTube channels. The more zany, TikTok-style video content could complement it.

Interesting, what sort of content do your videos cover and how can I check them out?

It's honestly mostly "things I currently think are cool" which is probably not the best way to grow a channel but oh well. My most popular content is analysis of TikTok itself and cosmetics analysis/recommendations.

I'm @benthamite on the app. Would love to connect if you join!

Brief meta comment: I would generally recommend being very cautious about (and mostly avoid) using language like "converting" others to EA, as in your sentence "Younger people might be easier to convert (...)". This type of language seems fairly easy to avoid, whiled using it may make many people feel uncomfortable and even pose reputational risks for the community.

My take is it's not the most effective mindset either. Personally I try to focus on giving people information to help them make better decisions by their own lights, even rather than the standard marketing mindset.

As someone who works with young people, I strongly agree with this.

Yeah, I thought about this; it’s standard marketing terminology, and concise, which is why I ended up using it. Thanks though.

I'm not an expert, but I think "conversion" in marketing refers to getting people to take a specific action, such as buying a product or making a donation. In this case, there's no specific action, so I read "convert" in the non-technical sense, 'change one's religious faith or other belief', which is why it's awkward.

I think it's especially dangerous to use this word when talking about high schoolers, especially given the number of cult and near-cult groups that have arisen in communities adjacent to EA.

I worry more about how language-policing might make people in the community hesitant to do more outreach, for fear that the community will think that they're insensitive. Let's laugh at people who think using the word "convert" is insensitive, rather than making people more hesitant to do outreach. Some "reputational damage" seems good when it makes us stand out more.

If EA seemed too professional (in the sense of policing their language, making sure they don't offend anyone, etc.) to me when I first heard of it, I would be reluctant to believe they were capable of thinking for themselves or doing anything efficiently.

Three not particularly important or related thoughts from having thought about SHIC a fair amount:

  • One of the hardest parts of high school outreach I think will be getting people to continue to be engaged over their college career (assuming they go to college), which is four years of substantial chance of value drift before any direct impact happens. Whereas recruiting from college, the distance is much less.
  • It seems like the typical "good student" high schoolers optimize a lot for having authority figures like them, which could easily lead them to endorse - even enthusiastically - EA views they don't end up holding all that strongly. This could skew outreach and the perception of success.
  • I think one of the best things about hearing about EA pre-college is it would let you set up your college plan (e.g., major, internships) in an EA-directed way, which I think is one of the most useful things to do for an EA-career, as opposed to having to make some sort of more difficult within-college or post-college transition. (On reflection with full hindsight, I'm not sure what I would've done differently or how I would've had more impact if I had heard of EA in high school rather than halfway through college, but I certainly did feel off-guard in that respect.)
I think one of the best things about hearing about EA pre-college is it would let you set up your college plan (e.g., major, internships) in an EA-directed way

To me, this seems like the best case for engaging with high schoolers over college students. I seem to meet a lot of EAs who study something that doesn't correlate well with most high-impact careers and find themselves wishing they'd heard about EA sooner so they could have studied something more practical.

The major questions I have with this are 1) can you actually convince high schoolers to change their career plans, and 2) if so, will they actually apply EA ideas in a way that increases their impact? (or as opposed to just blindly following 80k recommendations and doing something they don't like or aren't good at.) I guess both are also risks associated with trying to get anyone to make an EA-related career change, but high schoolers seem more at risk to me, particularly with #2 since I think they have less self-awareness regarding their skills and interests.

Hey Buck,

Upvoted - I think agree that people have become too negative about it, and I'd be interested in seeing another org in this space, though I think I prefer top university outreach still on average, so am probably still a bit more negative than you.

A. One reason is you didn't put much emphasis on what I see as some of the more significant downsides. One is what Peter Hurford says:

One of the hardest parts of high school outreach I think will be getting people to continue to be engaged over their college career (assuming they go to college), which is four years of substantial chance of value drift before any direct impact happens. Whereas recruiting from college, the distance is much less.

With a college student, you can talk to them about decisions like moving to an EA hub, working in an EA org etc., which are steps that tend to get people onto great long-term paths. With a high schooler, you'd need to hope they get involved in an EA group while at university, which suggests we'd ideally make the university groups good first, and even then I think would have higher chance of drifting away.

B. Another is that I think EA advice to high schoolers is less useful than what we have to say about later decisions. The common sense advice of things like "go to a prestigious university" and "quantitative subjects keep options open more" and "do internships / interesting projects / build CV material" already seems pretty good to me and are widely known.

In contrast, when someone is working out where to donate or which cause to work on, we think some options are over 100x better according to their values in a way that's not widely known. This isn't to say many people don't make mistakes in their choice of university / major or how to spend their time at college, but I still think the delta between having EA advice and not having it is smaller.

Our crux might be this:

I think the EA and rationality communities have lots of tools that help people become overall better at thinking, and potentially vastly increase their lifetime impact.

My take is more that this advice is useful, but it's not radically better (for most people) than other sources out there (plus the other downsides you mention). E.g. a bunch of value comes from ideas like 'actually optimize for your goals', but you can get this from other smart self-help advice, following top Silicon Valley people etc., reading Dalio's Principles.That's just one example, and to repeat, I still think it's better to have these ideas than not, just I don't think the delta is as big.

On the other hand, if people had 4 years longer to think about which cause to focus on, and to learn a lot about that topic, that seems pretty useful.

C. The age data I mention in the other comment.

D. I think the lack of track record is still a negative E.g. we have a lot of examples of great university groups bringing in great people, so I feel confident that starting another good university group will be useful. Doing more high school outreach is great as an experiment, but overall I'm less confident it'll work, and it's also harder to measure. (Though I haven't seen data from SPARC, which could change my mind.)

Another is that I think EA advice to high schoolers is less useful than what we have to say about later decisions. The common sense advice of things like "go to a prestigious university" and "quantitative subjects keep options open more" and "do internships / interesting projects / build CV material" already seems pretty good to me and are widely known.

I generally agree with your point but I do think there are a few things one could suggest e.g.

  • Suggesting Economics/PPE  as particularly great options for undergrad that keep options open whilst also leaving significant potential for doing good through career or further study
  • Similarly suggesting Econ as a good A-level option
  • Suggesting to those wanting to study maths/science at uni to consider something else technical but probably more useful, for example Econ/Econ+Maths or Computer Science (emphasis on "suggest" I realise the danger of pushing people into something they don't want to do)
  • Suggesting philosophy as a credible A-level to do! I think it would be good for people to introduced to philosophical ideas earlier
  • Making the classic EA point that counterfactual impact as a medic is small! This could save people from doing expensive six year medicine degrees and then have little impact

I know these suggestions aren't all that radical but they could still be somewhat useful. I am also aware that these suggestions would have to be made with care and the danger of being too pushy! 

EDIT: I don't have examples but I'm sure there are certain projects/internships one can do that are higher impact than others e.g. policy-related work

Yeah I totally agree there are useful things to say, though my impression is these kinds of changes are smaller and this kind of advice is more out there already (except the last one).

I think the hope for more radical changes would be giving people more time to mull over the worldview, and maybe introducing people to a general 'prioritizy' mindset, that can sometimes payoff a lot (e.g. thinking about what you really want to get out of college and making sure you do).

(On the specifics, I think maths & physics probably trumps economics at A-level, if someone has the option to do both. At undergrad it's more unclear, but you can go from maths and physics into an econ, compsci or a bio PhD but not vice versa.)

OK I generally agree with your points, including on the specifics - it's highly relevant that one can go from physics/maths undergrad to econ PhD but not the other way around. Taking that into account maths undergrad actually seems like something pretty good to promote, especially given its ETG potential.

I agree on the potential value from giving people time to mull over the worldview and introducing people to the general mindset at a younger age. One possible (although indirect) way to do so is through promoting philosophy in schools which is something I wrote on a few months ago. 

Obviously EA outreach is more direct than general philosophy, but I think the tradeoff is that it is difficult for EA outreach to be consistent for students, making it hard for them to stay engaged. I suppose this could be mitigated by having EA-aligned teachers at certain schools who can try to keep students engaged through talks/societies etc. Indeed I think some people with philosophy degrees who are struggling to find high-impact options may find their comparative advantage in teaching philosophy at prestigious schools such as Eton, and doing what they can to promote EA outside the classroom.

I agree with your upsides. On the failure modes though, I think the question of 'what do the parents think' is missing and important (I guess you maybe touch on it when saying it's politically delicate?). I can imagine all sorts of things high schoolers decide to do because of something they read related to EA that parents might be unhappy about and rally around, from donating their pocket money to moving country, or changing career plans (which many parents are opinionated about).

Regardless of whether the changes teenagers make in their life as a result of getting into EA will be good or bad or whether their parents are right or wrong, parents might with reason start rallying on Twitter or in the school union or something, with potential reputation costs, and making it harder for the next person trying to do it.

Young adults don't have this problem. Even though they may also do things that their parents disagree with as a result of getting into EA stuff, the parents will have a less strong mandate for rallying against it, especially in a public way.

I don't think this risk rules it out completely in my view, and there are likely things that can be done to minimise the risk. I know a teacher who runs an EA club at a specialist maths sixth-form in the UK (16-18yo), and it seems to be going quite well. I'll send him this post.

An interesting, but potentially contentious and risky, approach could be to target a small number of high schools whose pupils have historically tended to wield outsized influence on the world. Certainly in the UK, these schools are pretty well-known. Focussing outreach on them would seem, naively, to be very efficient - but also throw up reputational issues in terms of equity and inclusiveness.

I'd expect a more significant risk to be that the outreach just wouldn't work. I expect that for EA outreach to be effective, you need to significantly filter for a bunch of things, like altruism, truth-seeking, reliance on evidence and reason, meta-cognition, etc. I'd expect a school like Eton to filter pretty hard for expected future influence on the world, but not for probability of being interested in EA?

Though I guess it somewhat filters for intelligence, which correlates a bit with those things

Though I guess it somewhat filters for intelligence, which correlates a bit with those things

As someone who went to a top private school I would agree with this, although admit it's not a perfect correlation.

Indeed I think we could do some targeting within top schools as you get a variety of students with different interests. You will get those who want to go to debating society and discuss the big issues of the day. You will get those are bored in every class waiting to get to the sports pitch. You will get maths geniuses who are pretty consumed by pursuing pure maths without much thought about the impact they will have. And you will get some who don't really want to be there.

So potential targeting could look like - EA outreach for students that actually sign up for it (obviously they will be interested then), for those taking philosophy A-level, for those in debating society (we could even arrange for a debate on a relevant topic), for those participating in Maths Olympiads etc. This targeting could bear more fruit than just 'outreach to Etonians'.

Just a quick comment to say this sample doesn't seem representative to me:

Anecdotally, a large number of the most dedicated and promising longtermist EAs I know heard about EA in high school (at a workshop I ran for a small group of newish longtermist EAs, if I remember correctly about ⅔ raised their hands when asked if they’d heard about EA before age 18)

In the EA survey, for people who said they were 5/5 engaged, the median age at which they first heard about EA was 22 (mean 24). So a majority of the most engaged EAs became involved later than high school.

This is also matches my anecdotal experience, where university age seems more common than high school.

When we plotted average engagement against age first involved, the peak was at 20. People who first got involved at age 18 were less involved on average, and had a similar average level of engagement of people who first got involved at age 40 [edit: see my comment below]. It's hard to know what to draw from this (younger and older people probably get less engaged because the community is less well set up for them), but I think it means we don't have clear evidence that it's better to reach people younger.

When we plotted average engagement against age first involved, the peak was at 20. People who first got involved at age 18 were less involved on average, and had a similar average level of engagement of people who first got involved at age 40. 


Just for the benefit of people who haven't seen the graph, we also split this by cohort (which year they first heard of EA) and there was no cohort for which the peak was younger than 20.

It's hard to know what to draw from this (younger and older people probably get less engaged because the community is less well set up for them)

I think the fact that we see this effect across cohorts is some evidence for age (when they got involved) itself driving the effect. People who joined (when they were young) in earlier cohorts will be at least in their early 20s and maybe almost 30 by now. So you might think that they will now have been in EA during the ages which, ex hypothesi, the EA community is better set up for, and it seems like they are still, on average lower in self-reported engagement. Of course, it could also be that how well the EA community is set up for you when you first hear of it is really important, and so people who first hear about it earlier than university age never recover, but it's not clear to me what the mechanism would be there.

Of course, we are talking about a relatively small group of people who first hear about EA at these young ages: about 15% first heard of EA when they were younger than 20 (but that comfortably includes university age), but <5% first heard of EA when they were younger than 18 (and this is probably an over-estimate because age-first-heard is calculated from reported year when people first heard and their date of birth, so there's a bit of wiggle room as to exactly how old they were when they first heard.

Eli Rose helpfully looked more into the data more carefully, and found a mistake in what I said above. It looks like people who got involved in EA at age ~18 are substantially more engaged than those who got involved at 40. People who got involved at 15-17 are also more engaged than those who got involved at 40. So, this is an update in favour of outreach to young people.

Also, to be clear, are your original comment and this correction talking about the same survey population? I.e., EA survey takers in the same year(s)? Rather than comparing the results for different survey populations?

Yes, these are all based on analyses which I did on EAS 2019 data.

How do people who first got involved at 15-17 or 18 compare to people who first got involved age 20-25 (or something like that)? So "unusually young" vs. "median" rather than "unusually young vs. unusually old"?

People who first got involved at 18 (or 19) are about the same as people who got involved at 21 (i.e. a little bit lower than the peak at 20).

People who first got involved at 17 are about the same as people who first got involved 22-23.

For people who first got involved 15 or 16, the confidence intervals are getting pretty wide, because fewer respondents joined at these ages, but they're each a little less engaged, being most similar to those who first got involved in their mid-late 20s or 30s respectively.

In short, the trend is pretty smooth both before and after 20, but mid to late 30s it seems to level out a bit, temporarily.

You might want to open these images in new windows to see them full size.

And finally, this is  visually messy, but split by cohort, which could confound things otherwise.

We'll be presenting analyses of this using EAS2020 data in the Engagement post shortly.

I'm going to leave it to David Moss or Eli to answer questions about the data, since they've been doing the analysis.

Is engagement the thing you want to optimise for over impact or are the two highly correlated for you?

Ultimately I care about impact, but the engagement measures in the EA survey seem like the best proxy we have within that dataset.

(E.g. there is also donation data but I don't think it's very useful for assessing the potential impact of people who are too young to have donated much yet.)

A better analysis of this question should also look at things like people who made valuable career changes vs. age, which seems more closely related to impact.

FWIW I found and read the sequences when I was about 14, and went to a CFAR workshop before uni. I think if these things had happened later they'd have been less impactful for me in a number of ways.

Also, I believe it's much easier to become a teacher for high schoolers at top high schools than a teacher for students at top universities, because most teachers at top unis are professors, or at least lecturers with PhDs, while even at fancy high schools, most teachers don't have PhDs, and I think it's generally just much less selective. So EAs might have an easier time finding positions teaching high schoolers than uni students of a given eliteness level. (Of course, there are other ways to engage people, like student groups, for which different dynamics are at play.) 

Very true, also teaching at top private schools doesn’t even require you to have gone through a teaching qualification (at least in the UK). They’re happy to hire anyone with a degree from a respected uni who has some aptitude for teaching. I have a feeling this might be quite an underrated path.

An EA teaching pathway?

Building effective altruism is currently one of 80000 Hours's four top cause areas. One of the most promising avenues for doing this is to do safe and reputable high-school outreach - about a dozen people seem to be currently pursuing this. If at least a couple of people doing this had experience teaching, especially at a magnet school, or a gifted program, then their skills and credentials could move the needle on the quality of these summer programs, and have an impact via teaching itself. Especially so if one wanted to start a new school for kids interested in public service and EA.

So I think a teaching career, properly designed, could be pretty good by EA standards. Suppose you plan to teach at a gifted school, while helping with EA high-school summer programs, and eventually to make oneself available to work at any EA-leaning school. For such a career, I'd be inclined to update the 80,000 Hours' review rates teaching as follows:

  • career capital: 1/5  -> 2/5
  • earnings: 2/5 -> 3/5
  • ease of competition: 5/5 -> 4/5
  • direct impact: 2/5 -> 2/5
  • advocacy potential: 2/5 -> 5/5 [assuming you count the effects of training up altruistic kids here]
  • job satisfaction: 4/5 -> 4/5

I'd speculate that this could be a good idea for those EAs who love teaching, and are US-based, and want a career that's not extremely competitive - something like 0.3-1% of the EA community.

Note: While I contributed to one of the posts about unsuccessful high-school outreach my experience with teaching EA concepts to high schoolers is much more limited than the others in the post. Most of my thoughts on this are based off of a few experiences teaching high schoolers, discussions with other people teaching high schoolers, my relative freshness out of high school (Graduated in 2017), and some extrapolations from running Yale EA and interacting with first-years.

As someone who contributed to one of the posts about unsuccessful high-school outreach I agree that outreach to high schoolers is not a lost cause (though I am inclined to think the majority of value would come from students in their last two years of high school since they will have a better grasp on topics and are closer to college).

I think even in just the few years after these posts were written we have learned a lot about movement building that could possibly contribute to more successful outreach. Particularly having more targeted outreach seems to be promising.

Catherine Low suggests here (though her opinions may have changed):

“This might be possible if you have a strong brand (such as an association with elite University) allowing you to attract suitable students through schools and other networks, and the resources to run a fellowship-type program with these students”

University group leaders have found that marketing their Fellowships as “prestigious” brings in more and better applicants. I imagine if you add prestige, the possibility of being able to add the program to college apps, and some selection process you could draw in a pretty promising high school crowd to a similar program. (However, if you did this I would disagree with your pro that there is “There’s less competition for the attention and time of younger people” since these types of students are often incredibly busy although they are more free in summers)

I agree with Peter’s concern about continued engagement. My inclination would be that a lot of the value would come from getting these students to then join their respective University group or start their own. This would probably require a bit more of a focus on community building as being particularly valuable.

As for concerns of the delicate nature of outreach to high schoolers, I think this should really be talked and thought about more. High schoolers being susceptible to ideas coming from older impressive people has its advantages and disadvantages. I haven’t thought about this enough to really contribute but would like to.

Lastly, most of my optimism around this would be specifically for EA outreach as opposed to rationality outreach. I pretty much agree with all of your concerns about rationality outreach listed in cons here and at least personally think they outweigh the pros of having purely rationality outreach rather than mainly EA outreach with some rationality concepts. I do think you can greatly minimize the concern of people losing intellectual hobbies as a result of getting involved in EA if this concern is built into the curriculum (ie: how to be sustainable in your altruism, the value of non-directly EA activities etc.)

I think outreach directed at high schoolers feels more ethically questionable to me than outreach directed at students. I roughly think that high-schoolers tend to be significantly more impressionable/vulnerable, especially when talking to people who they consider worthy of respect. Admittedly, this also seems true of college students, albeit to a lesser degree, so I think I'm drawing arbitrary lines in the sand. But it feels different to do it with a minor/somebody still in school.

With all that said, I went to ESPR, and had an incredibly positive experience, that I think has significantly increased my expected lifetime impact! (I first went at 17). But I know people who also had pretty negative experiences (much more with the rationality side than EA, which wasn't strongly emphasised)

I agree that this point is worth taking seriously. But isn't the counterfactual simply that the folks are influenced (deliberately, or not) by other sets of ideas/values, and so we might as well make an effort - carefully, thoughtfully, etc - to share 'our' values?

I think the set of values commonly ascribed to EA is both more totalizing and a stronger attractor state than most counterfactuals.

I disagree that the counterfactual is comparable. I agree that they will have SOME influences, but I think the magnitude of influence really matters. By default, people aren't exposed to strong, deliberate influence of the kind described in this post, for any set of ideas/values.

I guess you could argue that living in the West is a process of ambient influence towards Western values?

I think targeted high school outreach has always looked (incredibly) good a priori. The question is whether it works in practice. At least in UK/EU, I can't think of anyone who came through sparc/eurosparc/shic and is now working full-time on EA. Probably a couple of students, but their impact is still to be determined. Until a couple of years ago, people were saying the same thing in the Bay Area. Which would suggest all of these programs have a <1% conversion rate, and that high school outreach might have an even lower conversion rate than university group outreach (for whatever reasons). Your suggestiom that this is changed is interesting - if you can say more without getting into awkward "naming names" it'd be pretty useful.

I don't want to name individuals on a public forum, but noting that there are at least a couple of individuals at FHI who passed through one of the programmes you mention (I don't know about counterfactual attribution).

Also, some may still resemble "students"/apprentices with "impact still to be determined". I guess ESPR may be hard to evaluate 4 years in, but shouldn't SPARC students be beyond that stage, if the program has run for 8 or so years? American data could be very useful...

Without entering into too many sensitive details, when I have looked at the output of similar programs I have noticed that I was excited about the career path of 1 out of every 3 participants.

But a) I dont know how much of it was counterfactual, b) when I made the estimation I had an incentive to produce an optimistic answer and c) it relies on my subjective judgement, which you may not trust.

Also worth noting that I think that the raw conversion rate is not the right metric to focus on - the outliers usually account for most the impact of these programs.

First EuroSPARC was in 2016. Targeting 16-19 year olds, my prior would be participants should still mostly study, and not work full-time on EA, or only exceptionally.

Long feedback loops are certainly a disadvantage.

Also in the meantime ESPR underwent various changes and actually is not optimising for something like "conversion rate to an EA attractor state".

One other random point: it strikes me as easier to filter college students for altruism, ambition, talent, etc. than for high school students.

My impression is that outreach to (16-18 year old) high school students will be very difficult, but with very large rewards.

It is hard to 'break into' schools and introduce programs and organizations. This is for good reasons; these are public institutions, young people are vulnerable, etc.

But I think if one gets EA orgs and other programs (like Charity Elections) going in high schools it could have huge impact. It could...

  • Scale easily
  • Be very influential... these are seen as the 'formative years'
  • Potentially bring in communities/parents/teachers
  • Be 'trackable/measurable' to university level (can survey college students about whether they were part of it in HS)

Another approach that targets high-schoolers that I can think of is promoting philosophy education in schools. How does EA outreach in schools compare with this?

Hi Prabhat, I'm a bit late to responding, but that was my article and I do have some thoughts on how promoting general philosophy education compares to EA outreach.

On the one hand whilst philosophy could in theory become part of the core curriculum and be taught on a regular basis, this is unlikely to be true of EA. It is difficult for EA outreach to be made consistent for students, which might make it hard for students to stay engaged. Therefore I think that general philosophy wins on a "consistency" metric. However, having dedicated EA teachers at schools could (possibly) allow for more consistent EA outreach.

On the other hand there is the question of how direct (to EA) the teaching is. On this metric obviously EA outreach wins. Despite this, there is a question over how useful  EA outreach might actually be to high-schoolers in terms of how decision-relevant it would be for them. As raised by Ben Todd in another comment, it might be that most of what we can say to students ("do technical subjects" etc.) is already fairly well known. Perhaps the best approach with younger students is instead to introduce people to a philosophical way of thinking more generally with an EA slant where possible (e.g. Singerian-style practical ethics), with a view for EA outreach further down the line. Therefore on a "usefulness" metric I'm not entirely sure which approach wins.

Overall I think both approaches have promise, but I would be very happy for people to explore further.

Hey Jack, thanks for the reply. Yeah, I agree that it's not obvious which among among the two is more promising.

Mostly agreeing with this article. Thx. I‘d be hoping, that high schoolers (make better choices on what to study) will find the ea-groups at university faster, if they know about ea already. But even if that „fails“, it‘s not only about “becoming ea“ or not. It‘s not binary. If people don‘t get involved in ea-stuff... but agree to only one concept more (like cause neutrality /animals are capable of suffering, so that should matter too / counterfactual thinking in making career choices / the fact, that donations can have different impacts etc. (maybe even spreading those ideas)) - then it might be worth the time. Thx for the article.

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