With the competitive nature of college admissions, there are many factors that schools must examine when considering a prospective student for admission. Obviously, high grades and test scores are important. (Although some schools are opting to go test optional.) But with so many students posting high GPAs and SAT/ACT scores, impressive extracurriculars, and excellent essays, how do colleges differentiate between similar students?

One of the ways that students can set themselves apart and display their unique strengths is through passion projects. An application with a compelling passion project is likely to attract the attention of college admissions officers. It can also shed light on what the student is passionate about, and more importantly…how they use their passion to impact their community.

What exactly is a passion project?

A passion project is something a student pursues out of a strong interest or curiosity in a particular topic, idea, or skill. It is usually self-directed, meaning that it is pursued outside of the classroom—designed and led by the student, not a teacher. It can include things like artistic projects, philanthropy/community projects, research projects, and personal challenges, to name a few.

Passion projects provide a space for creativity, and a platform for showcasing a student’s unique characteristics and skills. In addition to this, they can be a great source for personal growth—providing a deeply rewarding experience that increases self-confidence. They can also helps develop important leadership skills.

How important are passion projects for college admissions?

Over the past few years, passion projects have become more common in college applications and admissions. Some would even argue that they have become a centerpiece—reflecting a student’s initiative, creativity, and commitment in a way that may not be captured in academic transcripts or test scores.

More students are doing them, finding them to be a powerful addition to a normal resume of extracurriculars and job experience, in that they can highlight some of the skills most sought after by colleges: commitment, responsibility, assertiveness, emotional, leadership/initiative, time management, communication, self-management, collaboration/teamwork, critical thinking, creative thinking, and problem-solving.

In short, passion projects are an excellent way to explore something you really love, while contributing to a community in a meaningful way. This can help give colleges insight into who you really are.

How do you choose a passion project?

When considering a passion project, it is important to note that it should address a specific interest, cause, or need and should have real-world impact. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, a future researcher, or a student who wants to make a difference in your community, the sky is the limit when it comes to possibilities.

No matter what you choose to do, your idea should be well thought out, meet specific goals, and reach the right audience. Most importantly, you should be genuine. You should pursue the project out of a true passion, not as a means for getting into college. (Admissions counselors can see right through this.) The work you put into your project will show how passionate you really are about it, so careful execution is key.

Here are a few tips for choosing and initiating passion projects:

  1. Choose a subject/idea that truly excites you. You don’t have to adhere to specific academic guidelines here, so go for it! Explore interests outside of typical curriculums and be creative in doing so. Whether you’re promoting a specific cause, engaging in research, or starting your own small business, your passion should be your guide.
  2. Find a mentor. While this is not necessary for a passion project, mentors can be a great asset. They are a resource for advice or answering questions.
  3. Set specific, achievable, and measurable goals. Taking on a passion project in high school may seem like a daunting task. Without efficient planning it can be. Set clear goals for what you want to accomplish, and break large goals into smaller, more manageable tasks. What is the purpose for what you’re doing? What do you want the outcome to be? Remember that any step forward is good, and any challenges (and there will be some of those) are opportunities to fine-tune your goals and plan for a better outcome.
  4. Manage your time wisely. Create a project timeline early and stick to it. Estimate how long individual tasks will take and assign a deadline for each one of those tasks. This is crucial to the success of any project. A well-planned schedule will keep you on track and keeps you from rushing or even missing critical parts of your project.
  5. Record your journey! Take notes, or even keep a journal. Document your successes and challenges, what you’ve learned, and how your community has been affected by what you do.

Ideas for Passion Projects that Admissions Officers Love

There are many ways to turn your passion into a passion project. Here are just a few ideas but remember to be creative—this is your project. It should be a representation of who you are just as much as it should meet specific goals. This is what college admissions officers are looking for.

  1. Start a fundraiser or community service project. This is a great way to show your passion for a worthy cause, and your ability to organize and execute a large project. Whether you’re raising money for cancer research, starting a community garden, building a playground for special needs kids, distributing holiday gifts to underserved communities, or organizing a clean-up day for your community, these types of projects show your dedication to something that really matters to you, and your passion for helping others.
  2. Start a small business. This takes a lot of work, but turning one of your hobbies or interests into a profitable business can be very rewarding. It also shows that you are motivated, dedicated, resourceful, and that you have great organizational and leadership skills.
  3. Tutor. If you’re considering a career in education, or if you’re just passionate about helping others, tutoring exhibits your skills for teaching, while helping your community. You can work with underserved children, non-native English speakers, or other students who may need help.
  4. Start a blog. This not only shows your writing ability, but also your tech skills, and knowledge about a specific topic. Choose one that interests you, and that you have a certain level of expertise with. Showing your perspective lets colleges know more about you as an individual.
  5. Highlight your tech skills. In today’s digital age, being tech savvy is important. A technology-related project can be anything from creating a website, showing off your robotics skills, or teaching seniors about technology. All provide unique learning opportunities, while showing your expertise.
  6. Conduct research. A passion for science or the humanities can be highlighted through a research project. Not only does this provide an excellent learning opportunity, but it shows schools that you are dedicated and work well independently.
  7. Explore health & wellness. Holistic health is highly valued today. A passion project that centers around health and wellness can make your college application stand out. Projects like these can include everything from organizing a health fair, designing a workout routine, promoting a health and fitness challenge, creating healthy recipes or a community cookbook, or raising awareness for mental health issues.
  8. Showcase artistic endeavors. This is a way to not only exhibit a specific artistic talent, but also allows you to show your individuality. This is something colleges value highly. Depending on your given talent, some ideas include creating a digital art gallery, creating a public art installation or mural, starting a podcast to discuss your favorite music and artists, composing/producing an original music track, starting a band, or performing/exhibiting for a unique audience. The possibilities are limitless.
  9. Help the environment. Educate the community about environmental issues and organize a project that promotes your cause. This can include anything from wildlife conservation, ocean clean-up, setting up a recycling program a community, planting a flower garden at a public site, designing (and building) a renewable energy project, or working to preserve historical sites. There are many ways to help, so use your imagination—something colleges love to see.

No matter what you choose to do for your passion project, it is a great way to spend your time wisely, attract the attention of colleges and admissions officers and contribute to a community. It also provides a great learning opportunity and something you can be proud of. For more information and ideas for passion projects, contact us. Moxie’s expert staff can brainstorm with you and discuss any ideas you may have.