How to Do a Passion Project for College Applications

Rubin Caco

Over time, the college application process has become more in-depth and complex. As test-optional policies, admissions requirements, and trends have changed, college admissions officers review applications more thoroughly and selectively each year. However, stellar grades alone are often not enough for a student when applying for college. To stand out, prospective students must commit their time and energy to more than just a high GPA and exceptional test scores.

Today, many top schools have adopted holistic review to select their students. When making decisions, admissions officers will count every aspect of a student's application, persona, and accomplishments. Now more than ever, it is essential for students to stand out and put their passions at the forefront of their profiles. Students must make a good impression and be memorable in their applications.

There are many ways for students to showcase their passions and demonstrate their unique skills and accomplishments before college application deadlines are due. But one of the most influential and all-encompassing are the extracurricular activities students can conduct called "Passion Projects."

What are Passion Projects for College Applications?

A Passion Project is a distinctive, personal undertaking that showcases a student's passions, skills, and potential. It's not just another extracurricular activity; it's the centerpiece of the student's application profile. Passion projects are a narrative thread that takes every aspect of a student's profile and demonstrates them. In a single project, students can showcase their passions and persistence.

Passion Projects can be anything from a tech-driven invention to a creative publication or a community-focused initiative. The key is that these projects are original, student-driven, and reflect individuals' unique interests and abilities. The best Passion Projects also weave together students' academic accomplishments and personal journeys in a story or "narrative" that is easily memorable and compelling.

Some examples include charitable outreach, business initiatives, independent software development, and publishing work in a field of interest. These projects can apply to any student or subject, but the common traits they all share are that they are personal, demonstrate dedication and leadership, and explore a student's unique passion. For high schoolers seeking passion project ideas, a Passion Project offers a clear pathway to effectively integrate their interests into their college applications.

Why are Passion Projects Important for College Applications? 

Passion Projects are a step above most extracurricular activities. In the college admissions process, especially in the admissions offices at the top schools, great grades and high test scores alone are not enough to impress college admissions officers, mostly because most applicants will also boast about their own high scores in their applications. 

For those applying to the top US schools, applicants need to set themselves apart. This is why admissions officers at the top schools employ holistic review—taking every aspect of a student's application into consideration for acceptance. They review everything from an applicant's grades and test scores, as well as their personality, extracurricular activities, achievements and accomplishments, passions, application persona, and a host of other aspects. 

Above all, admissions officers at the top schools are looking for students who would be a good personality fit for the campus and display qualities that the institution deems favorable. Across the board, these characteristics include leadership, passion, commitment, dedication, and perseverance. Many of these traits are expressed throughout an application, including personal statements, essays, and the student's extracurricular activities. 

Passion Projects are important because they allow students to display their skills and characteristics in a personal, unique endeavor that is unlike anything other students could achieve through grades and extracurricular activities alone. Rather than participate in clubs, competitions, or camps that many other students could also display on an application, Passion Projects are created entirely on the student's terms and offer complete autonomy. These projects implicitly display a student's perseverance, proactivity, and leadership capabilities. 

How to Start Building Your Own Passion Project

In a college application, Passion Projects serve as the centerpiece of your application. It is the aspect of your application that is entirely unique to each student and brings everything together. As such, each Passion Project should be unique to the student.

Students can build a Passion Project by identifying the key aspects of their student profile, interests, field of study, and the other aspects unique to them. Reflect on what excites and motivates you. Consider your hobbies, academic interests, or issues you care about deeply. Your Passion Project should stem from a genuine interest or concern, as this authenticity will drive your commitment and creativity.

Students interested in computer science can craft a project demonstrating their coding ability and technological prowess. Business students can start their own enterprises. Medical students can do community outreach or volunteer. Whatever the field, students should make their objectives clear and set achievable goals that have a measurable impact. Specific objectives will give your project direction and purpose, and creating something innovative with a positive impact on the community is a good way to begin a compelling venture. 

Our Success Stories: Passion Project Ideas

Students working with InGenius Prep through our Leadership and Innovation Lab have conducted their own Passion Projects to outstanding results. With guidance from industry experts and former admissions officers at the top schools, the Passion Projects created by our students have been a positive factor in their admissions and served as a template for students' success in their future endeavors. 

Here are some examples of successful Passion Projects created by our students and supported by our team members. High School students seeking a good idea for their own high school Passion Projects can review these for inspiration. (Names have been changed to maintain our students' privacy.)

          Passion Project 1: Student "Brian" 

"Brian" was an InGenius Prep student interested in Computer Science and Robotics. Being interested in such a competitive field, Brian and his team worked to strategize a Passion Project that would demonstrate his skills and interest for CS and Robotics. As a competitive sportsman in an all-boys school, Brian had the grades and test scores for a top US school, but his application lacked elements. Namely, community service and engagement, demonstration of his CS skills, and depth in his student profile. 

Brian's Passion Project was to code and develop a racing video game that would simulate the experience of F1 racing.

This was a project that Brian was not only passionate about but that highlighted several unique aspects of his application. It provided a concrete demonstration of his skills with computer science; the project was also targeted mainly with female players in mind (as F1 is notably male-oriented), and Brian shared the game for free in his school and community to enable as many people to experience it as possible. 

Brian's Passion Project displayed community impact, time management skills, and dedication to gender equality. It boosted his college application with an accomplishment unique to him and his goals in computer science. This Passion Project resulted in Brian going on to conduct his own Research Project, obtaining an internship using it as proof and experience, and attending summer programs related to his profile.

          Passion Project 2: Student "Jessica"

"Jessica" was another InGenius Prep student interested in the humanities, literature, and journalism. Her hobbies also included poetry and event planning. However, her profile was missing a demonstration of her community organizational skills, non-institutional leadership ability, and general uniqueness in her field. 

Jessica's Passion Project was creating and launching her own creative publication, which featured the works of writers of all ages and locations. 

This international publication aimed to give voice to those who are part of diasporas and marginalized creatives, giving them a platform for their trademarks and unique experiences. Jessica also created multiple creative writing courses to provide innovative support to those most in need of them. 

Like Brian, Jessica's Passion Project also opened the door for new opportunities that could grow her as a person and further strengthen her student profile. The data from various chapters of her organization led to Jessica's own Research Projects, and her experience opened the door to internships with literary outlets. Through networking, Jessica also participates in competitions and volunteer initiatives—organizing her slam poetry meetings with community members. Members formed a community encouraging acceptance and active listening.

Jessica's Passion Project had a strong community impact. It strengthened her college application by proving her leadership skills while displaying measurable results and accomplishments she obtained through her own means. The community service projects she conducted in her last year of high school further developed her profile.

These and many more Passion Projects are open to students looking to make an impact on their college applications. The key is to pursue a venture you are passionate about that displays your unique skills and personality. For more Passion Project ideas, see our blog, "10 Startup Ideas for High School Students."

Why Students Should Do Passion Projects for the Top Colleges

Passion projects can transform the college admissions process for some students, providing a unique and compelling narrative that distinguishes them from other applicants. Many top US schools consider all parts of a student's profile and application when vetting them for admittance, so students who wish to make an impact should consider their own Passion Projects to demonstrate their skills and stand out among the other applicants. 

Identify your interests, define clear objectives, showcase your skills, and apply your project in a way that will impact your community and change the lives of those around you for the better. Above all, a student's Passion Project should tie back into their interests and align with the application in a way that shows off a student's accomplishments and tells a compelling narrative that will stick with the admissions officer throughout the college application season. Passion Projects are more than a means to an end; they are an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution and showcase the unique qualities you will bring to a college community.

To create a compelling Passion Project with guidance from education experts, InGenius Prep is here to help with our Leadership and Innovation Lab. Designed for students looking to make a difference and stand out among their peers, the Leadership and Innovation Lab will guide students to launch a successful venture, make a tangible difference in their community, and enhance their college admissions with compelling Passion Projects that will become the centerpiece of your student's college application. Click here to speak with an advisor today to learn more.

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