We all know colleges evaluate your grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and essays. But every student has those, and many students excel in all these areas. So, what sets you apart? How can you show colleges that among all their highly qualified applicants, you’re someone they want to have on campus?
A passion project is an excellent way to stand out and show who you are, beyond the numbers and the accolades. Plus, passion projects offer many other incredible benefits to high school students. In this ultimate guide to passion projects, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to choose a project, get started, and shine through in a sea of stellar college applicants.
What Are Passion Projects?
A passion project is an independent project (not a project assigned by a teacher or expected by a parent). It demonstrates your initiative, creativity, determination, and personal values and interests.
And as the name suggests, it’s something you’re passionate about. A passion project should inspire and excite you. It should be something that lights you up and sparks genuine enthusiasm. That being said, a passion project isn’t just about impressing college admissions officers. It’s not an assignment or an obligation. It’s fun!
Common types of passion projects include starting a small business or a nonprofit, writing a blog or book, initiating a community project, doing independent research, or inventing something.
5 Reasons to Have a Passion Project in High School
Pursuing a passion project in high school offers incredible benefits that can last for a lifetime. Here are six of the best reasons to have a passion project in high school.
1. Develop Valuable Skills
Tackling a big, meaningful project gives you the opportunity to develop a wealth of valuable skills. You’ll learn problem-solving, creativity, leadership, teamwork, persistence, and more. All these skills are essential to career and life success.
You’ll also learn specific skills relevant to the project you decide to pursue. For instance, you might learn about budgeting, marketing, communication, coding, small business regulations, or fundraising. The possibilities are endless.
2. Build Confidence
Often, passion projects give you the opportunity to accomplish something you never thought you could. You get to dream big, make a positive impact in your community, and sometimes earn an income. These accomplishments show you you’re capable of great things. You can set a big goal and successfully reach it.
When you see how much you’re truly capable of, your confidence grows. Confidence gives you the courage to approach challenges and new opportunities, feel secure in yourself, and think “I can” instead of “I can’t.” Again, this paves the way for a successful future career and a successful life.
3. Spark Creativity and Joy
Completing a passion project is a creative, joyful experience. As an ambitious high school student, you might spend too much time focusing on achievement and serious endeavors. Passion projects let you tap into your creative side and enjoy yourself, while still working hard and achieving.
Creativity reduces stress, increases overall well-being, and can even help humans live longer. It’s also a vital skill in the modern workplace. As people worry about artificial intelligence (AI) taking over their jobs, know that there are some human skills AI can’t duplicate. One of them is creativity.
Every company in the world needs people who can create, innovate, and take a fresh approach to problem-solving. Passion projects help you become the type of person who can fill these needs.
4. Make a Positive Impact
Whether you start a business or a nonprofit organization, invent or create, or lead a volunteer project in your community, your passion project can make a positive impact on the people around you. Helping others feels good. Research shows that it also combats depression, improves self-esteem, and boosts your overall health.
Making a positive impact on others positively impacts you too. You’ll feel happier and more grateful, and you’ll see that you can make a real difference in the world.
5. Strengthen Your College Applications
Colleges look for students who take initiative and pursue their passions. Good grades, strong test scores, and a wide range of extracurricular activities won’t make you stand out from the crowd. But knowing what you’re passionate about and acting on it will set you apart. Passion projects show who you are as a person, which makes your application much more engaging and appealing.
Passion projects are challenging. They require a lot of motivation and hard work. They show that you’re mature, confident, and aware of your personal beliefs and values. You aren’t a neutral “well-rounded” student—you’re a standout student with your own unique interests and passions. That’s what will earn you a spot at the most competitive colleges or win you the best scholarships.
A study by the mentorship service Acceptitas showed that more than 75 percent of current Harvard students completed a passion project in high school. Highly competitive students don’t just excel in school; they follow their passions and actively participate in their communities.
6. Find Purpose
Developing skills, building confidence, and helping others gives you a sense of purpose. You’ll have a fulfilling experience that makes life more meaningful. At the same time, you might discover new talents or interests that can drive your future college and career choices.
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How to Start a Passion Project
So, there are many great reasons to start a passion project. But where do you begin?
1. Consider your passions.
The first step to starting a passion project, of course, is to identify your passion(s). Working on something that genuinely excites you will increase your motivation and make it easier to put in the necessary time and effort. It will also give colleges information about who you are and what makes you tick.
Think about the following questions:
- What’s your favorite subject or topic to learn about in school?
- If you could be remembered for three things, what would they be?
- What skills come naturally to you?
- When do you feel most energized and excited?
- What’s a topic you can learn and talk about for hours? Something you get so absorbed in that you lose track of time?
- What brings out the leader in you?
- Is there a problem in your school or community, or in the world, that really matters to you? How could you help solve it?
- When you have a few hours of free time, how do you choose to spend it?
As you answer these questions, you’ll most likely discover themes or topics that come up again and again. Think about how you can incorporate these interests into a project that will better your school or community. When you find the right idea, you should feel excited and eager to get started right away. That’s how you’ll know you’ve got a real passion project on your hands!
2. Set your mission or goal.
Every big endeavor needs a guiding mission or goal. What do you want to accomplish? How will you know you’re on track?
Start by thinking about who your project will benefit, or who you want to reach. You can consider these people your “target audience.” For instance, perhaps you want to help senior citizens, underserved children, or single mothers. Maybe your project will benefit people struggling with chronic stress or the loss of a loved one.
In other cases, your target audience could be people who will read your research or buy your product. Think about the characteristics of people who are most likely to interact with your project. How will your research or product improve their lives? Why would they want to read it or purchase it?
Then, come up with a few ideas for how to reach these people. How will you find senior citizens or single moms to help? How will you get people excited about your product or interested in reading your research? Possible strategies include online marketing (through social media and/or a website), live events, or word of mouth.
Lastly, make sure you have a “why.” Why are you doing all of this in the first place? What is your ultimate goal? What problem are you trying to solve, or what circumstances are you striving to improve?
When you’ve answered all these questions, combine them into a goal or mission statement. For instance, “I want to help senior citizens learn to use technology so it’s easier to stay in touch with family and friends,” or, “I want to give single moms affordable access to childcare so they can work, run errands, or have free time with less stress.”
3. List the resources you’ll need.
Next, make a list of the resources you’ll need to get your passion project off the ground. Will you need a website? A Facebook page or Instagram? A physical location? What materials will you need to create your product or launch your volunteer project? What steps will you need to take to conduct your research?
Consider what materials you can buy, and which resources you would like to have donated. Think about how you’ll gather all the resources you need to get your project going. It’s important to ensure your project is doable and that you’re fully prepared before you start.
4. Find a mentor.
Successful passion projects take a lot of time, energy, and knowledge. The support of a knowledgeable mentor is extremely valuable. Depending on your project, a mentor can be a teacher, university professor, local professional in a related field, owner of a nonprofit, or even a family member with relevant experience.
Your mentorship doesn’t need to be formal. It can just mean you have someone to brainstorm with or ask questions, who can provide guidance throughout your passion project journey.
Reach out via phone, email, or in person and tell your potential mentor about your idea. Ask if they’re willing to answer a few questions or give you some advice. Most successful adults love passing on their knowledge and experience to bright young people who want to make a difference.
5. Do it!
It’s easy to get caught up in “analysis paralysis,” or overthinking. You might wonder if your project will be a success, or if you really have what it takes to see it through. You may get caught up in considering everything that could go wrong and the obstacles you might encounter.
Want to know the best way to overcome overthinking? Just do it! Write a list of the steps you need to take to get your project off the ground, then get started with the first item. Once you have an idea, a mission, the necessary materials and resources, and a wise mentor, the only thing left to do is do it.
35 Passion Project Ideas to Pursue
Often, coming up with the right idea for a passion project is the most difficult part. Here are 35 passion project ideas to get your brainstorming going. It’s essential that you feel excited about the project, so if none of these feel right for you, we hope they will at least spark some inspiration.
- Paint or organize the creation of murals in your school or community. Base the murals on issues you care about or on major moments in local history.
- Produce a play that calls attention to meaningful issues.
- Raise awareness about a problem you want to help solve.
- Create a program to teach seniors in local retirement communities and nursing homes how to use the computer and internet.
- Put together a mentorship program to help adults without diplomas graduate from high school/earn their GEDs.
- Tutor underserved children in your community, or provide classes in art, computers, music, etc.
- Create and organize workshops on topics like mental health, career options, self-sustainability, diversity and inclusion, or something else that matters to you.
- Mentor non-native speakers to help them learn English, or set up an organization that pairs native and non-native speakers.
- Develop an app or website where people can pair up with language partners to practice.
- Help develop solutions for a community health problem.
- Partner with medical professionals to offer free health screenings to underserved populations.
- Launch a blog about a topic that’s important to you.
- Create social media marketing campaigns for local nonprofits or causes you care about (e.g., helping an animal shelter find homes for pets).
- Plant a community garden.
- Produce a documentary on an important issue in your community.
- Organize events to clean up your school or community.
- Conduct independent research on a topic you’re passionate about and try to get your research published.
- Organize a group to make/gather and distribute holiday gifts to underserved children or children in a local hospital.
- Create a nonprofit virtual tutoring program to provide no-cost academic assistance to struggling students.
- Build an app or website to help people find resources (e.g., connect people struggling with addiction with local resources, help single parents find low-cost childcare, etc.).
- Raise funds for a cause or a nonprofit organization that is meaningful to you.
- Invent assistive technologies for people with disabilities, or any invention that helps people solve a pressing problem.
- Start after-school programs for underserved youth in your community.
- Publish poems, stories, or a novel.
- Start a clothing or food pantry to help students in your school or people in your community.
- Collect backpacks filled with school supplies to support families who struggle to buy supplies for their children.
- Start a club at your school that raises awareness about an important issue.
- Lead the charge to change policies in your school or community.
- Start an organization to pair Buddies with children with special needs, struggling readers, etc.
- Raise funds to fill a need in your school, community, or even the world.
- Create interactive workshops to teach STEM skills to young girls.
- Organize a group to run errands for senior citizens and/or people at-risk for COVID-19.
- Collect and distribute books to underserved children and families, offer free literacy workshops, and/or volunteer to read to children at your local library.
- Found a peer tutoring organization at your school.
- Start an organization that donates suitcases, clothes, and comfort objects to foster families and children.
You can also check out these bios of the 2021 Coca-Cola Scholars. Many of these scholarship winners have completed inspiring passion projects. A few examples include raising awareness about the water crisis, organizing mental health workshops, creating art out of recycled materials, and forming partnerships between immigrant and refugee teens and American-born peers to promote language acquisition and friendship.
Final Thoughts: Ultimate Guide to Passion Projects
Passion projects look great on college applications and help you stand out. They also serve your community, teach you essential skills, and can even boost your overall well-being. Plus, completing a passion project is a fun and meaningful experience. If you take notes along the way*, it can even be an amazing resource for your college essays.
Start by discovering your passions. Then brainstorm ideas, set a mission or goal, make a list of resources you’ll need, and find a mentor to provide guidance. After that, just do it! Your passion project will help you secure scholarship money, college acceptance letters, and—most importantly—valuable personal growth.
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