Passion Projects: The Unknown Key to a Stellar College Application | fast writing center (2023)

At Prompt, we often write about how being academically strong isn't enough - at highly selective colleges, it's just a baseline. The job of distinguishing your app from the pack remains (cough, "Essay," Cough).

Here's a former Cornell admissions officergive an important twist to this point:

Even for academically excellent students, their applications were often missingtangible signs of your passions: a project, experiment, portfolio, or endeavor that they've spent a lot of time learning, crafting, or creating. (Emphasis added.)

A passion project goes deeper than taking a leadership role in an organization. It's about achieving something far beyond a typical high school student. Therefore, projects can be almost anything, as long as they demonstrate a deep and sustained interest (ie: a "passion"). For example:

  1. Writing a research paper
  2. be a doer
  3. to compose music
  4. Making an impact through community service

Most passion projects help differentiate candidates on what matters mostpersonal score- that is, demonstrating that they have the character traits to succeed in college and beyond.

But they can help with research projects in particular, ahard academic career- show that your strong academics are "above and beyond" the many strong academics that highly selective schools see.

For help with any other part of your app, see ourCollege essay help center.

Plan a passion project: dig deeper into what you love and get support from adults; Highly selective colleges explicitly state that “passion projects” gain admission from students; Passion projects work because they show academic rigor and demonstrate the 5 qualities colleges look for in applicants; Introduce your passion project: Write about it with the 5 traits in mind

Plan a passion project: dig deeper into what you love and get support from adults; Highly selective colleges explicitly state that “passion projects” gain admission from students; Passion projects work because they show academic rigor and demonstrate the 5 qualities colleges look for in applicants; Introduce your passion project: Write about it with the 5 traits in mind

    Plan a passion project: delve deeper into what you love and get support from adults

    Secollege writing coach, we found that many of our studentsAgainthey have passions—but what they haven't done yet is invest the time and focused energy to turn that passion into a project worth pursuing. Often, just by adding 80-100+ hours of work to a portfolio or project, they can create something that really stands out.

    A great way to start a meaningful project is with adult support for something you love. This might mean finding a professor to work with you independently on a research paper or topic, or on an artistic or community project. It could also mean working with companies that specialize in helping high school students with their own projects, such aspolitenessELumiere.

    In fact, you can get the right idea for your own project by looking at Polygence.project gallery. (No ads, btw, we just like these two companies.) You'll see how diverse they are:

    • A review article on quantum algorithms
    • A beginner's guide to financial planning
    • A research paper on the effect of dance therapy on neurological disorders
    • The Myth of Io in Ovid and Beyond: Voice, Sexuality and Lament and Even
    • A fabulous fashion magazine.

    You can keep thinking about what might be the best project for you as we bring you a few more examples that show why these projects are so powerful in a college application.

    Highly selective colleges specifically state that “passion projects” get students admitted

    Here is UPense gabaron its graduates' "cross-border" search this year (55,000 applications for 2,400 places):

    almost a thirdof admitted studentsengaged in academic researchMany of them received national and international awards during their school years for research that is already pushing the boundaries of academic discovery. Admitted students collaborated with leading educators and researchers in their areas of interest, were co-authors of publications in leading journals andshowed their ingenuityin making connections between complex and diverse disciplines. (Emphasis added.)

    In the next paragraph, UPenn shows gratitude for the community service of his new hire and says:

    More than 80%of admitted students live [a community service] tradition ofparticipate in charitable activitiesthat have already had significant local, national and global impact. We admire students who have taken the time to help others individually and those who havelarge-scale initiatives facilitatedand ventures that have had a broad and lasting impact on their communities. In the midst of the pandemic, many studentsshowed flexibility and creativityin translating their desire to give back into the virtual world, transforming established practices into new and innovative ways to make a difference.

    And here's the story of the app that did it.Cornell Admissions Officer(from the introduction) believe that "a tangible indicator of [their] passions" is the key to a great application:

    [T]his aptitude for the show really came to life when he described the weather station he had built at home. … After reading it, I thought,This student will clearly receive my recommendation for admission because of his grades, test scores, and demonstrated intellectual interest in his chosen program.Trifecta! He nailed it when he said "snap and match".

    Finally, see how Harvarddeals withawesome projects with passion. (We know these details because they had to make their ownPublic Entry Datesin a recent lawsuit.)

    Harvard awards its highest academic score (1 out of 4) to just 0.4% of its applicant pool. Applicants with an academic rank 1 have a 67% chance of admission, compared to 8.6% for those with an academic rank 2.

    Harvard said in the lawsuit that, generally, "an applicant receiving an academic grade of '1' has submitted academic work that will be reviewed by a faculty member." That is, "If the applicant has submitted material that the admissions team believes would be best reviewed by a Harvard faculty member, such asa scientific workor oneRecording a musical performance, the application may be forwarded to a faculty member [...] for review and evaluation." (emphasis added).

    In contrast, the next highest academic grade – 2+ – means that although the student has “perfect or near-perfect grades and tests,” his or her applicationthere is a lack of evidence of "substantial scholarship or scholarly creativity".

    There are two important points here:

    1. Even at Harvard, a strong passion project is a big differentiator - very few students (0.4%) are at this level and
    2. A strong passion project greatly increases your chances of admission.

    As these examples show, colleges are hungry for students who pursue passionate projects. So let's make sure you know how to provide this in your app for them.

    Passionate projects work because they demonstrate academic rigor and demonstrate the 5 qualities colleges look for in candidates

    Secollege writing coach, we know that college admissions teams are looking for something very specific when they read your essays. It is notflowery language and beautiful style. Not relaxed and friendlyinsights to know.

    no it's her5 propertiesthat show you'll thrive in college and beyond:

    • unit (or grain)
    • Initiative
    • intellectual curiosity
    • Contribution
    • variety of experiences

    Your essays will be evaluatedfor one or more of these character traits in a process that you can read more about at the link.

    Well, a passion project demonstrates all of that. UPenn even says that the research projects "demonstrated ingenuity [on the students' part]" and the non-profit projects "demonstrated flexibility and creativity," emphasizing the character traits these projects reveal.

    Take Cornell's amazing, weather-obsessed boy as an example. He built his own weather station! The article also says:

    [The student] collected data and provided information to a cable news station, which then used his data in their weather forecasts.

    The history of the weather station shows:

    • Initiative— The student decided to make a difference on his own. He went beyond following a curriculum or doing what his teacher told him to do.
    • lead– here's our guess, but knowing how the real world works it's probably hard to build your own weather station. Things probably didn't work out right when he first set them up. He probably had to tinker with the screen and experiment with different brands of power cords (a term we -obsessed essayand not obsessed with the weather - just made it up) until everything worked out. He probably showed courage.
    • intellectual curiosity- Fuck. Building your own weather station is a Benjamin Franklin-level experiment, and a pretty cool one at that. And it definitely shows that student's deep interest in a particular topic.
    • variety of experiences— How many students collect data to send to a cable news station? Probably not many. Subtraction gave this student a unique perspective.

    Well, this story allows"Contribution' (unless you think that sharing data with a cable news station is a 'contribution', which it certainly can be), but you can see that many passion projects, particularly those with a community service bias, include this would have perspective.

    The thing is, passion projects don't work because they're "cool" (actually, maybe a little). They drive resumes because they significantly increase their "personal score", which is an important factor in their resume.

    Additionally, applicants who undertake academically related passion projects (eg, research, creator, coding) demonstrate that they can accomplish the academic work required to succeed in college.

    Introduce your passion project: Write about it with the 5 traits in mind

    There are many places to showcase your passion project:

    • Portfolio option available at select schools such as MIT, Yale Columbia, and UChicago
    • YourPersonal opinion
    • Otherssupplementary writing
    • OAdditional information section(which also allows you to create a "Portfolio Option")

    It's also fine to use two of these places: for example, share a research paper using the additional information, and also talk about what led you to the research, how you did the research, and what you learned from the experience in your essay. .

    This is a judgment you could make with aSchool-Rehearsal-Coachortrained adult. But if the passion project is a great example of your traits and ability to succeed in college, be sure to present it in full to admission readers.

    if you choosewrite aboutYour passion project into an essay, here are some quick tips:

    1. Congratulations- As we discussed above, a passion project is great material for essays.
    2. Five Properties-The reason your passion project is great is because of how it tends to showcase your character and ability to succeed. Focus on these elements.
    3. intellectual curiosity -Consider talking about how your interest was piqued, why you followed the project so closely, and what you learned about the topic or area as you continued your research.
    4. Driving/Initiative -don't be like Fred Astair who doesdifficult thingslooks easy. Show your work as you would in math class: tell the reader what obstacles you overcame, how many times you went back to find the right “feed wire,” and what you learned about grit and getting things done along the way.
    5. Contribution -If your project is helping people, if your project has increased your humility and empathy, if you've had to learn to work together and get along better with others, that's a great thing to include in the essay.
    6. Variety of experiences -Take a step back. What did you learn from this project? How do you see the world differently than most of your peers? Share a little bit about how this experience made you stand out.

    What not to do: Stay away from the "this makes me feel alive" trap. we wrote about itthis trap. Colleges look after their properties; not so much about the project itself. In your essay, focus on how great you'll be on their campus, not how a weather station works, because if they cared as much as you do, they'd be in the weather and not an admissions office.

    Feeling inspired? A good start is with usCollege essay help center.

    More articles on methods to increase traffic:

    • Work with a College Writing Coach
    • Strong essays increase your chances of admission by up to 10 times
    • Don't Let Influencers Influence Your College Essays
    • Should I apply without testing?
    • Early entry: everything you need to know
    • College essay help center


    Do passion projects look good on college applications? ›

    Following through with a meaningful passion project can ultimately benefit your college application and help you stand out during admissions.

    Do colleges look at passion projects? ›

    That means that universities look at the stories that students tell in their essays and the projects that they've created to back-up their admission profile. For many students, that means they are looking to create an individualized project of their own, AKA a passion project.

    What are passion projects that impress colleges? ›

    Some common examples include starting a non-profit charity, small business, or blog, building an online community around an issue, doing independent research, writing a book, etc.

    Does Harvard like passion projects? ›

    Even at Harvard, a strong passion project is a huge distinguisher — very few students (0.4%) are at that level, and. Having a strong passion project enormously boosts your admission chances.

    Can you get into an Ivy League without a passion project? ›

    The short answer is no, you don't have to be a world-class achiever to get into an Ivy League school. An extraordinary accomplishment can certainly make you a stronger candidate, but it isn't necessary, and there are many other important factors that come into play when these schools are making admissions decisions.

    Do colleges care about passion? ›

    Colleges want to see that you are passionate about learning – not just about a single academic area, but about the world around you.

    What are some good topics for a passion project? ›

    Passion Project Ideas: List of Topics
    • City Life. This is a common topic a lot of people start especially a blog on. ...
    • Food. Restaurant reviews, recipes, or just plain pictures of good food. ...
    • Travel. Places to go, sights to see... ...
    • Health and Fitness. ...
    • Beauty and Makeup. ...
    • Fashion and Hair.
    Mar 27, 2021

    Can you put passion projects on resume? ›

    Then there are times when it is appropriate to add your interests and passions to your resume. These times include: When you don't have enough work experience to fill a full page. When your life passions might be relevant to the job.

    What makes a good passion project? ›

    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.

    What impresses college admissions? ›

    They look for depth in various disciplines (e.g., 4th year of a foreign language, 5th year of math, etc.) and challenging courses (Honors or AP's in some subjects). Grades in these classes represent the next most important criteria for admission. At highly selective colleges, SAT or ACT tests can be very important.

    What impresses Ivy League schools? ›

    A competitive application shows that the applicant has taken the most challenging curriculum available to him or her, and that student has achieved high grades on top of that. In other words, they have both a high GPA and many AP, IB, or Honors classes. For the Ivy League, a high GPA is, on average, a weighted 4.0.

    What interests are colleges looking for? ›

    Colleges pay attention to your involvement in extracurricular activities. But what counts most to colleges is how long and how deeply you have been committed to one or two of those interests. This could be sports, clubs, music groups, or various other activities.

    Are passion projects worth it? ›

    To those who say that passion projects are “unsolicited work”, I say: don't yuk my yum. It's not for everyone, but don't squash those of us who care so much about what we do we actually create for fun, not just for a paycheck. So yes, passion projects are worth doing, but only do them because you truly want to.

    What is harder than getting into Harvard? ›

    Top 10 Hardest Colleges to Get Into
    SchoolLocationAcceptance Rate (Class of 2026)
    1. HarvardCambridge, MA3.19%
    2. ColumbiaNew York, NY3.73%
    3. CaltechPasadena, CA3.92%*
    4. StanfordStanford, CA3.95%*
    6 more rows

    Which Ivy gets the least applicants? ›

    Dartmouth University is the Ivy League school that receives the least amount of applications. On average, they receive nearly 23,000 applications each year, and this year they received 28,841 applications.

    What is the easiest Ivy League to get? ›

    Cornell University

    Cornell is the easiest and youngest Ivy League school. It was established in 1865 and is situated in Ithaca, New York. Out of 49,114 candidates, Cornell accepted 5,330, for an admission percentage of around 10.9%.

    Can you get into Harvard with no extracurriculars? ›

    Extracurricular activities are an essential part of the application process for students hoping to get into Harvard. Harvard is looking for students who are more than just academic achievers. They seek outgoing leaders who can positively impact their campus and the world.

    Do colleges really look at GPA? ›

    As they evaluate your academic performance throughout high school, colleges will look at both your overall GPA and the individual grades you received in your courses. Different high schools have different ways of calculating GPAs, including various weighting systems.

    Do colleges care more about GPA or SAT? ›

    There are several reasons that the SAT is a more valuable admissions tool than your GPA. Most obviously, it's because the SAT is a standardized test. While your GPA compares you to the rest of your school, the SAT compares you to the rest of the country.

    Can you get into college with B's? ›

    Are You a B Student? You Can Still Go to a Great College. If you're at the end of your junior year or the beginning of your senior year and you have mostly Bs on your transcript, don't freak out: you can still gain admission to an excellent college.

    What are three passions examples? ›

    Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.

    What are your top 5 passions? ›

    Final Top 5 Passions:
    • Being true to myself.
    • Empowering or helping others find their passion.
    • Being confident in my own judgment & decisions.
    • Reading, golfing, going to movies, traveling, gardening.
    • Learning something new, having an adventure.

    What is a good passion statement? ›

    "To be a leader to my team, live a balanced life and make a difference." "To inspire others to achieve great things." "To thrive in my journey through life and learn life's lessons along the way." "To be kind to others and myself."

    How do you write a passion project? ›

    How To Get Started on a Passion Project
    1. Keep an Open Mind. There are numerous ways to go about creating a passion project. ...
    2. Brainstorm Ideas. When brainstorming ideas for a passion project, think about your strengths and weaknesses as well as your interests. ...
    3. Make Your Idea Come to Life.
    Sep 6, 2022

    What can I say instead of passion on a resume? ›

    Synonyms of passion
    • love.
    • affection.
    • devotion.
    • enthusiasm.
    • fondness.
    • respect.
    • desire.
    • longing.

    What is a better word for passionate on resume? ›

    Go-getter: ambitious, aspiring, determined, industrious, passionate.

    What are 3 characteristics of a successful project? ›

    Successful projects are those that 1) meet business requirements, 2) are delivered and maintained on schedule, 3) are delivered and maintained within budget, and 4) deliver the expected business value and return on investment.

    What is the key value passion? ›

    Passion is often connected with Purpose. It means something when you love WHAT you do, you love WHY you do it, you love the people you work with, you love the people you serve, and knowing that has great value. Having passion, as a leadership value, for what you do will make your life better in more ways than one!

    What is an example of showing passion at work? ›

    A passionate employee will always look for creative ways to solve problems because this is an occasion for him to learn. Trying to improve in their area of expertise. An employee who wants to follow a new formation or attend a seminar shows interest in his area of expertise and an interest in personal growth.

    What 5 things do colleges look at when choosing students? ›

    Good grades, a challenging high school curriculum, standardized test scores, extracurriculars, and a strong essay are a few key factors admissions officers assess.

    What not to say to college admissions? ›

    Keep reading to learn even more about the things that you should not write about in your college admissions essay.
    • Never rehash your academic and extracurricular accomplishments. ...
    • Never write about a “topic.” ...
    • Never start with a preamble. ...
    • Never end with a “happily ever after” conclusion. ...
    • Never pontificate.

    How do I make my college application stand out? ›

    How to Stand Out in Your College Application: 15 Expert Tips
    1. Choose Your High School Classes Appropriately. ...
    2. Earn Good Grades. ...
    3. Use Your Personal Statement to Tell Your Story. ...
    4. Participate in Extracurricular Activities. ...
    5. Volunteer. ...
    6. Keep Accurate Records. ...
    7. Manage Your Social Media Presence. ...
    8. Learn as Much About Your School as You Can.
    Oct 19, 2022

    Is 5 extracurriculars good? ›

    How Many “Normal” Activities Should Students Have? The Goldilocks “just right” number of activities is 5 or 6. This is a good amount because it's achievable for most students without being overwhelming.

    What is the most laid back Ivy League school? ›

    Brown. Located in Providence, Rhode Island, Brown is more commonly known as the laid-back Ivy League.

    What GPA do Ivy Leagues like? ›

    However, for college applicants, the average GPA is more likely between 3.5 and 4.0. If you're aiming for a top university such as one in the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, or others of the same caliber, a 4.0 GPA — or close to it — is expected.

    What activities should I not put on my college application? ›

    5 Activities That Don't Help Your College Application
    • Volunteer Work. ...
    • Mediocre Activities. ...
    • Something you do because someone told you it would look good on a college application. ...
    • Summer Camps, Mission Trips, and Leadership Seminars. ...
    • Expensive Summer Programs.
    Apr 20, 2017

    What looks best on college applications? ›

    • Grade Point Average (GPA) The most important step you can take to make yourself a competitive candidate is, of course, to work hard in school. ...
    • Test Scores. For schools that consider standardized test scores, those typically rank second in importance. ...
    • Clubs. ...
    • Sports. ...
    • Community Service. ...
    • Jobs/Internships.

    Can you put projects on a college application? ›

    Your research project can strengthen several areas of your application. If your school allows you to do your project for credit, it will show up on your transcript. It's also an activity to include on your activity list or resume.

    Does research projects look good on college applications? ›

    Research helps students stand out

    According to the U.S. News and World Report, “High school students who have an impressive personal project they are working on independently often impress colleges, because their commitment to a successful solo endeavor conveys initiative, self-discipline and originality”.


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