“Passion project” is a term you’re likely to hear more and more these days– something you do as an extension of what you’re most passionate about that highlights your commitment to an issue, your leadership potential, your ingenuity, etc. Indeed, a passion project can help you have a leg up with college admissions at some schools, especially if you’re able to write beautifully about it or address its impact on you in an interview. 

Here’s the thing, though: a passion project needs to be something you genuinely care about, not something your parents forced on you to help you get into a fancy school. A great passion project also benefits from longevity. The longer you have stuck with and improved a passion project over time, the more it speaks to your character and your ability to stick with something to make a difference. (And here’s the real kicker: the longer you do something extra that you’re passionate about, the more you can learn and grow beyond the classroom.  Hooray for all kinds of learning!)

Students often feel stumped about what could be a sustainable passion project that aligns with their interests. Here are some things that come to mind for me as possible ideas, just based on my personal interests and life questions these days.

  • My favorite restaurant is amazing, but they use styrofoam take-out containers, which isn’t good for the environment.  What if I interviewed them about what kind of containers they order, then do a cost/benefit analysis of styrofoam vs more sustainable options?  Beyond that, what if I make a presentation attempting to convince them why it’s worth it to change their take-out containers?  What if I do the same thing with a whole bunch of other restaurants and help build a movement toward more sustainable packaging in my community?
  • I currently have a family member in the hospital.  I see a lot of babies here without families able to be with them.  What if I contacted my local hospital to ask them if they have a program for volunteers to cuddle babies who don’t have family at their bedside? What if I proposed creating one for them in partnership with their hospital staff? Or what if I worked with the hospital to find out what parents’ needs are when their kids are hospitalized and help to create a volunteer program that helps meet those needs?
  • I love my grandma, who has dementia, a whole lot.  How could I get involved with a memory care center?  Or what if I interview my grandma and write her stories, collecting extra nuggets from her living siblings and her photos to create a passion project that’s the ultimate gift to my most favorite person? Chapter edits, fact-checking, and building the narrative under a trusted mentor would help elevate the work and serve as a beautiful nod both to my grit as a writer and my love for my grams.

When colleges like to see passion projects, they don’t care about prestige.  They care about personal connection, curiosity, growth, and meaning. No one expects you to cure cancer. You don’t necessarily need to pay thousands of dollars for a pay-to-play summer camp or research experience.

Being authentic, resourceful, committed, and curious can get you far in life. Go forth and build those skills to make a difference, no matter how small.