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Think Twice Before Embarking on a "Passion Project"

Summer is still months away, but many high school students are wondering what they should do this summer.

A job? Sure. Volunteer? Absolutely. Passion project? Wait, hold up. Did you just say "passion project"? 

Passion project is a term that some individuals use to describe a project that the student does to look good for colleges. It carries a negative connotation among admissions officers and deans of admission. The term is often used by individuals who have no actual college admissions experience, yet they are counseling students through this process. In fact, there is a private college counselor charging families hundreds of thousands of dollars who uses the term "passion project." And guess what, this counselor has never worked in a college admissions office or at a high school as a school counselor.
The term "passion project" sounds contrived. When it is presented in an application, it sounds gimmicky and not at all genuine. But individuals who suggest this have never actually been on the inside of the process and therefore have no idea how it comes across. 
Being a teenager isn't about getting into some elite college for doing something that will look good. It is about being good. And recognizing who you are, what makes you distinctive, living your truth, and following your own path. Getting into college is a goal for many, but it is a byproduct—a lovely one at that—of being true to yourself. 
If a student has a "passion" and wants to do a "project," do it for the right reasons. It should be completely free. It should be homegrown—meaning you are doing it yourself and you are doing it because you can't imagine doing anything else with your time. You need to carefully log your hours, efforts, and results in case a college asks for verification after you submit your application. Yes, that can happen. 
The best homegrown ideas that I often offer to students are rarely done, though. It takes so much discipline to do something on your own without it being a vehicle to get something in return. Yet when it is done with heart and authenticity, it is a beacon in a student's application. A stunning example of what the student is capable of in college. How do I know? Because I have read and made admissions decisions on hundreds of thousands of students in my career. 
Writers could spend their entire summer writing a manuscript. Artists could put together a collection of art with a theme and message that speaks to their Soundbite. Budding scientists can use their high school's lab to try their hand at something they are desperately curious about. Computer science fanatics could come up with a solution for a technology issue in their community. Business-savvy students can help local residents fill out their taxes. 
There is a theme here. Do something that gives you or others joy.

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So try to avoid using the term "passion project." Instead, just do something that is pure. It doesn't cost any money to be yourself and to help others. Passion doesn't necessarily translate to action. But doing something driven from within translates into a beautiful testament of authenticity. I should know. I have spent my career doing what I love instead of what others want me to do.