Colleges Say They Want Students With Passion, But What Does That Mean?

Sit in on any college information session and you will invariably hear the admissions representative say they are looking for students with passion. Not only that, they want to know what that passion is. What does “passion” mean to them, exactly? And how, on earth, can you possibly express this on your application?

What this translates into in terms that can be easily understood is that colleges are looking for students who get really excited by something, anything, and actually pursue that interest in some way. The reason they are looking for this “passion” is that colleges want students who are going to come to their campuses and actually participate in their education, not just sit back and let it come to them. Students who show a zest for learning or passion for a subject matter are much more likely to bring that enthusiasm to the classroom and campus and make their (and others’) experiences at the school they attend that much more exciting.  

PassionSo, how do you figure out what your passions are? You might be 14, 15 or 16 and just trying really hard to do all of your homework and participate in the activities you’ve signed up for. How, on earth, are you going to find time for a passion too? It’s there, you just need help identifying it and knowing what to do with it. I tell the students I counsel to keep a running list of the things that excite them. Any subject they read about over and over, participate in, find themselves doing in their spare time or even a subject in school that they find they love should be written down on a list with some details about it. If you have a smartphone, keep your list in the notes section of your phone. This way, it’s always with you, and easy to maintain. No smartphone?  No sweat! Go the old school route and write it down in a notebook. Just keep a running list so that you can go back over it and look for commonality in the interests you have written down or look for things that really stand out to you.


So, now you’ve got a list, what next? Try pursuing one of the items on your list that you’re really excited about. For example, let’s say you are like one of my clients who absolutely lights up when talking about chemistry. That’s how much she loves it. That is a passion. So what can be done with this passion beyond taking a class or two in school? Why not try tutoring students in chemistry? This now takes a subject you’re really excited about and turns it into an activity. If you play a sport and love that sport, think about coaching younger kids or doing short-term clinics. If you adore history, think about time periods that you find exciting and seek out opportunities to go to museum exhibits, to living history sites, to meet people with similar interests to have discussion groups, to start a blog about your topic or just read about it. Let’s say cars are your thing. Why not go visit a dealership and ask to have an externship, (a more formal way of saying that you shadow someone for a few days to learn about their work)? It’s flattering to the professional and you can learn a lot about your interest. Or just spend time doing what it is that you love. By understanding what excites you, you can be a bit more mindful about how you spend your time and very easily be able to share with a college what you love and why.


Now on to the next step – How do you let colleges know about your passion? Once you’ve looked at the list you’ve been keeping, pick out a few items and try to articulate why they are important to you. If you love to play the piano, spend some time thinking about WHY you love playing the piano. Be able to articulate how it makes you feel and why you do it over and over. Once you can do this, you can speak about it in an interview or write about it in an essay. I once read an essay by a student who, when asked about his favorite activity, said that he loves to play the saxophone because it was his time to escape all the pressure of his day, lose himself in his music and create something beautiful that brought people together. Well said. He also was able to list the different school bands that he played in to show how he acted on his passion.  

So, why should you spend time trying to find your passions? It’s not just for the college application process – It’s for you. At the end of this process, you’ll know yourself a little bit better and have something exciting to share with colleges and with anyone else who’s interested and asks, “What do you like to do?” And don’t think that everything you do has to be a passion. Just one, well articulated, well demonstrated passion is enough to make a great impression on a college admissions office, or on anyone, and to make them interested in you and your passion.

This advice is provided by Anna Seltz, the owner of Higher Ed U, College Admissions Consulting located in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania. Prior to opening her own consulting business, Anna spent 13 years working in Admissions for American University in Washington, DC and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. She can be reached at [email protected] Check out Higher Ed U’s facebook page too.

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