The Ivy Coach Daily

July 21, 2021

Passion Projects in College Admissions

Applicants should not include admissions industry jargon on their college applications (photo credit: Namkota).

We’ve noticed a new trend on the resumes of students who are first coming to us for evaluations. The term “passion project” is often listed somewhere in the text. It’s as though these students and/or their parents are under the impression that college admissions officers at America’s elite universities are interested in admitting students who have been working on a singular endeavor — and that’s simply not the case. Now don’t get us wrong. From atop our soapbox in elite college admissions, we at Ivy Coach have been shouting for nearly three decades that admissions officers at top universities seek to admit not well-rounded students but rather singularly talented students. Together, these singularly talented students — be it the recruited baseball player, the award-winning science researcher, the policy wonk future politician — form a well-rounded first-year class. But a “passion project” is not a singular talent. What’s the difference, you ask?

A singular talent is developed through a host of activities. There are ultimately ten activities that students are asked to list on The Common Application. Several, though not all, of these activities should relate to that singular pursuit. If a student is a science researcher, several of these activities should thus relate to the scientific research they complete. If, on the other hand, an applicant lists a couple of science research-related activities, a few sports-related activities, some musical activities, and volunteering at a soup kitchen, that applicant has done his or her candidacy a disservice. In short, the applicant is all over the place. How is a student going to change the world in one specific way if they are so unfocused? And that’s precisely how admissions officers at America’s elite universities see it.

Lastly, college applicants are making a mistake to use insidery industry jargon on their applications. Just as waitlisted students should not call the love letters they send to the colleges that waitlist them Letters of Enthusiasm (a term we at Ivy Coach coined many years ago) or Letters of Continued Interest, applicants should not write phrases like “passion project” or even “hook” or “spike” on their applications. After all, writing such phrases implies they understand exactly what admissions officers are looking for and are essentially trying to game the system. One doesn’t game the system by providing the blueprint of how exactly they’re gaming the system.

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