The student news site of Benilde-St. Margaret's School in St. Louis Park, MN

Knight Errant

The student news site of Benilde-St. Margaret's School in St. Louis Park, MN

Knight Errant

The student news site of Benilde-St. Margaret's School in St. Louis Park, MN

Knight Errant

The Passion Project Problem

Brynja Lockman
Passion projects are academic Trojan horses: they seem great on the outside but are empty inside.

No aspect of a high schooler’s life is exempt from being affected by the ever-permeating college fever. Everywhere we turn, the focus is on college. Social media is no different. To get ahead, it feels as though we have to consume every single shred of information available. Maybe then we’ll achieve that elusive advantage. The college process has been packaged into sets of neatly colored Canva infographics, explaining to dutiful students across the United States how exactly one can develop a perfect application and achieve hopes of making it to an elite university. Among a medley of other buzzword-filled advice, one alliterative suggestion stands out: Make a passion project.

As numerous college-prep-centric Instagram accounts have informed me, a passion project is a project or initiative that simultaneously benefits society, demonstrates a student’s dedication and leadership, and highlights unique interests that may be lost in a college application. In a world where college standards and focuses are changing faster than ever, passion projects offer a seemingly all-encompassing solution. The pastel social media posts and fast-paced videos have convinced us: to get that acceptance, a passion project is practically non-negotiable.

While I respect the idea of a passion project and the work that many students put into it, our focus on passion projects is one of the most detrimental parts of the college application process. Passion projects as we often see them need to either evolve or hit the road, and frankly, I question the assertion that they’re as important as they’re made out to be.

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Many students create a business, organization, or group specifically as a passion project. Although the idea is admirable, the execution is often poor. The sheer amount of passion projects have oversaturated the market, and it seems like everywhere you turn there’s another relatively empty organization. Students have zeroed in on starting something of their own, often without long-term plans for its organizational future. When our society has put so much pressure on students to constantly start the next big thing or have a fully developed resume by the time they graduate, things will inevitably go awry.

To be clear, well-executed passion projects that plan for an existence beyond their creator’s high school graduation are not at fault, nor are the businesses and organizations started out of legitimate interest. I have an issue with the organizations started for the sake of starting something, many of which do not effectively meet a need or do any real work. I can’t help but feel that this is a product of putting an extensive emphasis on the appearance of college readiness, to the point where resume boosters have now taken the form of actual groups. In their current forms, many passion projects exist only to beef up a LinkedIn profile or seem impressive to admissions officers.

The same is true of volunteering. In my experience, many people see volunteering as a box to check off for a good college application. Some of the volunteering experiences touted don’t even seem to be volunteering at all. I believe it’s important to differentiate between simply volunteering and volunteering as a college acceptance strategy. It’s crucial to do things for the right reasons. I firmly believe that our current college admission system does not honor that, and instead places additional pressure on students to juggle a debilitating workload and a variety of other side projects.

Additionally, the focus on starting new organizations can detract from participating in already-established groups. It’s far less effective to have dozens of small, newly-minted organizations that all try to meet the same goal than it is to have several larger and more cooperative groups that have already been established. Starting a new organization takes a lot, and many passion projects are squeezing into an already-saturated niche. It may be worth it to consider the work one could do by fitting into an existing organization, as opposed to starting a new one.

Ultimately, the problem lies with organizations and businesses that are designed solely to shuffle their creators into college like some sort of academic Trojan horse. There are a great number of businesses and organizations that are completely legitimate, started of genuine passion, and should be lauded. However, when we take the actual “passion” out of the passion project and see it as just another means to an end, it becomes unhelpful. As a society, I believe we need to drastically shift our priorities and strive for action that creates real change.

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