• Stephen Turban

30 Passion Project Ideas for High School Students

As many universities go test optional, the way that selective universities choose students has become increasingly qualitative. That means that universities look at the stories that students tell in their essays and the projects that they’ve created to back-up their admission profile. For many students, that means they are looking to create an individualized project of their own, AKA a passion project. This might include a research project, a student organization, an online fundraiser, a business, or any other series of possible projects.

So, what type of passion projects could you do? We break down six main types of passion projects and give you 5 examples of each. We draw from Julie Kim’s great video on passion projects here.

Here are 30 interesting passion project ideas for high school students:

Category #1: Complete a research project

Research is an excellent way to demonstrate your commitment and ability to take initiative in your interests. Research experience on your application shows serious and early engagement with the field you want to study.

1. Creating a machine learning algorithm to predict the price of bitcoin using subreddit data (and then tracking a portfolio over a year to see its effectiveness).

2. Creating a research project on the informal market in Mumbai, India.

3. Studying Billboard trends to conduct a research project on the rising popularity of hip-hop music.

4. Creating a research project on the presence of fractals in nature.

5. Landing a research assistant position with your academic interest by reaching out to professors in that field.

Category #2: Develop an academic-aligned, outside-looking project

Colleges are interested in students who create and find their own opportunities. Demonstrating a creative engagement with your academic interests helps set your contributions to your field apart from other applicants.

1. Develop a blog that is focused on neuroscience.

2. Build a podcast that interviews researchers in Machine Learning.

3. Write and publish a novel about surgeons in a hospital, solving interesting, unconventional cases.

4. Develop an app or website where people can pair up with language partners to practice.

5. Create social media marketing campaigns for local nonprofits that work on causes you are interested in.

Category #3: Organizing or hosting live events

Live events are a great way to show engagement with the community. Remember to record, upload, and publish your live events so that it can garner a broader audience, and you have a tangible record of it.

1. Curate a line up of your favorite local musicians and host live gigs online.

2. Host an Astrophysics trivia event on a live Instagram or Zoom event.

3. Go live on YouTube to talk about interesting developments in international politics.

4. Organize workshops on topics like mental health, career options, self-sustainability, or diversity and inclusion.

5. Organize a group to collect and distribute holiday gifts to underserved children or children in a local hospital.

Category #4: Build a social media presence

A social media presence is crucial to building up and broadening your audience. The impact of a project or interest can often be decided by the number of people who identify with it. Building your social media can help with having larger number of people show interest in your work.

1. Create a website that displays your work, projects, and interests.

2. Build your Instagram with content that reflects your academic interests.

3. Create content and post it regularly, engage with your audience through comments, contests, and interactive live events.

4. Collaborate with other creators who make similar content and share your interests, to broaden your audience.

5. Circulate your social media and website by speaking about them on podcasts, publishing content on blogs, and actively sharing links with your friends and family.

Category #5: Showcase your writing in publications or magazines

A published project showcases a very high degree of credibility, especially if published or featured in prestigious or widely read platforms.

1. Submit a research paper to renowned journals, such as the Concord Review.

2. Get your podcast featured in a magazine that writes about similar topics as yours.

3. Approach online journals to write a guest feature for their publication.

4. Publish a novel, or a collection of poetry or short stories.

5. Conduct and publish an interview with an academician in your field of interest, and publish it in a magazine.

Category #6: Start your own business

Starting a business is an excellent way to not only profitably share your interests and innovation, but also show responsibility and commitment.

1. Start a summer camp that teaches block chain to students 10-14 years old.

2. Create a drop shipping business with Korean cosmetics in your State.

3. If you excel in certain subjects, offer assistance to other students in your area or online, by starting an academic tutoring business.

4. Offer content writing and SEO services to online businesses and magazines.

5. Create a drop shipping business with books, clothes, or other products you are interested in.

How a passion project helps you stand out in university applications:

While good grades, high test scores, and a diverse range of extracurricular activities are important, they are also a common feature in applications for most top tier universities, and won’t help you stand out from the crowd. Colleges value students who take initiative and pursue their passions, because it shows that you care about something and have acted on it. A passion project in your application is a useful way to demonstrate not only who you are as a person, but also your ability to take initiative, as well as your ability to execute skillfully. In this way, they make your application more interesting and engaging, and set you apart.

According to a study by Acceptitas, a mentorship organization, more than 75% of current Harvard students completed a passion project in high school. Colleges look for students who haven’t simply thrived in school, but also pursued their hobbies and engage actively in their communities. Since they are difficult to complete, a passion project demonstrates a high degree of dedication and motivation.

How to select what passion project to do

The first step in deciding on a passion project is to figure out what you're enthusiastic about. This might be a specific cause, a certain topic of study, or perhaps something you're interested in or intrigued by! Working on something that truly interests you will boost your motivation and make it simpler to devote the time and effort required. It will also provide information to universities about who you are and what motivates you.

It would be helpful to ask yourself what your favourite subject in school is, what skills come naturally to you, what topics can you speak for hours about, and what problems of the world truly interest you. As you respond to these questions, you’ll most likely notice patterns and topics that appear again. Consider how you can merge these topics into a project that best showcases your skills and passion for it. You'll know when you've found the proper concept by how enthusiastic you feel about it!

One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are passionate about research, you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 1500 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.


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