What does ‘showing passion’ really mean to the admissions committee?

By Maxine Seya

“Dear Socrates, I keep hearing this in different renditions.

  • Do something you’re passionate about.
  • Show you’re passionate about your activities.
  • Pick one or two activities you’re truly passionate about instead of five or six you don’t truly care for.

What does ‘showing passion’ really mean to the admissions committee? I swim on my high school’s swim team and am a staff writer for the school newspaper. I enjoy them enough, but I’m not sure if I’m ‘passionate’ about them.”

- Tenth grader from Maryland

Passion SocratesPost Issue 3 socratespost.com

Passion is an overused word in college applications, isn’t it? High school students these days are going crazy trying to figure out not only what a passion is, but also what theirs is and how to show it. 

Frankly, most working adults don’t even know if they’re passionate about their jobs or lives, so it’s perfectly normal for you to wonder as a teenager. As a high schooler myself, I competed in four sports, multiple bands and small ensembles, and countless leadership activities. I enjoyed them, but never knew if any of those activities were my “passions.” 

The Oxford Dictionary defines passion as “an intense desire or enthusiasm for something.” Why would colleges look for young people with an intense enthusiasm for something? An intense enthusiasm for a subject, an activity, or a cause is a pretty good predictor of future success in it. It brings liveliness and vivacity to a college campus where students are open to being inspired, awe-filled, and active. These students lead movements, people, and organizations. Without extreme enthusiasm, it’s easy to fall short of these impactful accomplishments because, let’s face it, rising to the top of anything is difficult. You’ll be distracted by other commitments, peers, setbacks, plateaus, and voices telling you to stop aspiring for the success you want. What’s the one thing that fuels us when times get rough? An intense enthusiasm for what we’re doing. Not money, not time, not people, and certainly not parents telling us what to do. In other words: passion. 

Showing passion and commitment for a self-chosen activity -- whether it’s playing musical instrument, competing in a sport, promoting a cause, or even mastering a subject matter -- as a highschooler demonstrates you have the character and experience to be the leader whom colleges want to represent their institution. Colleges want their students to make them look good. They use their successful students as free testimonials. Others see a university’s sampling of students who embody typical traits of success -- executive leaders of large corporations, creative inventors and entrepreneurs, Broadway actors and singers, famous scholars and writers, revolutionary political figures -- and think highly of the university that produced them.

For example, SocratesPost’s latest investigation into the 2019 college ranking methodologies taught us that the schools who produce the most alumni recognized in one of Forbes “Top” People lists get ranked higher.How did most of those individuals make it to the “Top” lists? They accomplished the feat by demonstrating an intense enthusiasm for what they’re doing, thereby overcoming all obstacles and setbacks. Admitting individuals who have proven bouts of passion as a high schooler is a safe way for colleges to ensure they’ll get the good publicity they need. A higher ranking can mean more attention and fame, which ultimately means more money for the college. Never doubt how much large institutions like colleges will do for money. 

The ultimate question is this: how do we show admissions committees our passion?

The key is to show the admissions committee that you’re an engaged, curious individual who has not only persevered through difficulties, but also learned from them.

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Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.