What’s the secret to getting a college acceptance letter versus a rejection? Ultimately, it comes down to your résumé. Accepted students have more than just strong academics on their applications; they’re also heavily involved in school clubs, volunteer work, and other extracurricular activities. At Moon Prep, we've interviewed dozens of admission officers from top colleges, medical schools, and summer programs to learn what they’re looking for in applicants. One recurring theme emerged: passion. Admission officers want students who are passionate about a particular thing and using that interest to impact their community. A passion project can be anything involving research, nonprofit work, inventions, or causes close to your heart. Here are five real passion project examples from students who were accepted at some of the most competitive colleges, BS/MD programs, and summer camps in the world, as explained by themselves and the admission representatives who accepted them.
1. Environmental inventions
Michael San Francisco is currently Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Texas Tech University. When he was Dean of the Honors College Clark Scholars Program—a competitive summer research program for high school juniors and seniors—he worked with top students who went on to study at Harvard University, Stanford University, Princeton University, and more. In an interview with Moon Prep, San Francisco shared one passion project that stood out to him. Through the Clark Scholars Program, the student worked to refine a water-purifying device from an environmental perspective. After the program ended, she entered it into national science fairs and won multiple awards. Her project was eventually recognized by former President Barack Obama, and Popular Mechanics endorsed her water-purifying device as one of the top 10 inventions of the year.
2. Development and improvement programs
Moon Prep also interviewed Nidhi Bhaskar, a first-year medical student at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School in the Liberal Medical Education program. One activity she dedicated a lot of time to in high school was a nonprofit called New Boundaries for Youth. Through the organization, Bhaskar created an annual competition for middle school students across South India, where she helped them research and build action plans related to environmental sanitation and sustainability. She also trained as a first responder through the Community Emergency Response Team of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Bhaskar leveraged this experience to create a similar program at her high school and five other schools to train fellow students about first aid and emergency preparedness.
3. STEM research and summer programs
Maite Ballestero, Executive Vice President of Programs and Administration for the Research Science Institute (RSI) summer program, shared that RSI's competitive program prefers to see students with fewer activities where they can expand more heavily on specific passions. "We want students to find out what they are passionate about and explore it deeply," she says. She also wants students to "exploit their surroundings in the most positive way." Some examples she gave were getting research published, earning a gold medal in a Science Olympiad, or attending summer programs within your field of passion.
4. Endeavors that serve your community
Professor Lewis Hamilton, Dean of the Albert Dorman Honors College at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, is especially interested in seeing how students serve their communities. In an interview with Moon Prep, he spoke about various students who had started nonprofits, including ones focused on tutoring underprivileged students, distributing menstrual products, or empowering women in South Asia to become entrepreneurs. He even spoke about a beekeeping enthusiast who started his own business selling honey. "What we are interested in is how you are serving your community,” Professor Hamilton says. “The advice we give students is to find what ignites their passion and then do it at the highest level possible, at whatever level they are capable of."
5. Any project that helps others
Dr. Carlie Phipps, PhD—Interim Dean of the College of Arts + Sciences at Suny Polytechnic Institute—says they’re looking for students with an "others-oriented perspective." In other words, they’re looking for students who are volunteering not because it’s a requirement for the National Honors Society but because they genuinely want to help others. Some of the passion projects she highlighted included a student who produced a set of braille blocks and a game patterned after Scrabble called "Brabble” for children who are visually impaired or blind. Other projects include making artificial arms and hands for children born without them. One student developed golf clubs for veterans who had lost fingers. “All these activities are unique because it's a multidisciplinary team working together,” Dr. Phipps says.
Building on your passions
While this list highlights passion projects that impressed admission officers for specific programs, it is by no means a blueprint to getting accepted. Instead of following the passions of others, explore what makes you excited! By turning your interests into impact, you can create a standout résumé and college application that can compete with other top applicants to even the most competitive programs, including medical schools, Engineering programs, summer camps, and more.
Looking for more advice on a project to pick up that will impress admission representatives? Check out these 6 Creative Passion Projects That Stand Out on College Applications.