We often hear college admissions say they look for students who are passionate. But how do you, as high school students, know where your passions lie? If you are reading this article and feeling somewhat stressed about finding your passion, you are not alone. In fact, as students often complain in our college counseling sessions, “I have absolutely no clue what I’m passionate about!”
High school is the best time to explore and identify your passion that will motivate you for years to come. Passion gives you the energy to remain focused, and when it may not seem possible, you do it anyway. Nowadays, with college admissions becoming more selective, finding and pursuing your passions has become an important part of high school. The earlier you know your passions, the better position you will be to lead an engaged high school life, to create synergy between your classes and extracurriculars, to build a strong college application, and to mold your early career and life around it.
In this article, we share concrete, actionable steps to help you identify your passion in high school. Not only will these steps make your college application more impressive, but they will help you get practical experience, develop important learning and life skills, and build social and professional networks. The process of finding your passion can be challenging and time consuming, as you will see from our suggested endeavors below. So, start early and be proactive.
Identify Your Academic Strengths
Taking classes and getting good grades is a major part of high school. Which classes do you find most interesting or meaningful, which ones do you feel most engaged with and want to learn more? For those subjects, you should take a deeper dive by seeking additional learning opportunities, such as joining a relevant club at school, participating in a pre-college summer program, taking relevant online classes, and engaging in a research or internship project.
Keep in mind that these subjects do not have to be those where you earn A’s, because grades may not be a perfect indicator of your academic strengths. Too often we have seen students disengaged from a certain class because of one specific teacher that s/he perceived as inadequate. You may not like a certain class, a teacher, or the grade you received, but do not let one negative experience dissuade you from exploring the field.
Explore Extracurricular Activities
You will never know if you like something until you try it for yourself. High school is a perfect time and place to experiment and to learn about yourself outside of classes. Chances are, your high school offers sports, music band, orchestra, academic clubs, and many other opportunities to help you identify your passion. Try everything that piques your interest. Do not limit yourselves to what you have already done. Keep an open mind, and push yourself out of your comfort zone. If you do this as early as your freshman year, you will eventually find a few activities that truly interest you. Later, as an upperclassman, you can cut down on the number of activities to focus your energies on the few newfound passions.
Explore Online Courses
Thanks to the rapid development of MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) sites such as Coursera and EdX, thousands of free or inexpensive online courses are at our fingertips. These courses are taught by some of the world’s most prestigious universities, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Penn, and others, as well as industry leaders, such as IBM, Microsoft, and Google. You can learn about machine learning from a Stanford professor, or business and entrepreneurship from Wharton faculty, or learn Asian history and culture without leaving your home. Online classes provide a great, convenient opportunity to either deepen and narrow down your interests or explore new subjects beyond the scope of your textbooks. Once you have taken a class, you will either be motivated to learn more, or ready for a change of subject.
Talk to Professionals
One of the best ways to learn about a subject is by talking with an individual working in that field. Your parents, teachers, family friends, and other adults in your life are excellent sources to learn about different passions and careers. These conversations will help you gain an understanding of various career paths and the day-to-day lives of people in a certain field. If you cannot find such professionals in your life, look at community organizations. Usually, there are working professionals volunteering their time and expertise at those organizations, and they will most likely be willing to talk with you. Maybe these conversations could turn into an internship or a research opportunity. At the very least, you may start to build up a professional network.
Participate in Pre-college Summer Programs
Pre-college summer programs are a perfect place to explore or deepen your interest in a certain field. Some are as competitive as Ivy level college admission; these programs are suited for students who typically have found and demonstrated their passion through stellar grades and relevant extracurriculars. However, many pre-college summer programs at prestigious universities aim to help students explore a certain subject, and these programs are not hard to get in. Regardless of the selectivity, you will learn some fundamental theories, policies, and practices that are taught at the college level for a certain subject. You will go on field trips and engage in conversations with industry leaders or working professionals. These opportunities will give you a “preview” of what you will be doing if you choose this major in college and pursue this career path in the future.
Explore Books, Podcasts, Autobiographies, and Documentaries
One of the most effective ways to figure out your passion is by immersing yourself in reading, watching, or listening to the topics that have piqued your initial interests. For example, say you find business and entrepreneurship interesting. You could listen to podcasts on managing or starting a business, or read autobiographies of successful entrepreneurs. Or, if you love the ocean, you could explore podcasts and documentaries on marine biology and environmental science. Not only would you learn more on the topic, if you find yourself wanting to learn more, you will know this is something you are genuinely passionate about.
Volunteering is a practical way to identify and pursue your passions. Nonprofits such as hospitals, clinics, libraries, and museums in your area are almost always looking for volunteers; some local companies also offer these opportunities. The size of the organization matters less than being able to align your interests with the volunteer work. Typically, hospitals and larger nonprofits organize volunteers in a more structured way, and even have standard protocols or well-developed programs for volunteer training and promotion. But volunteering at small organizations can be just as valuable; you may be thrown into the thick of things and even work closely with a full-time staff right away. Whatever you do and wherever you volunteer, make sure you volunteer on a regular basis for a prolonged period of time to show your dedication and passion for the work.
Get a High School Internship
Once you have some general idea of where your passions lie, internships are the best way to deepen and narrow down that interest. Not only are internships impressive on a college application, but they are also the most effective way to gain first-hand insights into potential career paths. Many companies and organizations, including both local and large, international corporations, offer internship opportunities for students as young as freshmen in high school. These internships are often offered in the summer to fit your schedule. Note that compared to volunteering, internships are harder to find, and typically have a screening process which can be quite competitive.
Turn Passion into Majors and Careers
Each passion can lead to many different careers. Say, for example, your passion is math. You could become an economist, a financial analyst, a data scientist, an auditor, a trader, or a math instructor. Or, if you are passionate about writing, you could become a journalist, book editor, content writer, and media specialist, among others. Each career choice may need certain types of majors and degrees. So, before you decide on a college major that aligns with your passion, try to get some idea about whether this major would fuel your career ambitions.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics website is a great place to start. This website offers a wealth of resources for students to explore different career options, ranging from expected degree and major requirements to starting salary. Another great and convenient way is to check out job listings. Go on LinkedIn, Indeed, or any other job website, type in a potential career name, and read the job descriptions carefully. You will gain a better understanding of what responsibilities are expected for a certain position and what qualifications employers are looking for.
The journey to finding your passion is a unique and personal one. Do not blindly follow the suit of your friends or classmates. If you feel too stressed to focus on finding your passion, focus on what you love to do, what you are curious about, and what your strengths are. You will have many opportunities to continue the exploration in college. After all, your passion can and probably will change throughout your life. Keep trying and be passionate!