You hear it often during the college application process: Be passionate.
But what does "passionate" mean?
Passion has to do with much more than applying to college or logging your volunteer hours on the Common App — it requires some tough self-exploration and discovery. While it may feel like you should already be certain of your passions, the truth is that most of your peers are still figuring them out. And that’s okay! You’re not expected to have your whole life figured out before you graduate high school.
Here are some tips for honing your interests in high school and beyond!
1. Take your interests to the next level.
Growing up, I was known as the avid cat-lover. I would dress up as a cat every Halloween and (to my parents' chagrin) adopted every stray cat that I found on the street. Sooner than later, my adoration for cats evolved into a care for animals. I convinced my mother to buy me a book on animal emergency room stories at a fair, and that is when I firmly decided that I would be a veterinarian one day. I ended up volunteering at my local animal hospital. It wasn’t a big job or anything: I was just a ten-year-old filing away pet information into folders and feeding the diaper-clad office cat. If I never became obsessed with cats and shadowed a surgery at the animal hospital, I never would have eventually discovered my passion for practicing medicine on humans. So, pursue that interest you have in whatever manner you like. You don’t know where it’ll take you!
2. Don’t neglect your “dislikes.”
If you can’t find something you’re interested in pursuing, try focusing on something you don’t like. People tend to know more easily what they don’t like than what they do. For me, that is math. (Especially Calculus.) As a STEM concentrator, I found that you (sadly) can’t avoid math entirely. So I applied to a summer camp where I had to take Calculus and Physics classes the summer before my senior year of high school, and that was the best decision of my life! I ended up meeting the best people in the world, and now I’m taking a class where I use math to understand Biology, my favorite subject.
Don’t like Physics? Talk to someone who does. Or, try reading Calculating the Cosmos by Ian Stewart. Still don't like it? That’s fine — I don’t consider myself a math junkie either, but I learned to appreciate what math can do. I urge you to look more deeply into the things you don’t like, and try to find treasure in them.
3. Ignore the haters.
There are going to be people that will aim to dampen your passions. They may think that the path to an acceptance letter is formulaic: a numbered list filled with a set amount of certain activities.
But you are not a resume, you are a human being.
I know firsthand how intimidating it can be to enter a field dominated by people who don’t look like you. And when certain people aggravate those differences instead of celebrating them, you can certainly feel like your passion is unattainable. What helps me in situations like these is to think of how small I am. (Weird, right?) I think of our galaxy, the billions of years that our universe has existed, and how our lives are so infinitesimally small in the grand scope of things. If our lives are so small and unique to us, why not use the time to do what you want? Your passion is yours alone — don’t forget that!
Let me end on this: You’re not going to solve the mystery of your passion in just four years of high school, or even four years of college. What you can do is never stop trying to find it. You do that by joining that club you’ve been itching to be in, trying out that sport that you’ve never played, or baking that mug cake you saw on TikTok — anything that satisfies your curiosity and makes you happy. Go and be passionate!