You’ve probably heard of people–whether in the news, in your school, or in your friend group–who are lauded for being gifted in a certain field. Perhaps Tom is the star of the math bowl and studies Spivak’s Calculus in his spare time. Or maybe Emily started reading sheet music before she could read picture books and is an aspiring concert pianist. And that’s not to mention Regina, that girl who can do public forum debate like a champ and seems to have an entire room adorned with plaques and trophies. (Oh yeah, and she punched you in the face. It was awesome.) Nowadays, it’s hard to refute the idea that being extraordinary at one thing is often emphasized as being key to getting into a selective university. Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post even says, “Colleges want a kid who is devoted to – and excels at – something. The word they most often use is passion.”
In fact, even MIT Admissions acknowledges that “the college admissions machine turned [passion] into a buzz-word and stripped it of its meaning,” (although not without stating that applicants “should be invested in the things that really mean something to [them]”). It’s as if when you’re applying to college, you’re trying to advertise yourself from a particular angle, giving yourself a label of future doctor or prospective astrophysicist or soon-to-be novelist. But while there are some individuals who can wear a label like that with pride, with the utmost assurance that they know what they love in life and can write about it in a college essay, there are plenty of others who can’t. Michelle might find “love” too strong a word to describe how she feels about the chemistry, yearbook, and creative writing clubs she’s involved in.
Now, I want to say that having a passion–or trying to discover one–is far from inherently bad; if you’ve always liked writing and find that you adore spending time editing articles for your school newspaper, then that’s awesome. However, when parents try to force a singular passion onto their children to make them more appealing to admissions officers, it can be problematic (especially if it means they have to give up their other budding interests). In an ideal world, people would apply to college because they have a passion, but it sometimes seems that in reality, the reverse is more commonly true.
Rather than having a lone passion, you might have a variety of things you casually enjoy. You might volunteer at the animal shelter in your free time and participate in your school’s academic quiz bowl and occasionally go play badminton at the local recreation center. Or maybe the things that you are interested in aren’t all that conventionally flashy (or at least, not really things for which you have awards that you can put on your application). You might have been crocheting since elementary school and now are the go-to person at your school for getting custom-made winter gear, or maybe you have a reputation as the best League of Legends player in your school. You may even feel that your only hobbies are watching television and sleeping. Yet you might also feel that being able to binge watch Downton Abbey isn’t likely to be a talent that an admissions committee is searching for in its incoming class.
In the end, I’m not going to claim that passion isn’t important or doesn’t increase your chances of getting accepted to your college of choice. It’s hard to say that when many admissions officers say just the opposite. But at the core of passion is the willingness to take the time to hone a skill or nourish an interest (perhaps not a zealous interest, but an interest nonetheless)–something that really anyone is capable of. And demonstrating that you’re capable of doing so with more than one thing–perhaps not just doing biology research, but also singing a cappella–is not going to hurt you.