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Summering With an Open Mind: Passion, Discovery, and the College Admissions Process

“What are your passions?”
The answer to this question seems to be the new key to the increasingly competitive college admissions process. While well-roundedness was once considered the strength of a student’s profile, the tides have shifted and a demonstrated depth of interest in one area now supersedes the widespread dabbling that used to fill high-school resumes. And, because students’ school-year schedules are often stacked with AP classes, varsity practices, dress rehearsals, and several hours of homework, there is often little time during the school for a student to really explore their interests and learn about what resonates with them.

Which is why summer – those blissful two months set firmly outside the high-school curriculum – is the perfect time for students to explore. Recently, Quartz published an article quoting Everything Summer’s Jill Tipograph that discusses the lengths to which some students will go to discover their passions over the summer, and the desire to translate this experience into a captivating college essay. And at Everything Summer, we certainly believe that a well-designed summer can allow students to explore interests in a way that supplements their rigorously structured school year – in fact this belief is at the core of what we do.

However, while, in Jill’s words “the outcome optimally would be better preparedness for college and the admissions process”, this does not mean that a summer experience should be a passion shopping spree in which students arbitrarily seek out niche experiences that will stand out on a resume or in an essay. In fact, an experience that is sought solely for admissions purposes may not translate to a captivating essay, as a student who made the decision purely for admissions-based reasons will have a hard time articulating why they chose a certain route, and what truly interests them about their supposed passion.
Instead, a summer experience must be chosen because – above all – it will allow a student to further explore a subject or area that already interests them, and, crucially, this must be approached with an open mind. According to Jill, “the summer should be about self-discovery, passion, broadening horizons, and getting out of your comfort zone”. And it is vital to note that part of this self-discovery may involve a student realizing that they are ultimately not passionate about something that interests them, a realization that can ultimately lead to the discovery of a true passion.
As an avid lacrosse player in high-school, I spent the entire summer after my sophomore year attending lacrosse camps as I sought to further my interest in the game and potentially be recruited to play in college. And after a summer filled with nothing but lacrosse, I was, quite simply, tired. While I certainly liked the game – and I had been playing for multiple years at this point – this further exposure led me to realize that perhaps I didn’t want to play in college, and that I may want to explore other interests. The next summer, I did not continue my investment in lacrosse in an effort to force a passion where none existed – instead, I took an educational trip to Europe to study Roman Archaeology and Art History, and in the process, by chance, I discovered improv comedy and theatre.
I have not played lacrosse since high-school. And while I am still fascinated with art history and the classical world, I would not necessarily describe these interests as passions. However, theatre and improv are both interests that I have continued to invest in, because they are interests that speak to me on a deeper level. I wrote my college essay, honestly, about my discovery of improv and the road I took to get there – and fortunately, I was accepted to my first-choice school. I received my degree in theatre, and have participated in productions both during and after college.
While my experiences with theatre and improv have opened many doors for me, I did not explore these interests in order to secure college admission – on the contrary, I stumbled upon them entirely by accident. However, the fact that I was open to exploring interests outside my predetermined niche, and the fact that I was honest about what truly captivated me and what was simply interesting, was ultimately what allowed me to find a true passion. And so, as high-school students strive to find themselves in time to write their college essay, I would encourage them to search for passion, but not to force it. The self-discovery of a well-planned summer will make you a strong candidate, and a more mature individual – and eventually your passion will come to light.

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