Passion Project Ideas for High School Students in 2023
15 minute read
If I could give my high school self one piece of advice, it would be to stress less about school and to spend more time pursuing passion projects!
Doing a passion project comes with so many benefits: you can take a potential college major on a test drive; it can help distinguish you from other applicants in the college admissions process; and the most important benefit is that it can be a ton of fun! We’ve updated this list to include an even wider range of passion project ideas - they range from academic projects all the way to fun, creative things that you can do!
A passion project is an endeavor that is uniquely yours. It is not a school assignment or a prescribed task - it is your opportunity to explore an area of interest that is unique to you. It is usually something that you pursue outside the confines of school work or your profession. It is a project or a hobby that you are excited to pursue because you’re intrinsically motivated to learn about the topic and to devote time and energy to it. Most importantly, it is something that brings you a sense of joy, intellectual and creative fulfillment, and personal satisfaction, and something you can proudly showcase on college applications.
There are many benefits to doing a passion project in high school, but one of the most important is the opportunity to learn more about career paths. You can dive deep into a topic that interests you and see if that topic is something you could see yourself exploring further. A passion project allows you to engage with a topic in a way that you can’t get from just surface-level reading or research. Further, passion projects can help distinguish yourself as an applicant for college admissions. We’ve previously discussed on the Polygence blog how passion projects/research projects can help a student’s college application. In a time when college applications are becoming more test-optional and schools value extracurricular activities, passion projects can help you stand out. Finally, pursuing a passion project allows you to do something that you enjoy! You can choose what you want to do instead of being forced to learn about something you have no interest in.
Explore Real Passion Projects from our Students
Our students have done everything from animating award-winning short films to recreating historical dresses by hand. The common thread: exploring their passions deeply and creating something that is uniquely their own.
Writing a research paper exploring a hypothesis or a question
This is perhaps one of the most popular types of passion projects - the academic project! Do you wish you had more time to explore a particular unit that your teacher breezed through in school? Is there a nerdy question that’s been bothering you for months that you’re curious to find the answer to? Do you enjoy writing and clearly articulating your arguments and findings? If any of this resonates with you, this might be the right type of passion project for you! To get started here, you need to first identify what question(s) and hypotheses you hope to explore. If writing a research paper sounds exciting to you, check out our guide! Here’s an example of a behavioral economics research paper written by Carmen, one of our Polygence students.
Writing a review paper
If you’re fascinated by a subject area you don’t know much about, writing a review paper could be a great way to kickstart your passion project journey. There is tremendous value in learning how to distill, paraphrase, and summarize existing research for the rest of the world to consume. Being able to write strong, informative review papers is critical to getting yourself ready for original research. Polygence student Ahmet wrote his review paper on quantum algorithms. Check out our research showcasing opportunities to learn more about what journals and outlets are open to accepting review paper submissions!
Publishing a personal blog documenting your learning process
If you enjoy writing in a more casual setting with a wider readership, then blog writing might be for you! Whether you’re exploring an issue you care deeply about (e.g., prison reform, data privacy law), picking up a new hobby like tennis, or backpacking across the country this summer, keeping a blog can be a great way to synthesize what you’ve learned and share it with the world! Check out Irene’s interactive blog about Rome and Italy that she published on Medium!
Producing a podcast on a topic you care about
For those of you who prefer speaking to writing, podcasts are a great way to disseminate information! Podcasts are a versatile medium that allows you to achieve a range of goals. Whether you want to interview a series of inspirational scientists, make science accessible to younger listeners, or educate the world about your unique insights on a topic, podcasts can be a great way to do that! Polygence student Audrey chose this approach for her project and created a podcast about skin disorders and mental health.
Writing an experimental proposal
Lots of students think of white lab coats and pipettes when they think of the words “research” or “project”. But let’s face it, not all students have ready access to physical lab space and resources, and experimental design is. A great way to hone your experimental skills while you wait for space to open up is to practice crafting and designing an experiment that you can take to your school or an independent lab space afterward.
Designing an app or video game
Calling all creative minds here! Are you a gamer yourself or have dreams to design the next big blockbuster app or video game? It’s never too early to try your hand at this and learn some new skills! You can even combine your building abilities with a social cause and design a website or app for a social cause that matters to you! Note that you will need to have some basic coding skills in order to do this project. Polygence student Rohil developed a website to gamify the process of learning about software algorithms and used various front-end and back-end technologies to make it happen.
Creating a social media campaign for a cause that matters to you
Many of you out there are social media whizzes - combining those skills with raising awareness for particular social issues could be a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. Have you been wishing you could do more for your community? Want to do fundraising for a particular cause? There’s simply no better time to start than now!
Designing an infographic
Are you a visual thinker who marvels at the ability of a well-crafted visual to “speak a thousand words”? Pick a complex topic or process (e.g., the process of breaking down plastic molecules in the environment; the history of affirmative action in higher education), and design an insightful and clear infographic to educate the world!
Writing a creative piece - a novel or screenplay or something else!
Trying to satisfy your creative urges and put pen to paper? A creative writing passion project might be just the right thing for you. Whether you’re writing a novel or a creative nonfiction piece, getting started is often the hardest part. You can lean on organizations and programs such as NaNoWriMo to find a community of other writers and creators!
Starting a company or club
If there’s an entrepreneurial side to you that’s waiting to be let loose, starting your own organization or company could be the perfect passion project for you. Is there a product you’ve always thought should exist but doesn’t? Is there a club that you wish existed at your high school but doesn’t? Do you and your group of friends already meet up regularly to discuss a topic, a book, current affairs, or favorite video games? The possibilities are endless and starting your own organization is a really great way to hone your skills as a leader and doer! Polygence student Nayan developed an online tutoring business as his project.
Writing a song
For those who are musically inclined, composing a song and writing the lyrics to it can be a great way to both de-stress and build up your creative muscle! Whether you’re a classical musician hoping to untangle the secrets of Bach’s partitas and fugues or an aspiring jazz composer fascinated by syncopation and chord progressions, getting creative with music is one of the most rewarding passion projects you could engage in! Polygence student Ben was able to write and produce a full song from scratch!
Writing a series of poems
Are you tired of prose and want to experiment with the rhythm of words and language? Trying out poetry writing might be the right thing for you! You can pick your favorite poet and write your own verses that mirror their style, or you can pick a number of poets and create a mashup of their styles! If you’re interested in understanding the intersection between computer science and literature, you could even do a literary analysis project on the merits of using ChatGPT to write poetry! If you’re proud of your work, submitting it for publication in magazines, newspapers, or competitions is a great way to flex that creative muscle of yours.
Create a research project tailored to your interests and your schedule
Polygence pairs you with an expert mentor in your area of passion. Together, you work to create a high quality research project that is uniquely your own. We also offer options to explore multiple topics, or to showcase your final product!
Producing a photography exhibition
Are you a casual iPhone photographer but interested in learning more about what makes photos great? You can put together a local exhibition (or even one for your family and friends) with photos you’ve taken on a special trip, of a special someone, or even of still life around the neighborhood! The world of photography is vast and there is so much to learn - if you feel intimidated, start your passion project journey by following some photography blogs! Polygence student Thea created a photo essay to explore the tension between the tenderness expressed by the women of the Levant region and the violence they face.
Starting a fundraising campaign or a non-profit
Do you have a cause that you care deeply about? Starting a fundraiser or non-profit can be a fun and fulfilling experience because it gives you the opportunity to make a positive impact in your community or the world. It allows you to channel your passions, creativity, and leadership skills toward a cause you care about. Additionally, working with a team of like-minded individuals towards a common goal can be a bonding experience and provide a sense of accomplishment. The satisfaction of seeing the tangible results of your efforts and knowing that you have made a difference in someone's life is a reward in and of itself!
Learning a language and using it to journal
If you’re a language nerd and want your passion project to be both deeply personal and creative, learning a new language with the goal of journaling in it could be a great way to go! Language learning is a humbling and rewarding experience - it teaches you to think in a completely new way and to adopt a fresh perspective on the world. Passion projects don’t have to be world-shattering. Sometimes, the most fulfilling ones are deeply personal. As you progress in your writing, you can see your understanding of grammar and vocabulary expand, which can bring a sense of accomplishment.
Learning an instrument and holding a recital
On the topic of humbling learning experiences, learning to play a new musical instrument is very similar to learning a new language. Not only does it improve your musical skills, but it also develops discipline and perseverance. As you progress in your instrument, you can see your technique and ability improve, which can culminate in a performance you hold for friends and family, or for your wider school community. Public performance is an excellent platform to overcome performance anxiety and build confidence.
Building an AI model
Are you a computer whiz with some experience in artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML)? Are you excited to apply your skills to a social good passion project or to investigate a dataset that you’ve always been wondering about? Building an AI model that answers a question or tests a hypothesis you have is a great way to challenge yourself! Check out some past projects on AI that Polygence students have completed with the help of AI models!
Competing in a science fair or a competition
Are you a science whiz who wants to put your best foot forward at a science fair or a competition? We’ve got you covered! Check out our comprehensive guide on Regeneron ISEF - the nation’s most renowned science fair competition! There are a host of other local science fairs that you can participate in as well.
Developing a website
Have you always wanted to try your hand at building a website to educate the world about a particular topic? Have you always wanted to put your HTML skills and design chops to the test? Building a website might be the right passion project choice for you! If you don’t have the requisite coding skills needed to build a website, you can always lean on website builders such as Wix and SquareSpace to get started! to get started! If you’re looking for inspiration, check out Arnav’s website on Alzheimer’s disease which he made using Wix.
Constructing a prototype of your very own invention
Last but not least, there are plenty of passion project opportunities for those who prefer hands-on learning. Are you a knitter? A builder of robots? A constructor of models? Building something with your own two hands is a great way to engage with your passions. Think of a problem that you’d like to solve and let’s get building! For example, Polygence student Youssef designed a robot auto-snow-melter to help with his winter chores at home!
Creating a YouTube video
Interested in film or a big admirer of YouTube creators? Create a YouTube video to help others understand a topic that you’re passionate about. Try to be as creative as possible - there are so many different ways you can take this! If you’re looking for inspiration from existing creators, be sure to check out YouTube channels like Veritasium to get a sense of how you can create an informative and engaging video.
Creating a piece of art
If you’re excited about drawing or any other form of art, consider trying this for a passion project. You can look to create your own novel piece of work with your own technique, or even study from a master like Leonardo da Vinci to then inspire your own work. You can even combine this project idea with storytelling and create a graphic novel or comic book.
Making a series of TikTok videos
Educational TikTok videos are all over the Internet nowadays, and there are thousands of creators who are already dedicating themselves to making learning fun and entertaining. If there’s a topic that you’re passionate about and want to teach to an audience, consider making a series of TikToks that might catch someone’s eye as they’re scrolling through the platform. Creators like Cleo Abram and Hank Green are great examples and they don’t use any fancy techniques to make their videos engaging.
Creating a magazine or pamphlet
This could be an idea to consider if you’re interested in graphic design! You can take any topic that you’d like and present it in a pamphlet or magazine format, making intentional and creative choices about the design of the pamphlet. You can use tools like Adobe InDesign to get started with designing. Polygence student Sianna made her own fashion magazine that you can check out here.
Creating a board game or card game
This is a fun, out-of-the-box idea to explore! See if you can take an academic topic that you’re interested in and turn it into a fun game with its own mechanics and rules, and potentially its own unique board and game pieces. A potential idea could be to take a time period or concept from history and turn it into a board game with a realistic representation of people and events from that time period! You can also of course set the game in its own fantasy world and create a story around that world as well.
Performing your own one-person show or stand-up comedy routine
Think you have what it takes to make an audience laugh? Try doing a standup comedy routine! Develop your material by brainstorming ideas and writing down everything that comes to mind. Then you can look to edit and refine material by including themes, structuring the show, and practicing the performance. Perform in front of a live audience and use their feedback to refine the performance. This project can double as an opportunity to improve your public speaking skills and boost your confidence!
Analyzing a product
Passionate about new tech, retail, or fashion products? Love to give reviews or watch influencers give their take on new products? Analyze a product from a customer satisfaction perspective and then try to analyze it from the business’s perspective as well. How successful is the product in terms of its sales? How does it compare to the company’s existing products? How much does it cost to make?
Organizing a community service project
Help out your local community and boost your resume at the same time! A community service project can take a variety of forms, like doing a beach or public park cleanup, a neighborhood beautification project, or a food/clothing drive to support a non-profit or people in your community. Just think about something that would benefit the community in some way, and brainstorm what it will take to organize the event and what would be the best way to spread the news about the event.
Creating an online course
Do you enjoy tutoring or teaching others? Take that a step further by creating your own online course, which will allow you to reach a greater audience. Creating an online course with the topic of your choice is easy as ever, and can also be a great way for you to reinforce your knowledge about a topic and challenge you to explain it in an easy-to-understand way (which can often be very difficult especially when you get into advanced concepts). Here’s a great resource from Thinkific to help get you started on creating your own online course.
Organizing a career conference
A great passion project idea that often flies under the radar is organizing a conference! This is a bit easier to do if you’re affiliated with a school club, but see if you can get professionals or domain experts to come and speak to students and share their ideas. For example, if you’re part of a business club, see if you can find alumni from your high school who have careers in business and organize a conference where they can come and speak to students about their careers or specific areas of business. This conference can be a great event to put together for you and your peers to learn more about career paths. Furthermore, a conference has the flexibility to be either in-person or virtual. Finally, if you’re spearheading the effort to put together the conference, in your efforts to find speakers and alumni for the conference you’ll be able to meet so many great professionals who you can build relationships with and receive mentorship from!
The first step to embarking on your passion project is deciding what you want to pursue. Try using idea generation techniques, such as mind mapping or brainstorming, to discern where your true passion lies and what will be the best focus for you.
You can also find inspiration by exploring our lists passion project ideas that are specific to a topic or field:
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