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5 Questions to Help Students Prioritize Passions and Interests

By Emi Nietfeld, former IvyWise student

Passion. People die for it, poets write about it, colleges look for it. Yet, it’s so easy for passion to get lost in the flurry of assignments and deadlines. Finding the time to work on what you love is never easy, but it’s possible.

Besides being rewarding, your passions set you apart in the college admissions process. Grades and test scores can only go so far; your passions outside of the classroom add depth to your application and show the admissions office more about who you are.

When I worked with Dr. Cohen as an IvyWise student, she encouraged me to make time to pursue creative writing. Although finding the time was tough, it kept me sane during a crazy time, as well as improved my essays.

Prioritizing your passions now will also pay off later. I’ve wanted to write a book since high school, and this year I finally did it despite working full time as a software engineer, studying Chinese, staying in shape, and moving across the country. I did it by focusing on the same five questions I asked myself in high school:

1. What are my obligations?
What do you NEED to do, and when do you need to do it. Write out every single obligation you have: homework, each extracurricular, chores and family obligations.

2. What are my goals?
Close your eyes and imagine your future in five or 10 years. What have you accomplished by then? What do you want to do next to build on those accomplishments? Take a minute on the bus and day dream. If you had a free afternoon with plenty of energy, what would you do?

3. What are my priorities?
Using the answers from questions 1 and 2, list out your priorities. Then order them. Think about both the long term, your dreams for the future, and the short-term, this semester or the next couple of months.

4. What can I eliminate from my life?
We all have commitments we can’t control: sometimes the urgent essay deadline supersedes practicing violin. That’s fine. That said, take a critical look at how you spend your time. If an extracurricular distracts you from your passion instead of fueling it, consider dropping it. If you could write a killer song instead of binge-watching “Stranger Things,” decide if it’s worth it. This goes as far as thinking about how little effort you can do. It can be hard for a type-A student to say it’s “good enough,” but sometimes you’ve already earned the A and it’s time to focus on something else.

To make the time to work on my book, I ate the same dinner every day and limited my social events to once a week. While I got sick of chicken breast and suffered from FOMO (fear of missing out), I savored fun even more.

5. How can I make the space I need for my passion?
Do you need to be alone? Is there a library, coffee shop or corner of your room where you can always work? Or do you need to be with other people? Is there a camp you can attend or a mentor who can motivate you? Is now the right time to get started? Maybe you need to wait until the summer or until the day after submitting college applications. That’s fine too. When the time comes, you’ll be ready to dive in and pursue your passions.

Even though you may feel so busy you don’t think you can handle anything else, asking yourself these questions will improve your life. It will help you make hard, important decisions about your future. It will remind you of what you’re working towards. Most importantly, it will give you a sense of meaning beyond grades and college applications.