Passion and Applying to College


1. Any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate;

2. Strong amorous feeling or desire; love; ardor.

3. Strong sexual desire; lust.

4. An instance or experience of strong love or sexual desire.


September and back to school for upper class high school students means, at least in many communities, preparing for college—or more precisely applying to college, a part of which is the self-revealing essay. The guidance office at our high school and the admissions officers who spoke at the information meetings that I have attended have adopted the use of the word “passion” as supremely important.  We are told that colleges want to see that the student is “passionate” about some endeavor.  As a Stoic and a person who can use a dictionary, I find that word poorly chosen and object to that criterion.

A quick glance at the pretty simple definition in the dictionary shows how misused or objectionable that standard is. Why would a student’s capacity for overwhelming feelings indicate success in college or career?  One might intensely love some activity and not in the least be studious, intelligent, insightful, innovative, diligent —all far more important qualities for higher education and after. In fact, if a student achieved a high level of competence at something that he or she did not like much, that would indicate a valuable quality of determination. Does one’s intense feelings justify neglecting the other courses that don’t incite one’s passion?  Passion, in areas of life that require self-discipline (or in life generally), is not beneficial. It is curious that anyone in the admissions process has seized upon this word.

Perhaps this criterion of passion is simply sloppy use of language and what is really meant is enthusiasm to achieve a notable level of accomplishment in some endeavor; still it is the level of accomplishment, not the feelings that are relevant. Most likely, and this could be the good news, colleges don’t really care about passions and are just indulging in reckless rhetoric, excusing themselves from a genuine and accurate use of words to conceal that they just want great SAT scores, top grades, stellar athletics, and or innovative and dedicated community service.  I think accurate use of language and intellectual honesty should weigh in as important criteria–for applicants and admissions officers.