Finding, Understanding, and Explaining Your Academic Interests

What are academic interests? Academic interests are topics about which the student is curious and wants to spend more time exploring. Examples of academic interests include biology, hisory, mathematics, language, coding, and robotics. Students find their academic interests by exploring a wide range of topics and reflecting on those that appeal most to them. 

The Importance of Academic Interests

Sometimes the most ambiguous challenges young adults face is figuring out their academic interests, so they can finally focus their enery on pursuing topics for which they care deeply and learn to find meaning in their work.

Once the student has their interests piqud by a topic, they should spend more time learning about it and spend quality time exploring it by setting dedicated periods aside just for that one topic, to better understand if it is a fit. If it is, they can take it a step further by joining a club, league, team, online class or take private lessons.

By discovering and expressing your academic interests, you’ll pay more attention in class because the topic intrigues you. You’ll also be better prepared for life after high school, finding it easier to choose your college major and potentially your career path as well.

In this guide, we will provide an in-depth look into the process of finding, understanding, and explaining one’s academic interests. From the humble beginnings of this self-discovery process to writing an academic interest essay and everything in between, teens and the parents who support them who are on the fence won’t want to miss this article.

What Are Academic Interests and Why Do They Matter?

Academic interests are academic topics that are of particular interest to you as a student. Everyone has different interests, depending on what gets them going. There really is no formula to how they develop. But there are important to find and nurture.

Before we can get into finding one’s academic interests, we have to discuss why they matter. Here are several points to consider that we touched on in the intro.

You’re More Likely to Pay Attention in Class

The first reason you should explore your academic interests in full is one of the more obvious ones. It reasons to assume that when you like what you’re learning about, you’re going to pay more attention in class.

This 2016 article in The Daily Texan cited a study from the UT College of Education. Erika Patall, the college’s professor, did the study. Patall wanted to know whether the subject material students learned could inspire them to retain information, pay attention, and do better work in class.

As part of the study, Patall worked with more than 200 students, all in high school. The students participated in a science class. According to Patall, engagement went up when the students learned about a topic they cared about.

A class that’s more engaged is one that’s more eager to learn. That means they get the maximum out of each lesson because the teacher feeds off the energy of the students. With better retention and an increased work ethic for topics of interest, students would likely get higher grades on assignments and tests about these topics as well.

If you would like to learn more about finding your academic strenghts (and weaknesses), I wrote an article on the topic that you will find helpful.

Choosing a College Major Becomes Much Easier

If you’re getting okay grades and you aren’t failing, then isn’t that enough? Sure, none of the topics you learn in school really spark your attention or passion, but that’s okay. Isn’t it all about your grades at the end of the day?

No. While a record of good grades will make the college admissions process easier, at some point, you must select a college and thus choose a major. Now, instead of being fed topics like math, history, language, and science as you were in high school, you’re the one in power.

You get to choose your path completely on your own. Your parents, teachers, and mentors aren’t there to guide you. It comes down to you.

This can be scary if you’ve never had an opportunity to think about what you like academically before, nor make major, life-changing decisions. If you just haven’t had an interest in school, you may also struggle with choosing a major. This decision is monumental enough even for students who know their interests. It becomes 10 times more difficult for those who don’t.

On the other hand, if you’ve followed a passion for a year or two or longer, then it may seem like a given to pursue it in the realm of higher education. You can then spend less time stressing about your major and more time preparing for your transition to life as a college student.

Selecting a College Could Become Less Stressful

It’s a dream of many high school students to be inundated with dozens upon dozens of college offers. If they cast a wide net, then most well-achieving students will hear back from a handful of universities and colleges that may want to have them. It’s not quite the dream, but it’s good enough.

How do you decide which college you should attend? For some, it’s all about proximity. Certain students may want to stay near their hometown, but many more will wish to spread their wings and fly as far away from home as they can get.

Other students will focus on tuition costs. More still might decide on a college based on the academic programs it offers. Let’s say, for instance, you’ve discovered in the past few years that you have an interest in English. If you had your eye on a certain college and it didn’t offer an English program, then you might reconsider attending.

Either way, setting and achieving you academic goals will become easier if you take the time to figure out where your interests lie. If you want to learn more about setting goals that align with your interests, check out this article I wrote on the topic.

You Have a Better Chance of Graduating College on Time

Most college students strive to finish their education and obtain a bachelor’s degree within four years. If they’re only chasing after an associate’s degree, then they split that time in half. Just because this is the goal doesn’t mean it’s always reality, though. The need for time off, the demand of outside jobs, and other personal matters can slow a student’s progress down.

Then there are the students who flip-flop on their major. First, they decide they want to study science, then psychology, then back to a branch of science. By switching from one major to another, students can lose credits. As you may know, you need a certain amount of college credits to move on and eventually graduate. Without these, you’re stuck there even longer.

As we said before, if you know what you want from the get-go, you can shave some of this extra time off. That’s not to say you can’t ever change your major. Sometimes you get to college and realize the topic you chose isn’t for you. Knowing your academic interests well will let you make a quicker decision and then continue on with your college coursework.

You Could Find Your Career Path Through Academic Interests

While some students change their major several times before graduation, you just may find the opposite happens for you. Instead, you like your first major so much that you decide to make it your career. After college, you may go on to obtain your master’s degree or just get into the working world in your career of choice. All this stems from learning about your academic interests in high-school.

Finding Your Academic Interests

Now that you know the significance of learning your academic interests, you feel like you should cultivate yours. How do you even do this?

That’s a good question, especially if you’ve never given academics much serious thought before. While many academic experts recommend finding your interests as young as possible, it’s never too late, especially if you haven’t graduated high school yet.

Here are some things you can try to discover which topics intrigue you the most.

Join a Club

If there exists a club about a topic you might be interested in, then join. We recommend starting at your school first, as there are many extracurricular clubs in just about any topic and interest you could imagine. If there’s not, then feel free to start one yourself!

Write a Blog

It’s easier than ever to create one’s own blog. When you have the time between homework, after-school activities and some much-needed downtime update the blog. Write as much or as little as you feel. Remember, you’re not getting a grade on your writing. Let your passion and creativity guide your blog.

Read Magazines and Other Publications

If writing isn’t your strong suit, you can still engage in your selected topic by brushing up on it. Subscribe to magazines, blogs, and publications in the industry. Not every article has to interest you, and that’s okay. Dive into the content that does and see what you take away from the experience.

Try Some Online Classes

If you truly enjoy learning, then you can always sign up for an online class afterschool. Look for
a free one so you’re not putting any financial strain on yourself or your parents.

Understanding Your Academic Interests

By now, you’re narrowing down what your interests are. You may have found something out of leftfield that appeals to you that you never would have guessed you’d like. Perhaps the topic you thought you always would enjoy didn’t really do it for you.

Why did one subject spark your interest over the other? That question isn’t always easy to answer. That’s why we’re presenting a handy list of questions to ask yourself as you decide which academic interests call out to you the most.

  • Do I really like this topic or am I only interested in it because I learn it every day in school now?
  • What is it about the topic that makes me interested in it? Is it history? The chance to make an impact on people’s lives? The future of the industry/topic?
  • Is this something I want to learn everything about or does the information I have now suffice?
  • Is this topic something I could make a career out of? Is there another interest I could follow that makes for a more suitable career?
  • Will this interest or industry be around in the next five years? What about the next 10 years?
  • Do I have another interest I like and can fall back on?
  • How much work will it take to pursue my topic of interest in college or even as a career?

We suggest you take each question on this list and go one at a time. You might want to write your answers down so you can refer to them later. Just be open to the fact that your answers may change over time.

These are deep, thought-provoking questions. It’s okay if you look at one of them, or more than one, and don’t have an answer right now. It’s also more than okay if you have to sit down with a parent or advisor and talk out these questions together. These adults can provide guidance that makes discovering your answer easier.

Exploring Your Academic Interests

By this point, you’ve pinpointed some academic interests that speak to you. You’ve also sat down and deeply pondered why these interests matter to you as much as they do. Now it’s time to explore those interests in full.

You can follow the same tips we shared for finding your academic interests. Instead of now dipping your figurative toes tentatively into the water, you’d dive right in. In a club, you’d strive to take on a leadership role if you’re not already doing so. Perhaps you write an article and try to get it published in your favorite industry magazine or website. You juggle online courses with your high school homework.

You might expand your interests to a community level as well, organizing a bigger club for those of all ages who are passionate about this interest. You could volunteer your time at organizations or charities related to your interest as well.

Not only does exploring your academic interests feed your passion, but it will also look amazing on your resume when you apply to colleges. The level of initiative you’ve taken in the pursuit of your academic interests will certainly impress many a college recruiter. Thus, you could increase your chances of getting into a great college and continuing to follow your interests through higher education.

Writing an Academic Interest Essay

Another great reason to figure out your academic interests is you might have to showcase them in an essay. Some colleges require this as part of their admissions process. You might be asked to write only 500 words or a much lengthier submission. A long essay with a lot of thought and passion put into it will look best.

You shouldn’t have any great difficulty writing such an essay if you’ve completed the work described up to this point. Still, we thought we’d talk about how to structure your academic interest essay for best results.

Introduce Your Academic (and Non-Academic) Interests

Begin your essay by laying out all the interests that drive your everyday decisions and motivations. These don’t exclusively have to be related to academics, either. Colleges know you’re a real person who doesn’t live and breathe school. If you can tie your non-academic interests to your academic ones in any way, then you can talk about the latter longer. Otherwise, a simple mention will do.

Discuss How You’ve Chased Your Academic Interests

What have you done at a high-school level to follow your passion? If you started or joined a club, wrote a blog, took an online course, or did anything else related to your academic interest, now’s the time to showcase it.

Talk about Your Future Goals

With your present and past out of the way, you want to focus on the future next. Describe your goals in college, including the major you will choose and the topics you want to focus on. You may even opt to touch on your career goals if you truly already know what you want. Don’t just mention them to impress college admissions, though.

For the most part, that’s it, you’re done! Some colleges will have more strict criteria for their essays. If so, then always defer to what they want. This section just provides a loose guideline of what you can write about for your academic interest essay.

We do advise you to be authenitc in your writing no matter the format of your essay. If you can show the same kind of passion and interest in your essay that you feel for your academic interest, then you’re sure to start hearing from colleges soon.

Conclusion

As a high school student, some students feel like they’re floating through each day without paying much attention to tomorrow. Sooner than later, though, colleges will come a-calling, so it helps to know what your academic interests are by that point.

These interests are for so much more than college admissions. An academic interest should spark your curiosity and imagination. You should feel like a sponge, absorbing as much information about the topic as possible. You can’t wait to get to college to learn more about your interest. In fact, you may even pursue it as a career path.

If you’re not quite sure what your academic interests are yet, we hope this article helps you look deep into yourself and begin the exploration process. Good luck!

Dr. Patrick Capriola

Dr. Patrick Capriola is the founder of strategiesforparents.com. He is an expert in parenting, social-emotional development, academic growth, dropout prevention, educator professional development, and navigating the school system. He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida in 2014. His professional experience includes serving as a classroom teacher, a student behavior specialist, a school administrator, and an educational trainer - providing professional development to school administrators and teachers, helping them learn to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of students. He is focused on growing strategiesforparents.com into a leading source for high-quality research-based content to help parents work through the challenges of raising a family and progressing through the school system.

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