Let’s talk about SAT scores. Or ACT scores. Or any other mind-numbing standardized test our kids have to sit bubbling in circles for hours.

These tests have become an enormous part of the college application process. The colleges are out there boasting about the average SAT scores of their newly admitted students, which makes us think that they must be one of the most important parts of the application.

And that makes students feel incredibly stressed, as if they have to spend hours and hours preparing and trying to get their scores up.

But there’s something critical to remember about the test scores: spending so much time studying for these tests can actually backfire.

The truth is that colleges are desperate to find students who are creative, innovative and resourceful — but they flip through these stacks of applications every year only to find that most students appear exactly the same.

Most students spend all of their time trying to earn the highest test scores and the highest grades they can, but by the time they’ve closed the books, there’s not a minute left to develop their unique interests and skills.

As a result, their essays almost always end up uninspired because they have nothing different to talk about.

I always tell my students that 50% of the college application comes from the essays. But unless you LIVE a great story, you’ll never be able to TELL a great story. And the only way to LIVE a great story is to develop a genuine sense of purpose and passion.

Now, the question is, how can we tell our teens to find passion and purpose when the majority of their day they’re sitting in class taking notes and spitting it all back on a test the next day? Not exactly the most inspiring experience.

Well, here’s what I’ve figured out over the last 15 years of helping students prepare for college: every student needs to develop a project that showcases something they love to do and, at the same time, also makes a difference in their communities.

Because the process of creating and building a project that comes from what a student loves to do will allow our young people to walk into college with an enormous sense of confidence.

And this confidence that comes from seeing that they have the power to create whatever they think of to make the world around them a better place  — that’s what helps the colleges say YES.

It also ensures that the significant amount of money that parents are going to pay for their child’s college education will actually be well spent. Because when students develop a strong confidence in their abilities, they are so much more likely to THRIVE in college — and far beyond.

So, do this: start brainstorming project ideas. And start with these questions: “What do you love to do? What you are you good at? What lights you up? What kinds of problems do you want to change?” And see what kinds of intriguing answers you come up with.

I guarantee that whatever project you choose it will be so much more powerful than scoring a perfect SAT score.