5 Side Project Ideas for High School Students

Posted on July 31 2020

A woman points a camera lens toward the viewer.

Writing a novel, building a website, and starting a podcast are just a few side project ideas for high school students. Projects like these allow for exploration—an important part of the high school experience. During high school, students try new activities, learn about a variety of subjects, and discover what interests them. Side projects help students find their passions, determine their potential college majors, and develop key skills such as critical thinking and time management as they work toward earning their high school diploma.

Why Are Side Projects Important? 

Creative side projects benefit high school students in many ways that play a critical role in their educational and personal development. Side projects help high school students do the following:

Foster Their Autonomy

Side projects give students a sense of autonomy and meaning, help them realize their potential, and open up future opportunities, according to self-improvement website Life Optimizer. Since high school students don’t get to make a lot of educational decisions, a side project allows them to choose something for themselves.

Uncover Their Passions

Exploring a range of art- and technology-driven side projects helps students determine their passions. Once they find what interests them most, students can make key decisions regarding their future, such as college major or potential career path. For example, a student who is interested in visual art might consider a career in web design.

Improve Their Mental Health

Side projects are also shown to improve students’ mental well-being. When students take the initiative to pursue a side project, they are free to make decisions that benefit their mental health, as technology company Thrive Global explains. This is often the case when students pursue projects that are a creative outlet, which helps relieve daily stress. 

Increase Their Focus and Motivation

Experts find that when an individual discovers something they love to do and engages in that activity, they enter a state of flow—a sense that time is flying when they are working on a project. According to Forbes, flow reduces anxiety, boosts mood, and slows the heart rate. It also triggers dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps us strive, focus, and find things interesting, which is why dopamine transmission motivates students.  

Creative Side Projects Students Can Pursue 

Side project ideas for students can be designed to suit different interests and passions. Below are five types of creative side projects high school students might consider.

Writing a Novel 

Putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys) through writing a novel is a great creative option for a side project. The writing process — creative writing specifically — increases observation skills, according to the Writing Cooperative, an online community for writers. It allows students to translate their daily observations into an entertaining or moving story. Writing a novel increases creativity and perseverance, as the process takes time. Students will also develop the ability to accept criticism. For example, when their work is critiqued, they will learn to listen and evaluate the reader’s feedback. After graduation, high school students can take these skills into college or a new job, responding to constructive criticism, applying creativity to other projects, and creating change through their observations.

Building a Website   

Building a website is an interdisciplinary side project. It requires students to design, write, code, test user experience, and learn content management systems, according to Webflow, a visual editor platform. As students build their websites, they will gain skills in typography along with composition and attention to detail. These skills can translate to numerous jobs and college majors, including communication, design, and computer programming.

Starting a Photography Project

High school students can pursue multiple genres of photography as a side project. Regardless of the one they choose, they will increase their skills and knowledge of photography hardware and software as well as composition. As they become comfortable with adjusting the aperture of a camera, visualizing and setting up a photo, and editing images in Photoshop, students learn to pay attention to detail. The skills they gain starting a photography project will follow them into their careers. For example, if they choose to become a photographer or major in photography, they will have an understanding of the basics of the industry, as well as a trained eye.

Launching a Podcast 

Launching a podcast is a great opportunity for high school students to grow their communication skills. They will learn to listen, ask the right questions, speak consciously, and enjoy the silence, according to online publishing platform Medium. Students will also learn to use editing software such as Adobe Audition. All of these skills can directly translate into careers such as working for a radio station or advertising agency. They will also give students a head start on the course curriculum in a major such as communication. 

Creating an App    

Creating an app mixes art with technology. High school students will gain skills in programming languages, platforms, and computing. They will also learn to pay more attention to minor details, hone their project management skills, and boost their creativity. After graduation, they can use these skills to get a coding job or use them in their college coursework if they major in computer science or programming.

How to Get Started

To get started on a side project, a high school student should take the following steps:

  1. Brainstorm a list of project ideas.
  2. Gather feedback on their project ideas from family and friends.
  3. Select a project they can realistically achieve while balancing school, social activities, and family life.
  4. Decide what tangible results they hope to gain from the project.

Discover The American Academy’s High School Diploma Program

The high school experience looks different for every individual. That’s why The American Academy helps students finish high school on their own terms. The accredited high school diploma program allows students to map out a graduation plan that works for their schedule. Furthermore, advisors work with each student to set up a payment plan to make the program more affordable for them. Discover how The American Academy’s high school diploma program can help students prepare for the future.

Recommended Readings

Now You're an Online learner, What to Do With Your "Extra" Time

How to List a High School Diploma on a Resume: Why Earning a Diploma Makes a Difference

Six Tips to Create a Productive Study Space at Home


The Balance Careers, “Important Skills Photographers Need With Examples”

eLearning Industry, “3 Mobile App Development Skills That Are the Hot Ticket to a Bright Future”

Entrepreneur, “Why Personal Passions and ‘Side Projects’ Are So Important for Entrepreneurs”

Fast Company, “Starting a Side Project in 2018? Here’s How to Make it Successful”

Forbes, “Here's How Creativity Actually Improves Your Health”

Forbes, “Should You Start a Side Project?”

Harvard Business Review, “How to Figure Out What Your Side Hustle Should Be”

Life Optimizer, “The Why and How of Having Personal Projects”

The Medium, “10 Life Lessons I Learned From Starting a Podcast”

Thrive Global, “5 Reasons Why Side Hustles Can Benefit Your Mental Health”

Webflow, “20 Essential Skills for Successful Web Designers”

The Writing Cooperative, “Six Qualities You Need to Be a Successful Author”