Make Your Extracurriculars Work For You

Tips on how to maximise the impact of your extracurricular activities

A common misconception is that there are certain extracurricular prerequisites for universities; playing an instrument, writing a research paper, interning somewhere or playing a sport. However, our advice would be to not think about the number of activities but instead, think about the quality. Admissions officers want to see passion and dedication come through in your chosen activities. That may mean picking five meaningful activities that give an insight into who you are rather than mentioning 10 that haven’t contributed to your character in any meaningful way.

Sanjana Jobalia, a guest blogger for The Red Pen and student at Carnegie Mellon University, shares her insight: ‘At first, I joined this race and tried to complete as many activities as possible so that I could mention them on my résumé. However, towards the end, I was completely burnt out. I wasn’t interested in sports, but to have that category on my application I joined Karate classes and threw up every day before I realised that it wasn’t for me. I decided to stop half of the things I was doing superficially and focus on two or three things that really mattered to me – spoken word poetry, running a start-up, and community engagement.’

Here are a few tips to guide you when choosing your extracurricular activities:

Tip #1 Start early: Starting to think about extracurricular activities from an early age will give you more time to try out different activities, discover the ones you like and pursue them to a meaningful level.

Tip #2 Be consistent: Running one marathon or visiting an orphanage once isn’t enough. Without being consistent with your activity, it is difficult to demonstrate how the activity contributed to your character or your school/wider community. However, if you continue to visit that orphanage every week to teach the children basic skills in language, then it shows your initiative to engage with the community in a constructive way. Another example of consistency is someone who is a part of the football team in grade 9, becomes the captain in grade 10, and then organises a charity football game for a cause that he/she cares about the year after. This shows consistency and building on your passions rather than playing football for one year and golf the next.

Sports can be a good way to boost your application profile


Tip #3 Use your summers wisely: A few weeks ago, we published a newsletter on the importance of using your summer break wisely. If you are struggling to find time during the school year to develop an extracurricular activity then your summer break is an ideal time to build on that activity. To draw upon the earlier example, you could organise field trips for the orphanage children to show them new places.

Tip #4 Articulate what you’ve learned: You should be able to think through, understand and articulate what you learned from these activities. Apart from this, you should be able to describe how your involvement contributed to your school community, or how you grew through the activities. For example, you learnt how to take on responsibility, organizational skills, or how to manage people, among others. This will be particularly useful if your peers have the same extracurriculars as you, for example, participating in Model UN. Having something insightful to say in your essay or interview about your experience will make you stand out from your peers, rather than having it viewed as a standard activity.

Tip #5 Showcase Leadership: Another way to stand out to admissions officers with your extracurriculars is to demonstrate ‘leadership’.  There is more to leadership than just being a sports or a house captain. Coming up with creative ideas and getting other people to join you also qualifies as leadership. You can also demonstrate leadership in activities outside of school. The Red Pen recently met an applicant who, along with some classmates, started a social service initiative that matched the energy of young people to the loneliness of old age and retired communities. We worked to position this in her essays as a leadership effort by outlining how she came up with the idea, why it was needed, how she convinced her school and her peers to support it and what were the results.

Tip #6 Demonstrate interest in your major: Students who are interested in studying courses such as medicine and law in the UK, should give serious thought to planning their extracurriculars to make them relevant to their long-term goals. For example, applicants wanting to study medicine in the UK are expected to show an understanding of what it is like to be a doctor and to demonstrate their commitment to studying medicine through relevant extracurriculars such as volunteering in a care home/hospice or self-guided research on the health issues facing low-income communities in their area.

If you need assistance with any part of your university application or with direction in planning your extracurricular activities for maximum impact, please get in touch with us.

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