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Australian Students Make an Impact with Outstanding Extracurriculars

SEP 04, 2020 • 12 min read

How three Australian students maximised their extracurricular opportunities to gain admission to Duke, UPenn and Cornell.

The competition and extracurricular profile of students applying to the US are of a high, global standard. Extracurriculars play a strong role in the holistic evaluation of the US application and are considered to be an important accompaniment to a student’s academic profile.

In fact, extracurricular and leadership projects can have a huge impact on an admissions officer’s decisions - weighing as much as 30% in the entire US application process.

So how do you build extracurriculars that impact - especially during COVID-19?

The key to having a standout extracurricular profile is authenticity. A good extracurricular activity or idea explores your genuine interests and passions. Think about what really excites you and build that into an activity that makes a positive difference to the community.

Whether it is playing sport at a national level, organizing a competition, or taking up a leadership role in the community, Australian students are blessed with a plethora of extracurricular and leadership opportunities - many of which can be driven online. Below are three extracurricular examples of recent admits to Duke, UPenn and Cornell from Australia.

Download Crimson’s online-focused extracurricular e-book that is filled with opportunities and inspiration to help create impactful extracurriculars during COVID-19. Download the free e-book today!

Alanna , Duke Uni Admit - Intended major in Mechanical engineering.

Passion & Hobby ECL

The Interactive Card Playing Robot that I designed, programmed, and constructed in year 12 was my most impactful extracurricular on my university application. After creating the robot, I entered it - and placed second - in the Young ICT Explorers STEM competition. I also taught various schools’ robotics teams how to construct it, a skill which expanded on my consistent mentoring of robotics groups throughout high school; and I created an instructional video that I posted on Carnegie Mellon’s PIXYCAM Projects website and Youtube. Before the Regular Decision Application round I was also intending on taking it to the Italian Nursing homes where my Great-Aunt and Uncle had lived but discovered I had been accepted into Duke before that date.

I chose to create this project, because as a child I used to play Briscola (an Ancient Italian Card Game that is similar to Trumps) with my parents and my Italian relatives, but since I was an only child I often didn’t have a partner to play with. I knew that my project would be very unique and I was passionate in all facets of the project due to my interest in engineering, my Italian heritage, and my desire to amalgamate unusual technologies like LEGO Mindstorms and PIXYCAM. The project also built on my previous skills from competing in robotics competitions and my skill at teaching different schools’ robotics groups how to construct my card playing robot.

My recommendations for creating meaningful extracurriculars is to firstly come up with an idea which has relevance to either your family history, your previous extracurricular interests or, even more impressively, both. If you are creating a design project enter it into competitions - even if you don’t place it shows dedication beyond just creating a project. Then try to incorporate elements of philanthropy in. Whether it is selling your project, teaching others how to make it, or doing connected projects to help others this shows the University you are applying to that you will be a valuable asset to have around campus. Finally, see if you can get recognition by organisations. In my case, this was on the Carnegie Mellon website, because PIXYCAM was designed by some of their alumni. Some excellent ways to do this are through social media, newspapers, or attracting the attention of influencers in the branch that you are working on.

Want to learn more about what's involved when it comes to building the ultimate extracurricular project? Check out these online extracurriculars examples from Crimson students.

Dave, Cornell University Admit - Intended major in Chemical engineering.

Local Community ECL

In my application to US colleges, I wanted to emphasize two ideas: I am a STEM-driven student and I love being involved in the community. Throughout my academic life, I have leaned towards STEM subjects. I did triple sciences and higher-level mathematics at high school and took Math 2, Chemistry, and Physics subject tests. In addition to that, many of my extracurricular activities involved interacting with others and giving back to the community, from serving in the Student Council to volunteering in the local op shop to tutoring students. With that in mind, I wanted to initiate a project and lead a program that draws a connection between the two aspects. That is how I came up with the idea of kickstarting my own STEM mentor club. Through this club, I was able to combine my passion for STEM with my want to impact the local community in some positive way, in this case, being able to advance scientific literacy and invigorate STEM interest in younger students.

Initially, I started an engineering club and the idea was to allow members to get together, discuss current STEM events, and occasionally make some STEM-related projects. That did not work out so well because most of us did not have the technical skills (e.g. coding, circuits, etc.) to start projects and many members were just too unmotivated. So, I had to find a way to divert the focus to something else, and that is when I came across the afterschool care program at the Junior School. I turned the club into a mentorship program, and as a group, we organized weekly one-hour STEM-related activities for on average 30 Junior School students. Before that could all happen, I had to do the paperwork: I coordinated administrative details with the Head of Senior School and Head of Junior School and managed logistics with the afterschool care program coordinator. As a club leader, I was responsible for delegating duties and organizing roster lists, making sure that every week, enough people are assigned to hold the program activity. In addition to that, I supervised regular meetings and brainstorming sessions and managed the required logistics.

Overall, the mentorship program was a success. We received positive feedback from the Head of Junior School, as well as parents and students. It became so popular that students in the afterschool care program were telling their parents to pick them up later because they wanted to join our activities! It was great interacting with the younger students and being able to receive such an encouraging reaction.


Taehwan , UPenn University Admit - Intended major in Bioengineering.

Global ECL

In high school, my ECL project was named Coffee 4 Cambodia.

Coffee 4 Cambodia developed into a student-driven extracurricular project at my high school, Brisbane Boys’ College. We raise money to alleviate poverty, provide resources and support education in Cambodia through two charities, Harvest Cambodia and Stepping Stones Cambodia. Each year, a group of around 20 students and teachers at the school serve hot beverages and baked goods on school mornings and events to students, teachers, parents and members of the school community. Students are trained to be baristas and contribute an average of 2-3 hours per week to our project. All members of the group are volunteers – we dedicate our time and resources to this project because we are passionate about helping those in need and wish to show others that change is possible.

Every two years in December, the team travels to Cambodia and to the village of Siem Reap, where we work with local workers to build two houses in the local village, deliver clothes and stationery that we collected from our school community in Brisbane and visit the local school, where we traditionally play a game of soccer or volleyball with the children and engage with them in the classroom. For most members, the tour is very special as it is the culmination of all our hard work for the previous 24 months and is typically the last involvement for the departing senior students.

Coffee 4 Cambodia still runs at Brisbane Boys’ College to this day under the direction of new students and five long-term teachers and typically raises around $17,000 AUD/year. It is a project that I am very proud to be a part of and I am grateful that I was able to have some wonderful experiences, visit the beautiful country of Cambodia and make a difference in the international community.

Watch this video to gain insights to improve your extracurricular profile, from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford admit Jamie Beaton.

Final Thoughts

The importance of extracurricular activity is clear: admissions officers use them to assess your passion, responsibility, and initiative. A good guideline to follow is choosing extracurricular activity around your career, your community, and your passion - or combine them all into one super extracurricular. We hope that these local Australian student examples of what can be done, help inspire you to build a strong extracurricular profile.

Got some questions about extracurricular building, or looking to study in the world’s top universities? Visit our Webinars and Workshops page to register for our upcoming webinars, or request a free and private consultation with our Academic Advisors where they can help you understand the full US or UK application process.

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Looking for extracurricular opportunities to help kickstart your profile?

Explore the Crimson Extracurricular (ECL) opportunities website for extracurricular opportunities.