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How will the Coronavirus Affect my Extracurricular and Leadership (ECL) Activities?

MAR 19, 2020 • 6 min read

A Q&A with Crimson Education CEO, Jamie Beaton

As the Coronavirus continues to spread around the world, there is a lot of uncertainty around how it will impact students’ academic performance, ability to participate in extracurricular activities and eventually their college applications.

As a company focused on the benefits of online learning, we are also more than aware of how unsettling these times of uncertainty can be, as parents and students try to figure out the best way to move forward.

This is part 2 of our blog series with Crimson Education CEO Jamie Beaton focusing on how Coronavirus may effect extracurriculars and leadership activities.

Q: What are top universities looking for in terms of extracurricular and leadership activities (ECLs)?

A top university wants a well-lopsided candidate. This means they want you to be great in one area, but involved in other activities as well. I was hugely involved in debating during high school, competing in high level debating competitions across New Zealand and at an international level through Model UN. Beyond that, you need a broad base of extracurricular activities. I involved myself in the Auckland Theatre Club as a Youth Ambassador, Duke of Edinburgh, and a range of different community service/volunteering initiatives.

Overall, you want 1 or 2 activities that you’re very good at, plus a broad base of different activities. For formal ECLs, typically you want to do things that are internationally regarded. For capstone projects (projects you begin yourself), it’s important to show the impact you’ve made.

For example, I’d rather a student go to a rest home and give out ipads and teach the elderly how to use them so they can call loved ones, instead of spending 100 hours there somewhat disengaged and simply passing the time because they think it might look good on their application. If you spend 100 hours there; great, but what was the impact? If you choose the iPad solution; you can show the impact you’ve made.

You also want your whole ECL profile to fit around your main interests. You don’t need them all to be the same, but if you show a narrative of how they all fit together, this is preferrable. The US Common Application has 10 slots for ECLs and a section for honours, so ideally you’d want great content to fill all those spots.

Q: Do all extracurricular activities have to centre around your major?

This depends on where you apply. For the US, most schools find it interesting for you to have experience in different extracurriculars demonstrating your various passions. If you’re only a STEM student and apply to a liberal arts school, they’re going to wonder how you’re going to do in their core curriculum. To show you’re a diverse candidate with skills across the different areas, having a range of extracurriculars is fine, as long they show good achievement and your academics are strong in your interested area of study.

If you do a range of activities without showing any achievement or depth, that’s a bit more problematic. When applying to the US, your activities can be different and should be different – you want to show you have the capacity to appreciate a liberal arts experience, which by nature is exploratory and diverse. I would also recommend at least one extracurricular related to your major, but this is more relevant if you are applying to a UK university, as opposed to the US.

For the UK, it is important to have extracurriculars related to what you want to study / apply to, as the application process is much more academically-focused. As an example, when I applied to Economics at Cambridge, I had a Macroeconomics competition under my belt, I did a lot of Economics research, I did A Level Economics and A Level Business and I competed in business competitions. Thus, if you’re interested in studying in the UK, then your extracurricular activities should be more focused on your major.

Applying to both the US and the UK, is more than possible; however, it’s important that you fully understand

a) what university life is like in each country

b) what the application processes entail

c) how to best use your time throughout high school to ensure you are creating a dually-strong application.

Q: If you don’t know what you want to major in, what extracurricular activities can you do to show your passion/commitment?

Choose extracurriculars that will stretch you academically, help you develop useful skills and that you enjoy. Examples of this are Model UN, humanities (writing / theatre / drama / communications to improve oratory skills) and volunteering in areas you care about.

Q: Are there any tips you have for making use of your spare time and can you provide some good examples of extracurriculars students can do from home during this time?

  • Complete an online course through Coursera or EdX
  • Pick up extra subjects (A Level subjects or APs)
  • Start an online club
  • Create an innovative project that makes an impact on your community. The most successful activities are ones that:
  • Make some sort of change, mobilise them to do something e.g. send in change.org campaign
  • Can quantify your project e.g. how many people in your community etc

Q: Some schools have cancelled their extracurriculars, but school itself is still open, so students cannot take advantage of a flexible schedule and more time due to school closure.

What strategy can you recommend to make the most of this situation?

This is a similar situation to some schools never offering any extracurricular and leadership activities (ECLs) in the first place. Firstly, you do not have to do ECLs that are linked to your school. In fact, creating your own ECL projects or clubs outside of school or online shows more initiative and develops your entrepreneurial skills. Think about the skills you’d like to develop, a problem that needs to be fixed in your community, or something that you would like to try – this is a good place to start when planning ECL projects.

If you are low on time, do a self review to work out how you spend most of your time. Can you create better study habits? Is there a current activity that is adding no value to your development? Is there a subject you should change or drop? Our ECL mentors are great at helping you explore your options depending on your unique situation!

Make sure you keep an eye out for the final installment of this blog series where Jamie talks through US/UK University Applications and how to tackle these during this period.

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