Extracurriculars: A New Approach to Loving Your Activities

25 APR 2019

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It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.

- Steve Jobs

It’s been well documented that extracurriculars are a key part of both the US and UK university admissions process. In the US in particular, extracurriculars are used to show admissions officers all the things they cannot see in your grades - those ‘intangible’ qualities that may be expressed in your personal essays but are evidenced in the decisions you make with your time beyond the classroom.

But there’s the catch! By the time you hit the last years of school the one thing you are short of is time. If you are an academic student there’s no doubt most of your after-school hours are spent studying, but there is a way to take control of your activities list so that it complements both your school work AND what you enjoy doing.

Firstly, this notion of doing what you LOVE is key. This may seem counterintuitive to that ever-repeating mantra which suggests any minute spent not studying is a minute wasted. But when you consider how important it is to build that crucial extracurricular portion of your US and/or UK university applications - one that says something about ‘you’ - then developing your passions constructively is not only a great use of your time, but essential to your chances of admission.

So how do you take control of your activities list so that when it comes time to type into a university application, it reads back as a description of - well, you!

The trick is to take your passions and ask yourself: ‘If this means something to me, how do I use it to take it to the next level and ideally, positively impact the life of others?’ Think of it as building a tower with your passion as the foundation of the structure that sits above.

Of course, examples of this are endless:

  1. A swimmer who turns their passion for the sport into a global network that distributes used swimsuits, caps, goggles and even engages international coaching bodies to provide assistance to underprivileged clubs and communities.
  2. A keen photographer who uses social media to start a portrait competition - engined by entry donations which are used to start a weekend art program for local communities, developed into a gallery exhibition and sponsored by a smartphone company who uses the winning images in its ad campaign and backs similar weekend classes in hundreds of other communities.
  3. A physics student born with a passion for Lego who pieces together an idea for building prosthetics - one who builds a model arm using blocks and simple machinery, who enters her design into a robotics competition, raises awareness about prosthetic access for young people though a social media campaign and approaches Lego to provide free product to child amputees in hospital.

The point is, no matter what your passion, there is a way to use what you love to build something that matters, and in the process say something that sets you aside from the other tens of thousands of students typing in their extracurricular lists around the globe. In this way you are not simply ticking a set of boxes, but painting a three dimensional picture of who you are, what matters to you - and as a follow-on - how you will positively impact campus when you are accepted.

Of course, volunteering at a local fundraiser or joining a club at school are valid extracurriculars, but before signing up for chess club you may want to ask yourself, ‘do I like playing chess and if I do, how can I use it to build something that reflects who I am and what matters to me?’

It’s all about using the time you have to write another sort of personal essay - one constructed by actions and not words. Working at what you love makes the ‘activity’ all the more effective, or as Steve Jobs also put it: ‘the only way to do great work is to love what you do.’

Ultimately, building on your passions may take time, but it is this investment of time that admissions officers value. After all, the most worthy activities are not the ones executed in a heartbeat, but ones that resonate far and beyond.

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