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16 APR 2021
It used to be the case that the best college applicants had perfect test scores, top grades and well-rounded extracurriculars — but the admissions landscape is ever-evolving and as universities receive more applications every year, the baseline requirements to get accepted have changed. Now, top universities look for much more, especially when it comes to extracurriculars. Today’s admissions officers want to see proof of tremendous ambition and initiative, illustrated by a cohesive personal narrative.
Before we dive into the benefits of extracurricular activities for college hopefuls, let’s break down what they are within the context of your university admissions journey. By definition, extracurricular activities are activities that are “pursued in addition to the normal course of study”. When it comes to your college applications, though, extracurriculars are a bit more complex than this — they require a consistent time commitment, a degree of responsibility and initiative, and in the best cases, a level of leadership not demonstrated in the classroom.
Examples can include things like taking an online course in coding, starting a podcast, or even starting a business! However, the world of extracurriculars is truly limitless and taking on massive projects isn’t the only way to make admissions officers remember you. Much more important than the difficulty or grandeur of your extracurriculars is the authenticity and dedication they illustrate.
This is the key reason why it’s vital to get started early on building your extracurriculars throughout high school. Listing several extracurriculars on your application, but lacking any long-term commitments or leadership roles, instantly shows admissions officers that you joined clubs or started projects solely to make your activities list longer in anticipation of applying to universities. A shorter list of extracurriculars that show a longer-term commitment and progressive responsibility is much more valuable than a longer list of activities you’ve only dabbled in.
Download our free eBook to see examples of activities from successful Ivy League admits!
Now that you understand what extracurriculars are and how they add to your college applications, let’s break down why extracurricular activities are important for high school students.
Some students worry that participating in extracurriculars may take away too much time from their schoolwork, thus hurting their grades; however, extracurricular activities can actually improve your grades and your outlook on school in general!
Participating in activities you are passionate about can increase your brain function, help you concentrate and manage your time better, all of which contribute to higher grades. High endurance sports, for example, will train you to focus and build stamina in the face of intense difficulty. This gives you an advantage when it comes to studying and taking exams.
Lots of studies have been conducted on the relationship between extracurricular activities and academic performance, and they all show that students who participate in them have higher grades, more positive attitudes toward school and higher academic aspirations.
When you participate in multiple different activities, you’ll get the opportunity to explore a range of interests and unlock passions you never knew you had! Plus, diversifying your interests subsequently broadens your world view.
Think about it this way: if you join a philosophy club you’ll begin to look at the world through the eyes of a budding philosopher.
The more you achieve success through activities you’re passionate about, the more your self confidence will improve. For example, let’s say you’re really good at maths and your teacher encourages you to get involved in competitions. You join the school team and start training for the national Maths Olympiad. During the process you realise how fun maths can be and how talented you actually are, which gives your confidence a massive boost.
Working hard and mastering new skills in a fun, relaxed – and sometimes competitive – setting allows you to be successful without the pressure of getting a good grade. Plus, once your confidence improves, you’ll be more open to taking risks in all aspects of your life, not just in Maths Olympiads.
Let’s be honest, making friends can be hard but one of the easiest ways to make friends is through extracurricular activities**! Each extracurricular you engage in provides you with another opportunity to expand your social network**, which will also come in handy when you’re looking for a job.
Plus, if you make friends in your extracurricular activities, you’ll be more likely to get more deeply involved. For example, if you make a few friends doing community service at school you might decide start a volunteer club together and really make an impact in your community!
Extracurricular activities give you something fun to do aside from school. It also gives you the chance to explore you're passions to discover things you may be interested beyond academics while taking some time off hitting the book. For example you could learn how to start a podcast!
Take the much needed break, you deserve it!
On top of all of the benefits of extracurricular activities we already talked about, one of the greatest advantages extracurricular activities give you are “real world” skills.
These skills include (but are not limited to):
The more you push yourself in your extracurricular endeavours, the more you’ll develop these skills. If you’re passionate about coding, you might join the school coding club, where you’ll develop teamwork, problem solving and analytical thinking skills.
But you could take that passion even further and create your own coding club, where you’ll develop goal setting, time management, prioritisation, leadership and public speaking skills. Learn more about how you can turn an idea into a portfolio of leadership projects.
Phew! That’s a lot of responsibility. Each and every step will teach you a new skill you can use for the rest of your life.
Without much previous work experience, one of the only ways hiring managers can assess your ability and work ethic is through your extracurricular activities.
For example, if you were on a debating team, the manager would know that you work well with others, can argue a point professionally and have public speaking experience - all awesome skills to have in the workplace!
It’s pretty much impossible to get into any university in the US or UK without extracurricular activities. Universities in the US & UK want to see that you’ve gone above and beyond in your intended area of study and have made a difference and/or excelled your field.
If you want to major in chemistry, a UK university is more likely to accept you if you’ve joined a chemistry club, taken extra chemistry courses at your local university and volunteered in a lab.
Although that sounds like a lot, extracurricular activities are even more important to US universities. In fact, extracurricular activities and leadership account for about 30% of your application!
That being said, US universities don’t limit you to just one passion so if you want to study science but also love filmmaking, taking part in activities such as scriptwriting, directing your own films, international film competitions, holding movie nights to raise money for an environmental science cause you care about and being the president of the science club on campus will immensely increase your chances of getting into your dream university.
It’s okay if you’re not the next Spielberg (although, that might help), as long as you participate in deep and meaningful extracurricular activities that you’re passionate about, you’ll have a fighting chance!
US colleges want to see very specific things from your extracurricular activities. Make sure your activities are ticking the following boxes to increase your chances of getting in:
Although you probably already participate in activities outside of school, take the time to think about the benefits of extracurricular activities and how to maximise your passions. The lessons you’ll learn from participating in meaningful extracurricular activities will help you with everything from getting a job, to applying to universities overseas, to just living your life.
So go join a club, start an online class or volunteer. What are you waiting for?
Crimson Education is the world’s leading university admissions support company specialising in helping students gain entry to some of the world’s most competitive universities. Our holistic approach provides support across all areas of the US and UK university application process. We assist you to find your best-fit university, create a personalised roadmap, ace your standardised tests, craft the perfect essay, build candidacy through extracurriculars, and more. Find out more about our Admissions Support program.