When you are in sixth form, all attention starts to turn to university applications. The same old questions start buzzing around the common rooms and classrooms. Which extra-curricular activities do universities care about most? Does volunteering or an internship matter in my application? Do I get UCAS points for this? How can I ensure that I have the best chance to get through university admissions?

All of these are questions that you will have heard a thousand times – if not asked yourself. And, honestly, it’s good that all of these things are being accounted for. Because extracurricular activity – that thing you might do outside of school or outside the classroom – does matter. It just might not matter in the way that you think it does.

Here – in this article and in the rest of the series that it introduces – we’re going to clear up as many of your queries surrounding the appropriate extracurricular activities for your university application as we can.

Because, honestly, there’s no reason why you would have the answers for these things already. You haven’t been through college admissions before and you don’t know what all universities want from you. That’s okay.

We’ll take it from the top. So, let’s dive in. Here’s what universities want to see in your application – and how you can show them everything you’ve got.

duke of edinburgh
Duke of Edinburgh can make your look great on your uni application!

What Looks Good on a University Application?

So, to begin with, what looks good on a university application? What do you think? In all probability, your hunch is probably right.

Let’s start with the most obvious things that universities are looking for. These are the ones that you will have been told about over and over again by your teachers.

The Basics

To start with, you are going to want two things to be as good as possible: your academic performance and your personal statement. These are the two most important things that universities will look for in the admissions process. Everything else – including UCAS point or after-school activities – is secondary.

Academic performance is quite self-explanatory. Universities want to see first and foremost that you are academically able and that you get decent grades. After all, universities are academic institutions – so this should make sense.

But then there is the personal statement. What is this and what is it for? Unfortunately, we don’t have time to cover the ins and outs of this. However, it needs to be well-written, error-free, and it should be packed with convincing reasons why you are applying for the thing to which you are applying.

The Qualities

You will inevitably have to write a personal statement for university. The key to it is ensuring that you communicate your enthusiasm and ability for the subject to which you are applying.

Colleges and universities want to see that you can make from your experiences and from what interests you a compelling case for your appropriateness for academic study. So, rather than any specific extracurricular activity in particular, they are going to be looking for some qualities in you.

In particular, they will want to see that you have the commitment to throw yourself into and finish the tasks that you will be set during academic study at higher education. Can you show this commitment in any of the internships or student organizations that you participated in?

Secondly, can you show that you are more than just your test scores? Are there things that interest you beyond the classroom? Do you enjoy being involved in politics, for example? Are there things that can get you involved in student life at university – and that you can bring to your course?

university applications
Young Enterprise is good for the budding entrepreneurs among you!

Not Just the Extracurricular Activities

So, whilst the extracurricular activities matter, they matter more in what they show about you. If you were in a badminton club, then great. But that has to be of some wider importance for you.

Find out more about what looks good on a university application!

Which School Clubs Look Good on Your University Application Form?

You know what sort of qualities universities are seeking. However, how do you exemplify them? And what about the school newspaper or the debate team that you were determinedly sticking to help your uni application? Are these of any help in the end?

Of course they are! Nearly every extracurricular activity or afterschool society – from chess club to part-time work – has their uses for your university application.

We’ll look at two in greater detail below, but let’s take a quick glance at some of the most common afterschool programs or extracurricular activities that you can pursue. You can find out more about all of them in our article, What School Clubs look Good on Your Uni Application?

Music and Drama Grades

If you love music, drama, and art, then showing your commitment to your passion is pretty straightforward. Grades are designed to show your progress in these fields.

Universities do, of course, love to see that you have artistic interests outside of your mainstream course of study – whether you are an arts or science student. Musical and drama grades show that you are a well-rounded student who does things outside of the school day.

CREST Awards

CREST is an award recognised across the UK that encourages young people to indulge their love for STEM subjects (that’s science, technology, engineering, and maths, by the way). With tens of thousands of 5-19 year olds take part every year, CREST allows you to conduct a project into one of the STEM subjects with the supervision of an industry professional.

It goes without saying that, if you are applying to a STEM subject at university, this is one of the best of the many opportunities you have to show how committed to science you are!

Young Enterprise

Another of the more famous extracurriculars available that will help your university or college application is Young Enterprise, the extra-curricular activity that is dedicated to giving you a real-life experience of the business world.

Young Enterprise allows students to design, set up, and run their own business for up to a year with the support of a business volunteer. By getting involved in YE, you’ll design and sell your product or service, pitch your ideas for a grant, and engage in typical business processes like keeping in control of your finances or paying taxes.

The idea of the Young Enterprise scheme is that it teaches you important entrepreneurial skills for the world beyond school. You’ll find yourself in leadership roles, for example, and you’ll be testing your communication skills, your social skills, and even things like your time management skills.

But do universities care? Of course! Again, Young Enterprise shows that you are resourceful, creative, independently able, and responsible for things beyond your studies. And, if your school runs the OCR QCF certificate, you’ll get UCAS points for it too.

Find out more about the Young Enterprise programme in our article!

extracurricular clubs
A swimming club, say, can help your application too.

The Duke of Edinburgh Award

Finally, there is the Duke of Edinburgh Award, the extracurricular activity par excellence. By the time you are reading this, you may well already have committed three years of your life to the award, so we understand if you hope that it can help you get into university!

However, the same applies here as to all other extracurricular activities. It’s much less about what you have done, than about how you sell it in your personal statement.

The Duke of Edinburgh Award is great for this purpose, because it shows your capacities in a whole heap of different fields. You have the confidence and adventure to go out on expedition. You have the interest in your community to go out volunteering. Meanwhile, you have the drive towards personal development to improve in the skills and sports that the award requires too.

On top of that, you have the commitment to keep going throughout the whole length of the time that this award takes.

The Duke of Edinburgh Award is not something to take lightly at all – as it can take you up to 78 weeks to complete the Gold Award, the most important achievement in its series of awards.

Yet, saying that you have done it is never enough. Has it helped your studies? What have you learned from it? Why did you do it? These reflections are the things that make your personal statement strong. Having a walk around Yorkshire is not enough!

Find out more in our full article on the Duke of Edinburgh award.

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