It is one of the most common questions among applicants to universities: what relevance do my high school extra-curricular activities have to my chances of admission to university?
However, despite it being so common, no clear answer has emerged. Some say universities don’t care at all, whilst others insist that they are essential. So, do universities care about extracurricular activities? And if so, what school clubs look good on a university application?
These questions are the focus of this particular article. However, the answer might be a little disappointing: there is no clear policy shared across the board, from university to university. Simply enough, it just depends.
There is actually much less agreement between universities on the value of afterschool clubs than you might imagine. And whilst we know this isn’t hugely helpful, that’s just the way it is.
So, let’s dive into the ins and outs of this most high stakes of questions regarding university admissions. We’ll tell you what matters, what probably doesn’t – and how your university application can benefit from them even if they don’t matter. Let’s take a look.
The Extracurricular Activities that Give You UCAS Points
Let’s start with those extracurricular activities that give you UCAS Points, the credits that help your application through the notorious centralised admissions system. Whilst it can seem that, at times during secondary school, everyone is talking about UCAS points, we do have to give them a mention here. Don’t blame us: you clicked here, what more can you expect?
UCAS attributes ‘points’ to different non-academic certificates that you can take – for music, drama, and the arts, or something active like the Duke of Edinburgh Award. All of these contribute to give you these points.
So, which are the ones that look good on your university application?
Music and Drama
Music and drama certificates at grade 8 are places where you can rake in a lot of UCAS points – almost as many as you would receive from an A Level qualification. Fewer points can be gained from grades 6 and 7, but, still, they are not to be sniffed at.
Young Enterprise awards earn you UCAS points too. Find out more in our article on Young Enterprise!
Duke of Edinburgh
The Duke of Edinburgh, the classic challenge secondary school and university students, is of course worth a heap of UCAS points. This is one club that – so they say, at least – actually matters to universities, which are supposed to value the combinations of volunteering, physical activity, skill, and the expedition.
The awards that reward maths and science, CREST is a scheme designed to get kids under the age of nineteen to engage in their own science projects in a way that interests them.
If that’s something that interests you, then do it – because UCAS values it highly.
You can find out more about UCAS tariffs on their website.
Do UCAS Points Matter?
Another common question that pops up in relation to the university admissions process regards whether UCAS points even matter anyway. It is an important question, and one that we have to deal with here.
The answer is yes and no. This depends on the university, firstly. The second thing that needs to be said is that they are not sufficient for a successful applicant in and of themselves.
To the first point. The top colleges and universities are often said not to pay much attention to the UCAS points system – although it is a helpful method by which to find a fixed standard by which to equate different types of qualification.
It is said that they much prefer the personal statement as a means to tell who the top candidates are. This is important – and it brings us on to the second point.
It’s Less What You Do, and More How You Sell It
So, having the largest score of UCAS points of all candidates is not sufficient to get you a place at the top universities – unfortunately.
Rather, the best use you can make of what you do outside the classroom is to sell it well in your UCAS personal statement. So, change the question from ‘what did you do?’ or ‘what do you do?’ and think more, ‘what has this particular chess club or frisbee or science club done for me?’.
This is really the question that should be at the forefront of your mind when you are considering which of the long list of extracurricular activities you do actually matters. You need to think about which activities can be best sold.
What do we mean by that?
If you have read our article on what looks good on your university application, you’ll understand. University admissions offices are interested primarily in skills and values like commitment, independent initiative and interest, and academic passion. If your after-school activities can help demonstrate these qualities, then you are onto a winner.
Find out more about extracurricular activities and university applications!
Activities Can Demonstrate Important Skills
The point here is that after school clubs and extracurricular activities demonstrate important skills to the people considering your application. The UCAS points in themselves do not necessarily show that you have developed these skills – or are even aware of them. Reflecting upon them in your personal statement is a much more effective way to show what you have learned from the clubs you have been a part of.
Let’s take a few examples of what we mean by this.
Running a Club
Firstly, say you are applying to study Classics at university. Sure, you’ve got good grades, cracking test scores, and you are academically able. All of that is in the bag already.
Unfortunately, all of the other candidates applying for the same course will be in the same boat.
However, in your school, you set up an Ancient Greek club, in which you discussed Greek literature and you helped each other with your homework.
You’re not getting any UCAS points for this – but you are getting a good line in your personal statement about how committed, passionate, and interested you are. Maybe you can throw something in about leadership skills and sharing your knowledge with others and there’s a nice way to use your school club.
Joining the Debate Team
Even if you didn’t organise the club itself, there is still a lot to be said from being interested in participating in any extracurricular activities. Let’s take another example.
Being a member of the school debating society is a classic example of how extracurricular activities can help your application. In debating groups, you engage in discussions about ethical and political issues in a range of different forms.
Of course, this can be used to make a point about your larger skills. It is a club that requires wider research. It requires an ability to think through different problems. It demands a capacity to respond in the moment to different arguments and points.
If you are applying for a humanities course at university, all of these skills will be crucial – and they will be things for which university and college admissions will have their eyes out.
School Clubs that Can Matter for Uni Admissions
So, which school clubs matter for university admissions? In a way, all of them have the potential to! Whether you were the captain of the hockey team or a member of the jazz band, whether you were an editor for the school newspaper or you competed in the spelling bee, Spanish club, or science fair, all can be used to give some sense of your skills, interests, and level of commitment.
It’s not all about the UCAS points – and it doesn’t even matter if they were in or out of school. If you have a special interest that is not pure academic performance.
Find out what else looks good on your university application!
The Bottom Line: Do Universities Actually Care about Extracurricular Activities?
Put simply, yes, universities do care about extracurricular activities. However, it just might not be in the way that you suspect.
What you shouldn’t do is imagine that universities will simply applaud and let you in just because you have a grade eight on the guitar and you’ve been the goalie for the school football team. In the vast majority of cases, this isn’t going to be enough.
Instead, beyond the UCAS points, what matters is the way that you present these activities in relation to your studies. Those, at the end of the day, are the reason you are attending university at all – so everything needs to be relevant to that.