Are you struggling for things to put in your personal statement?
You’ve put down that you love your subject and that you get pretty good grades – but that hardly feels like enough. You’ve noted that you’ve read around your subject and have dropped some hints as to your favourite highly intellectual book. You’ve even mentioned that you play the guitar – what else can you do?!
Well, you’ve probably heard the hype about extracurricular activities. Hype, obviously, is the climate in which you’re living – being in sixth form and having to write these university applications. Yet, extra-curricular activities tend to get more attention than anything else. Is this deserved – and should you be pegging all your hopes on the fact that you’ve been busy outside of school hours?
Well, let’s just say, they do sure help. With universities flooded with hundreds, if not thousands, of applications every year, they do need to find some ways to cut down the number of candidates.
Simply enough, extracurricular activities are an excellent way for universities to do this. Because those activities that you get up to in school speak volumes about your capacity to learn and the skills that you have developed.
Whilst extracurricular activities are a broad and varied old bag, here we’re going to be talking about school activities and competitions that you can take part in. Are they helpful for your university application? Do unis care, even if they don’t give you UCAS points?
Of course they do. Let’s take a look at why.
Why School Activities and Competitions Help Your Uni Admission Chances
School activities and competitions – i.e. those clubs, societies, and organisations run within and by your school – are a type of extracurricular activity that usually go underappreciated.
Whilst you have those big awards and certificates that are run by organisations out of school – from the Duke of Edinburgh to Young Enterprise, from musical grades to sports tournaments – those things that you do actually in school can feel like they aren’t important enough, or aren’t ‘recognised’ enough, to be put down on your university application form.
This feeling, no matter understandable it might be, is wrong, however. Universities do care about these things. They care that you’ve been getting involved in student life, and that you’ve cared about things beyond your academic performance. They care about the skills that these student activities give you too.
So, before you dismiss any school-based activities as useless or not important, think again. Because more often than not, they’ll actually tell admissions teams something quite interesting about you.
Here are four reasons why you’ll be thought highly of for participation in your high school activities and competitions.
Participating Shows You Care
Universities always want to see evidence that you have contributed to your school community in one way or another. Whether that is taking part in school organizations or setting up your own extra-curricular activity for other students, giving something back to the institution that you have grown up in is something that is valuable.
Why? Because it shows that you care about the space in which you study. It shows that you are not a school student who takes things from their environment but does not want to give back. It shows that you want to contribute and make the school as good and as lively a place as it can be.
Remember that, at university, you are not just going to be studying. There is a community of people students there too – and university authorities care that this community is as vibrant as possible. Showing that you have something to offer that can make them warm to you.
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Competitions Show that You Have the Academic Edge
Whilst merely showing up to those extracurricular activities for students that interest you is good in itself, taking part in competitions within your school can be a nice rubber stamp to put on your claims of being academically capable.
Whether that’s a writing competition or a spelling bee, a science poster contest or an arts competition, each of these show that you have the guts to put yourself forward and an interest in the subject at hand.
Competitions matter because they show that you are prepared to go above and beyond your schoolwork. That’s the bare minimum. Someone who participates in something extra is only showing their further commitment.
It goes without saying that universities dig this.
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Obviously, Winning Isn’t Everything (But Of Course it Helps!)
Now, when we’re talking about college admissions, of course it is going to help if you say that you won the competition! You’ll have ample evidence that your academic skills are up there with the best in your school (if it was indeed an academic competition).
But you don’t have to win the thing for it to matter. Being a respectable runner-up is no mean feat, whilst the very fact that you did it at all is often more than many can say.
Social is Good – and Teamwork Skills are Excellent
So, you’re taking part at least in your school activities. Taking part in any of the long list of extracurricular activities is a winner. Why? Because it is hard for you to take part in anything and not learn something at least. That would be quite a skill in itself.
Taking part demonstrates your social skills: it shows that you can get along with others, even in competition. It shows that you have some basic time management skills, because you can take part in your competition or activity whilst still pursuing your everyday studies. And, considering by this point you are going to be one of the older students in your school, you probably will have demonstrated some leadership skills too.
All of these are transferable. What you have learned in one field can be super useful in another. So, whether you have organised a competition or took part in a club, you’re going to have learned a thing or two that will be helpful in your academic context too.
Forget University for a Moment; It’s Fun!
It’s worth adding to this list that you well actually enjoy taking part in some of these activities – believe it or not.
In a year at school in which you are preparing for your A Level exams, in which you are continually worried about college admission, and in which academic achievement seems to be the most important thing in the world, a bit of downtime can be helpful.
Forget your test scores for a moment and think about it. Do you think you would enjoy running the school newspaper or participating in student government? Would it be helpful to do a bit of school sports or athletics? Or to join the marching band?
These things can be fun – and when you have fun, you relax. In turn, when you relax, you perform better. In the end, all of these things come back round to help your academic performance. It can really help just to put it out of your mind for a moment.
What School Activities and Competitions are Helpful?
So, all of these things can be helpful. But which ones in particular are worth pursuing? Is a student newspaper more important than physical activities, or are they equally helpful for student success? Is it worth being on student council or another student body that helps to develop the school community in some way?
All of these are helpful. Yet, the ones that you should look out for are those that speak to your specific degree. If you are applying for a degree in politics or English, then the student newspaper will of course be more valuable for you than the wind band. If you are applying for a science degree, a science competition would probably help you more than a spelling bee.
And don't forget extracurricular activities in general!
Organising Your Own Club
What would be particularly helpful in the end, however, would be to organise your own club. Are you interested in ancient Greece? Set up a school club for that. Or jazz music? Bring together a jazz band with other musicians at school that shows how much you love it.
The examples, really, are endless. But it all depends on what you are interested in. Because if you are only taking part for the hell of it, universities are probably going to see through you.
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