Are extracurricular activities important on your university applications?

Many of us will remember days preparing for university, and the pressure we felt to boost our UCAS applications with extracurricular activities. At a time when students already have a lot to juggle and think about, it raises the question, just how important are they?
The short answer to this question is that it really depends on what you’re doing and why. There’s no doubt that universities do like extracurricular activities, but not purely for the sake of them. In many cases, students seem to feel that they need to do things beyond their studies as part of a box-checking exercise. 

What’s the purpose of extracurricular activities

In reality, universities are looking for evidence that you’re passionate about a subject. They are interested in understanding the skills you have developed to date and they want to see that you have initiative. In short, they want to get to know you better. That can, but doesn’t have to be shown through extra curricular activities.
In one of our webinars during Oxbridge application season last year, CamVision tutor and Cambridge University undergraduate, Rachel, who is currently at Magdalene College studying Natural Sciences, said:
“At my college, the guidance we got is that they don’t really care that much about your extracurriculars, but if you would like to boost your application by doing things that you like and put them on your UCAS forms and personal statements, then by all means do. I think things like physics competitions and chemistry competitions could be helpful, but it’s not make or break.”

Choosing activities that make a difference to your application

Rachel’s perspective as a student who has been through the application process and successfully earned a place at Oxbridge, is one that’s reflected by our Director, Dr. Mengmeng Wang-Purcell. Last week, we discussed her PACE approach to preparing for university, in which she discussed the need to show passion (that leads to motivation), academic capability, critical thinking and exposition, as part of a successful university application.
For some, extracurricular activities can be an excellent way to nurture these key areas of personal development. For example, you might show your passion for studying medicine by volunteering at a local hospital. Or you might enhance your public speaking skills by taking part in the Model United Nations. These activities and interests beyond studying at school also show more of who you are as a whole person.

What’s the long-term goal?

The other thing to keep in mind is the career goal of any extracurricular activities – after all, it’s not just about getting into university. Whether it’s work experience, volunteering or clubs, they can be a wonderful way of not only preparing you for what you do want to do, and filling any gaps in your development that an academic environment cannot fill, but they can also be instrumental in informing you about what you don’t want to do. You might have thought you wanted to be a lawyer, but a month of work experience in a City firm has made you realise that it isn’t for you.
The ultimate point is that extracurricular activities can be a wonderful thing for your university applications, giving you a greater understanding of a subject, an industry and helping you to develop as a person. However, your involvement with them is only valuable if it’s authentic, meaning you would be better off having one or two activities that you’re really interested in rather than multiple activities for the sake of writing something on that UCAS form.
Talk to the team at CamVision about university application mentoring for personal advice and help achieving your goals.