The power of extracurriculars: university and career success

Extracurriculars, that dreaded word that stirs up such mixed messages. Suppose you’re preparing for university applications or you’re thinking about your future career. In that case, you might be questioning whether you should be pursuing extracurriculars and what activities, in particular, could open doors for you. 

At The Profs, we have lots of experience helping students secure offers from top UK and US universities, as well as getting them started on professional careers. If anyone has the know-how, it’s us. So, are extracurriculars important or not, and in what capacity, and to whom? Let’s whiz through everything you need to know 

Need help crafting your winning university, internship or job application? Speak with our expert consultancy who knows exactly how to help you. 

What is considered an extracurricular?

Any activity pursued outside of the regular academic curriculum can be considered an extracurricular. Such as joining a club, volunteering for a local charity, or participating in competitive events. Learning a new language or engaging in sports, hobbies, independent projects and even wider reading can be presented as extracurriculars. 

Extracurricular experiences offer valuable opportunities for personal growth, skill development, and creating a well-rounded profile.

When it comes to extracurricular activities, the options are vast and varied. From sports and arts to community service and leadership roles, there are countless avenues for students to showcase their passions and talents. 

Why are extracurricular activities important?

In today’s competitive academic and professional landscape, excelling in your chosen field requires more than just good grades. Universities and employers are increasingly looking for well-rounded individuals who have actively engaged in extracurricular activities. These activities not only enhance personal growth and development but also equip you with invaluable skills and experiences that can set you apart from the competition. 

Universities and employers recognise that academic achievements alone do not guarantee success. Engaging in extracurricular activities demonstrates your ability to manage time, work in teams, and take on leadership roles. It showcases your passion, dedication, and commitment to personal growth, which are qualities highly valued in higher education and the professional world.

If you engage in extracurricular activities relevant to your degree or demonstrate desirable skills or characteristics for your discipline or university, then you boost the competitiveness of your application by showing that you’re committed to your discipline and prepared for university-level study and/or a good fit for the university. 

Would you like us to identify the perfect extracurriculars for the course or role you’re applying for? Or do you want support submitting the perfect application? Just give us a shout.

The impact of extracurriculars on university admissions

Extracurricular involvement can significantly enhance your university application, making you a more attractive candidate. Admissions officers look for evidence of leadership, community service, sports participation, arts involvement, and other activities that showcase your diverse interests and abilities. Stand out from the crowd by participating in activities aligned with your passions and demonstrating your impact within them.

Generally, universities seek well-rounded students who will contribute to the vibrant campus community. For example, if the university has a reputable swim team, they might be excited to hear you swim competitively at a national level. This is especially the case for US universities which sometimes offer sports scholarships or a leg-up to applicants who can improve their performance boost their performance in sports. 

You can use extracurriculars to show that you’d be a good fit for a university and insinuate that they’re your top choice in your personal statement e.g. talking about your participation in Spoken Word events if you’re applying to a university with a Spoken Word society, and mentioning that you’d want to join such a society on campus. 

If the university is interested in multiculturalism and diversity, they might enjoy reading an application about a student who has learned multiple languages in their spare time or enjoys hiking in different countries. 

Liberal universities that are outspoken about current affairs may consider avid protesting as an extracurricular. In this case, you could talk about attending political talks and events concerning BLM, LGTBQIA+, freedom of speech and/or the Free Palestine Movement. If you care about any political causes and take an active role in fighting for them, this could be an important part of your application!

Obviously, extracurricular activities that are entrenched in your discipline have the biggest impact on your application. For instance, if you’re applying for Maths and you’ve participated in the UK Maths Olympiad or UK Maths Challenge, this shows your aptitude and dedication to Maths which makes you a more desirable candidate. 

Chat with our team to strengthen your university application. Don’t take a risk, secure your spot.

UK versus US approaches to extracurriculars

Universities in the United Kingdom primarily want to hear why you’re the right person to enrol on the course in question. So, you should only mention extracurriculars that prove your academic aptitude or your suitability and genuine passion for the course. Relevant extracurriculars can be what sets you aside from your peers and prove your dedication to and preparation for the course.

Similarly, successful UK applications seldom mention experiences, awards, activities and achievements that are completely unrelated to the discipline being applied for or academia in general. However, in some cases, you might be able to demonstrate your own link.

When it comes to universities in the United States, do not underestimate extracurricular activities. Whilst it’s ideal for your extracurriculars and work experience to be as relevant to your discipline as possible, it’s still valuable if it’s not. Unlike UK universities, US universities tend to value seemingly irrelevant activities and student jobs because US applications are more personal and focused on applicants’ individual character and experiences. 

So, mention anything that you are proud of, have achieved, that you feel has been a large part of your life, or shaped you to be who you are. 

We have an experienced UK and US university admissions team that’s successfully helped many students obtain offers from Oxbridge, Russell Group and Ivy League universities. If you’re serious about getting an offer to a top university, reach out.

We also have multiple blogs on how to get into top US universities as a UK secondary school student and how to get into top UK universities as a US high school student, as well as application methods for international students. You can view the whole list here and choose what’s relevant to you!

Can extracurriculars be hobbies?

Extracurricular activities can absolutely be hobbies! In fact, hobbies often serve as a foundation for exploring various extracurricular opportunities. 

Whether it’s playing a musical instrument, sports, painting, coding, or participating in community events, pursuing your hobbies outside of the academic realm can enhance your personal growth, inspire creativity, and provide a platform for self-expression. 

However, it’s important to keep in mind what’s relevant to your application. For instance, whilst knitting and playing video games are hobbies that also happen to be extracurriculars, it’s unlikely that mentioning them in your personal statement can benefit your application. That said, it’s not to say they can’t. For instance, if you enjoy knitting complex pieces for your family and friends this demonstrates creativity that could be relevant to your Art and Design course. 

Our team understands the importance of nurturing your hobbies and can help you integrate them into your extracurricular journey.

What extracurriculars should I have for college/university? 

If you’re applying for a competitive university, it’s important to consider what extracurriculars could maximise your chances of getting an offer. So, what are the top activities to consider?

Firstly, the best extracurriculars for your application are usually unique to the discipline you’re pursuing. For instance, it’s ideal if a History applicant can talk about regularly attending historical exhibitions at museums and writing a column on Ancient Egypt for the school newspaper. 

Nearly all universities value skills in leadership, communication and collaboration. So, having an extracurricular that you can talk about to demonstrate your acquisition of these skills is always helpful. Examples of extracurriculars for these skills are in the list of extracurricular activities below. 

Exploring popular extracurricular activities:

  • Leadership roles: Take on positions of responsibility in school, student organisations, clubs, or societies. Positions such as head boy/girl, school prefect, club president, team captain, or committee member highlight your organisational and leadership skills.
  • Community service: Engage in volunteer work, community outreach programmes, or charity initiatives. These experiences demonstrate your empathy, social consciousness, and commitment to making a positive impact.
  • Sports and athletics: Participate in competitive sports or join intramural teams to showcase your teamwork, discipline, and determination.
  • Arts and culture: Explore artistic pursuits such as music, dance, theatre, or visual arts. These activities foster creativity, self-expression, and discipline.
  • Debate and public speaking: Engage in debate clubs or public speaking competitions to enhance your communication, critical thinking, and persuasive skills.

Need further advice? Reach out to our friendly and skilled experts.

What is the most popular extracurricular activity?

Among the wide array of options available, the most popular extracurricular activity in the UK and US is typically sports. Students often find sports a fun and challenging activity that they get into irrespective of their university goals. However, it can be a great way to demonstrate work ethic, reliability, collaboration and time management. 

A close second is community service. Engaging in volunteer work not only allows you to make a positive impact on society but also cultivates essential skills such as leadership, empathy, and teamwork. 

Our team of experts can guide you on how to balance your academic commitments whilst immersing yourself in this rewarding extracurricular endeavour.

Extracurriculars that don’t cost money

Understandably, you might want to get involved with extracurricular activities that can enhance your university application without spending money. For this reason, a lot of universities state that they accept free activities that show initiative as extracurriculars! So, let’s talk about budget-friendly options:

  • Wider reading: Expand your knowledge and enhance your critical thinking skills through engaging in wider reading. Dive into classic literature, explore thought-provoking non-fiction, or discover new genres that pique your interest.
  • Writing clubs: Join a writing club or start your own to fuel your creativity and improve your written communication skills. Share your work, receive feedback, and collaborate with fellow aspiring writers.
  • Debate society: Hone your argumentative and public speaking skills by participating in a debating society or the student council. Engage in lively discussions, defend your viewpoints, and learn from different perspectives.
  • Online learning platforms: Take advantage of free or low-cost online learning platforms to expand your knowledge and skills e.g. MOOCs. Explore platforms like Coursera, Khan Academy, or edX to access a wide range of courses and tutorials on various subjects, from coding to art history.
  • Peer tutoring: Engage in peer tutoring by offering to help your classmates or younger students with subjects you excel in. Share your knowledge, assist with homework, and provide guidance to support their learning journey. Peer tutoring not only helps others but also reinforces your understanding of the subject matter.
  • Volunteer work: Give back to your community through volunteer work. Join local organisations or initiatives that align with your interests and make a positive impact while developing valuable skills and experiences. Raising money for charity and protesting are both viable methods of community service.

What are Tier 1 activities? 

Tier 1 extracurriculars encompass extremely rare, prestigious and competitive pursuits that demonstrate exceptional dedication, leadership, and achievement. 

These activities often include participation in nationally recognised competitions, winning prestigious awards, holding leadership positions in renowned organisations, or making significant contributions in fields such as research, entrepreneurship, or community service. Examples could include being a national debate champion or Olympic gymnast. 

Engaging in Tier 1 extracurriculars showcases a student’s commitment to excellence and can greatly enhance their university applications, opening doors to outstanding institutions and scholarship opportunities. Reach out to our platitude of tutors for help pursuing these exceptional endeavours, we have tutors in ALL areas. 

All that said, don’t panic. Tier 1 extracurriculars are considered rare because they are just that. You don’t need them to get your offer. Chat with our team for personalised advice.

What are Tier 2 activities? 

While Tier 1 extracurriculars represent the pinnacle of achievement, Tier 2 extracurricular activities are equally valuable in nurturing personal growth and showcasing a student’s diverse interests and talents. 

Tier 2 activities encompass a wide range of pursuits, including participation in school clubs, community service projects, intramural sports, creative arts, or involvement in local organisations. These activities offer students valuable opportunities to develop teamwork, leadership, time management, and communication skills. Examples include holding a secondary leadership position on a debate team, serving as student government president or winning a regional competition. 

Tier 2 extracurriculars demonstrate a student’s commitment to personal development, building a well-rounded profile that showcases their passion, dedication, and ability to balance academic pursuits with other interests. 

Our team of experienced tutors recognises the importance of Tier 2 activities and can guide how to effectively highlight these experiences in university applications and personal statements, helping students maximise their potential. Worried you don’t have any Tier 1 or Tier 2 extracurriculars to speak of? Talk to our team.

What are supercurriculars? 

Supercurriculars often refer to subject-specific experiences, work and studies. As mentioned earlier, participating in anything beyond the classroom that’s related to your discipline is a great way of strengthening your application. This is often the most valued form of extracurricular activity, especially for UK universities! 

Examples of supercurriculars could be a Literature applicant writing regular book reviews for their school newspaper, a Spanish applicant attending a summer tennis programme in Spain or a Chemistry student completing an independent research project on Spectroscopy.

Some universities, like Oxbridge, define supercurriculars as educational activities spanning beyond the classroom. Often, this means wider reading. If done and referenced correctly, this can be what makes you a competitive candidate! 

Oxbridge favours students who are able to think critically and independently. It can be impressive if you find a way to conduct proper research related to your subject and demonstrate the critical ability to explore it outside the confines of your school environment. 

The importance is showing your university that you can flourish as an academic without handholding and a regimented school structure. If you really want to impress your university, you could study the first few weeks of a first or second-year module for your chosen course and talk about this in your college application. This will prove that you are already able to think and study at university level – which is what top universities are looking for.

What are examples of co-curricular activities?

Extracurricular activities, commonly referred to as outside-of-class engagements, encompass any activities you engage in beyond your standard academic coursework. These may range from involvement in sports and clubs to volunteering and part-time employment. Examples include being on the school council, a sports team or in a drama production.

What extracurriculars should I do for Oxford? 

Oxford values academia more than your extracurriculars, however, as Oxford considers your application holistically, your extracurriculars can play a large hand in your admission. So, make this part count!

Ask yourself: What is your X-factor? What is it that makes you really unique? Have you competed nationally, scored very highly in a competition, or perhaps grown a large following on your YouTube vlog? Have you been an appreciated leader for anything? 

Whatever it is that you have achieved, can you link it to academia, and more importantly, to skills that your course requires? A black belt in Judo might be hard to associate with the Law degree you’d like to take, whereas, being head of your school’s debate team is certainly relevant. Similarly, if you’re applying for a Literature degree it’s great if you can share a link to a blog or collection of poems that you’ve been consistently adding to for a long period of time. With hobbies like music, it is probably only worth mentioning if you have impressive grades and/or play multiple instruments and can link this talent to skills required by your chosen degree. 

You can stand out by mentioning scholarships, awards, class prizes, the percentile you were ranked in your class (if your school offers this), and competitions such as the Intermediate Biology Olympiad or the Oxford German Olympiad. Even things like a high chess ELO ranking could help you prove the academic capability of your mind. The main importance is the relationship between your hobby and your desired subject, as these extracurriculars only become beneficial if they relate to your ability to excel as a student in your chosen department.

Elite UK universities, especially Oxford, compare applicants to their school peers. Therefore, it’s vital to do more unusual supercurricular activities than those your school pushes everyone to do.

The Profs are Oxbridge application experts. Our Oxbridge success rate is triple the national average, reach out to our Oxford admissions consultants for help securing your offer!

Don’t forget to check out our article on how to get into Oxford.

What extracurriculars should I do for Cambridge?

Like Oxford, Cambridge is also interested in extracurricular excellence and students who are looking to make an impact on the world. Again, ask yourself: What is the thing that makes you really unique? Remember, excellence does not have to be academic.

The main importance is the relationship between your hobby and your desired subject, as these extracurriculars only become beneficial if they relate to your ability to excel as a student in your chosen department.

For any mathematical courses, show evidence of overachieving in quantitative subjects. For example, if you’ve achieved Gold on the UK Maths Challenge or a high A* in your A level, then flaunt this in your application. Being part of the UK Maths Olympiad team massively heightens your chances of studying Maths at Cambridge, particularly at Trinity College. 

It’s also great if you’re part of a relevant academic club or you’ve completed a specific MOOC. Cambridge offers a range of short, online courses that are available to everyone for free. You can also teach yourself relevant skills, for example,  if you’re applying for Computer Science, you could learn a new programming language in your free time to gain valuable extra skills to add to your application. 

For postgraduate applicants, it’s perfect if you can mention being an integral part of a society relevant to your subject during your undergraduate degree. 

The Profs are Oxbridge application experts. Our Oxbridge success rate is triple the national average, reach out to our Cambridge admissions consultants for help securing your offer!

Don’t forget to check out our article on how to get into Cambridge. 

What extracurriculars does Harvard like?

Harvard specifically highlights its interest in extracurriculars and activities on its website, largely because it wants students who can balance studying and achieving highly with hobbies. So, if you’re serious about getting into Harvard you should ensure that you have some activities under your belt.

Harvard is far more likely than Oxbridge to value students who engage in extracurriculars that are not academic or related to their discipline. 

Harvard welcomes applicants to mention hobbies even if they’re new rather than long term or purely for fun rather than competitive. Just be sure that you write with purpose, rather than dumping in a sentence on your new interest in knitting for the sake of it. 

Many of the students who get into Harvard have participated in leadership roles, community service and athletics. 

Need help? Chat with our US university admissions team. They have lots of experience getting students into Harvard!

Don’t forget to check out our blog on how to get into Harvard as a UK student!

What extracurriculars should I do for Medicine?

It’s essential to focus on experiences that showcase your commitment to healthcare, empathy, and leadership. Participating in volunteer work at hospitals, clinics, or community health programmes can demonstrate your dedication to helping others. 

Joining medical-related clubs, participating in research projects, or gaining exposure through internships can highlight your enthusiasm for the field and provide valuable insights. Remember, the key is to align your extracurriculars with the qualities and skills that medical schools value in their prospective students.

It’s also a good idea to get work experience through placements at hospitals and pharmacies.

When it comes to extracurricular activities, a Medicine applicant might talk about volunteering for community projects, competing in the British Biology Olympiad and attending Chemistry club.

We can help you get your spot as a Medicine student at a top university. Here at The Profs, we have expert Medicine tutors and an experienced university admissions team

Don’t forget to check out our guide to Medicine applications.

What extracurriculars should I do for Law?

To bolster your law school application, focus on extracurricular activities that highlight your analytical skills, critical thinking, and passion for justice. Consider joining debate clubs, moot court teams, or legal societies to develop your argumentation and public speaking abilities. 

Internships at law firms, legal aid organisations, or government agencies provide hands-on experience and demonstrate your commitment to the legal field. Engaging in community service, especially initiatives related to social justice, can showcase your dedication to making a positive impact. 

Overall, choose extracurriculars that align with the skills and values esteemed in the legal profession. A Law applicant could talk about sitting in on public hearings, attending debate club and keeping up to date with The In-House Lawyer.

We can help you get your spot as a Law student at a top university. Here at The Profs, we have expert Law tutors and an experienced university admissions team

Don’t forget to check out our guide to Law applications.

Transferable skills for future careers:

Extracurricular activities develop a wide range of transferable skills that are highly desirable in the job market. These skills include:

  • Leadership and management: Demonstrating your ability to lead teams, delegate tasks, and make sound decisions.
  • Communication and collaboration: Developing effective communication skills, active listening, and the ability to work harmoniously in diverse teams.
  • Time management and organisation: Balancing academic commitments with extracurricular activities showcases your ability to prioritise, meet deadlines, and manage multiple responsibilities.
  • Problem-solving and critical thinking: Nurturing analytical skills, adaptability, and the ability to think creatively to find innovative solutions.
  • Resilience and perseverance: Overcoming challenges, and setbacks, and learning from failures, demonstrating your determination and resilience.

How we can help

Engaging in extracurricular activities is not only about checking off a box on your application or resume; it is an investment in your personal and professional development. The skills and experiences gained through these activities can shape your character, broaden your horizons, and open doors to new opportunities. 

As you prepare for your university journey and think about your future career, remember to prioritise extracurricular involvement. Find activities that grow your passion, align with your interests, and showcase your unique strengths. Do not underestimate the power of extracurriculars.

Remember, at The Profs, we are here to guide and support you through your academic journey. Over 95% of our students get into their first and second-choice universities, thanks to our amazing university admissions team. We also have tutors in all subjects at all levels, ready to help you achieve your dream grades. Contact us today!