Extra-curricular activities (ECAs) are a big part of every student’s college application; with universities, both in the US and the UK, taking ever more holistic approaches towards assessing applicants, we often get asked, “What is a good activity to do?” The answer is never simple, but I always emphasize two keywords: Initiative and Commitment.
Initiative: By far the most important keyword in a strong activity, universities want to see students who are the driving force in their own interests. Initiative can take many forms: leadership, accomplishments, or qualifications, just to name a few. But colleges always value self-driven interests more than resource-driven, or even worse, parent-driven, activities.
Commitment: Having a well-rounded student body doesn’t mean every student needs to have many activities! In fact, less is often more, at least in terms of activities, when that allows students to focus their time on doing one thing well rather than having a lot of one-off experiences.
What that means for students is that they will need to play an even more active role in having frequent discussions with their subject teachers for letters of recommendation. A negative, or arguably worse, a generic letter may hurt students more than ever. It’s also critical to take any opportunities to sit for standardized tests and get the best results possible. Anything that can corroborate a strong school record will help create a convincing student profile.
With schools closed and activities canceled due to COVID-19, however, it may seem like opportunities are few and far between. But that couldn’t be further from the truth; it will be easier than ever for the most selective universities to assess which of their candidates and differentiate those who show initiative and commitment.
Here are some things students can still do to highlight these two qualities in their profile:
1. Take advantage of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses):
Starting with MIT’s OpenCourseWare project, which digitizes and hosts all of the university’s lectures online for free, many universities now host MOOCs on a variety of services. For a high school student, this presents a great opportunity to explore possible majors and get a taste of college-level learning. Besides showing a consistent interest in a subject, all of this information can help students when they need to write those “Why Major” essays in the college applications.
2. Start or participate in an online interest group
Whether it’s a school club or public forum, the Internet means everyone can find people to share their interests. Sharing within an online interest group allows students to keep up with the latest developments in that area, and fueling their own development through the exchange of ideas. This also tells the universities a lot about how you may be able to contribute to their own student body – in their application, the University of Notre Dame asks students to “identify a [social media post] of yours. What does it reveal about you and your digital footprint?” The Internet can be a great tool for students to use, so use it wisely!
3. Maintain an online portfolio
Leaving a concrete track record of your commitment can never hurt. In fact, many universities now allow students to include a link to an online portfolio, even if they aren’t applying for a major in the creative arts. Portfolios can also take many forms – while the traditional portfolios of art, music, and film may not be for everyone, writing journals, blogs, and other online platforms can provide universities with a window into your life.
These are just a sampling of ways that show that not even a pandemic can get in the way of a student developing an interest or activity. In fact, our students at Quantum Prep have in recent years used these same ideas to propel their successful applications to universities – keep an eye out for our upcoming seminars, where we will present case studies of how our students got into their dream colleges.
Quantum Prep is an education consultancy that focuses on placing their students at the best colleges or universities. We boast of diverse results. In addition to the traditional rap sheet of prestigious university acceptances, our consultants like to highlight the different paths they have sent students on. All of our students are different; we are proud of our one-on-one tailored approach towards university counselling. Submit your information for a complimentary 30-minute initial meeting, where you can get tailored individualized advice on how to put your best foot forward.
By Conrad Yu, Director of Development