World Level Extracurricular Activities
As the world gets smaller and the pool of potential students gets larger, application into higher end universities is becoming more competitive than ever before.
While elite education is certainly very helpful, and excellent grades have never been more vital, there is a phrase circling around the higher education marketplace that really signifies the era we live in now.
A phrase uttered by academic concierge services like Allen and Jain Education with the air of one who speaks of gold dust after the Wall Street Crash.
World level students
This is the new standard. The new kind of people that places like Oxford, Harvard, and the Sorbonne consider the real cream of the crop that deserves to come to learn in their truly hallowed halls.
But just what is a world level student? How does someone stand out to university recruiters as such a diamond in the rough?
The answer is extracurriculars. But not in the way that people used to think. It used to be that extracurriculars meant a smattering of summer volunteering and a few afterschool classes, maybe some travelling if you were especially fortunate.
Now though, to be a truly “world level” student, extracurriculars need to go a step further.
To better explain this, here are two important watchwords to think about, and eight examples of activities you might not have previously thought of, that could really make you stand out and be the kind of “world level” student that the Ivy League and Oxbridge really want.
Watchword one: consistency
Universities, being the places of education and understanding, are staffed by clever people. Clever people, by definition, are not stupid.
When reading the transcript of someone who claims to have volunteered, recruiters know the difference between someone who clearly cares and wants to make a difference, versus someone who just showed up at the odd event hither and thither because they wanted to be seen to be partaking in good works. The key difference here – consistency.
Putting in time is important. It shows that you are not just there for the image, but rather that you really care, and you really want to make a difference.
If you’re involved in volunteering, make it a regular weekly/fortnightly/monthly thing. Two weekends of soup-kitchen work the summer are not that impressive.
Several months of Thursdays and Sundays supporting a mental health counselling centre, that’s impressive.
Watchword two: direction
Do your extracurriculars really reveal you the person, or do they reveal someone who wants a good transcript.
You might think that a wide variety of different extracurriculars represent a person with a broad interest range.
There is a certain amount of truth to that, but again, the recruiter’s nose might sometimes smell a rat.
Let your interests direct you in ways that synergise. If you’re deeply involved in your religious community, but you also want to be a journalist, in addition to the charity volunteering your leaders may organise, perhaps also look into putting together a church/mosque/synagogue/mandir/temple newsletter or another form of media outlet.
When interests and experiences naturally flow together and make sense, recruiters see these as the work of a directed and energetic person, rather than the desperate flailing achievements of someone whose sole objective is reaching Yale/Cambridge/Ludwig-Maximilian.
1. Start a band or perform music
Whether you play a musical instrument, can sing like a chorus of angels, or know how to turn a computer into the most entrancing synthetic turntable, a musical career shows a great many valuable skills and traits.
Dedication to craft. The determination to practice. Persistence to perform.
2. How to make it go further
If you can show that you organised your own shows, booked your own gigs, or even released your own music online or through some other distribution system, that reveals a whole host of other skills that universities of all kinds will value.
A word to the wise though, while most universities are far more liberal and broad than wider society, directing a recruiter to expletive-laden content, discussing subjects not suitable for polite company, could be a dangerous educational gambit.
3. Get involved in your faith
Religious communities are cornerstones of public life no matter where in the world you go.
They provide services ranging from childcare to education to emergency charity response, addiction recovery, and even financial advice and debt counselling.
Taking the lead in one of these areas could make a big difference in your university application transcript.
4. How to make it go further
Since over 80% of the world is religious to some degree or other, you will need to make it very clear that this is not a community you are part of just because your parents took you.
Instead you need to show how you have made your own consistent contribution. An event you organised. A charitable cause you regularly supported with your time. A publication you put together.
Something of this sort can really show not just that you care, but that it matters enough to really do something.
Run a course
Community services of many kinds are always looking for people to teach useful skills to those who want to expand their abilities.
Though you will probably lack the official qualifications required to teach in a way that could give anyone a recognised qualification, that doesn’t mean what you do can’t be valuable.
Technology related skills. Musical technique. Artistic process.
All these and more are ideal subjects that could be taught with a willing and open-minded community centre’s help.
How to make it go further
Make your course as specific as possible.
While general skills will be useful, if you can show that you are passionate enough about a specific subject to raise your competence and confidence to the point when you can teach others, that really could mark you out as a “World Level” student.
This might sound like generic and unhelpful advice, since the publishing gatekeepers are firmly shut even to most adults, never mind ambitious teenagers.
However no one ever said that you need to go the traditional route, or that you need to publish written works.
If you can find an online magazine, an anthology market, or even sometimes if you self-publish something, you could be on your way to getting noticed enough to be on the “World Level” student radar.
How to make it go further
We come back to the watchword of ‘consistency’ and ‘direction’. If you publish four blog posts in the course of a month and then never return to the website again, that’s not going to look good.
Ditto with podcast episodes or fanzines.
If you organise your own space for publishing your own works, either keep it going, or make it clear that you are producing a self-contained series that will be one and done.
Also, make sure you stay in the lane you carve for yourself.
If you’re writing noir detective stories one week, and then medieval courtly romance the next, it's going to be hard to take your style seriously. Give your whole heart to one thing, don’t half-do two or more things.
As you take on extracurriculars and you really work and play in a way that marks you out as someone to take seriously, keep in mind what you want to be.
Not just another application. Not just another name. A truly and utterly “World Level” student.