The Myth of Extracurricular Activities
Special thanks to our beloved student Karen who contributed to many graphics for Giraffe blogs.
Parents and students know that university admission isn’t about grades alone. Especially for those aiming for top-tier universities in Canada and US. You can’t get in with just excellent grades since everyone has them. How do you stand out from tens of thousands of applicants and catch the eye of admissions officers? The secret lies in extracurricular activities. Many parents know the importance of their kid’s activities outside of school. However, students rarely know exactly how to select activities. One of the most common questions I receive from parents is “How many activities should my kid take? Is the more the better?”
Well-Lopsided vs. Well-Rounded Candidates
Before I answer how many activities a kid should take to win him a top-tier university offer, I want to talk about well-lopsided vs. well-rounded candidates.
On one hand, a well-lopsided student is “T-shaped”. Referring to the two stokes in the letter “T”, a student can show both horizontal skills and vertical skills. Horizontally, a student covers a broad range of activities where he collaborates across disciplines. Vertically, he has depth in one particular area that aligns with his character traits as well as the program he applies for.
Let’s look at the example of Chris. Chris has good grades. He participates in 3 major activities where he shows compassion for the community services, leadership, and teamwork. But his most standout activity is that he is passionate about mathematics. He is the president of his math club for multiple years; he participated in math contests at national levels and won several awards.
On the other hand, a well-rounded candidate differs from those who are considered as well-lopsided. A well-rounded student has balanced extracellular activities, good grades, and shows some leadership. Tina is very active in her final years at secondary school. In the eyes of teachers and classmates, she is friendly, vibrant, and hard-working. Tina has good grades. She is involved in several school activities including the basketball team, Model United Nations, the science club, and the reading club. She is also elected as the vice president of her reading club. In her spare time, Tina plays piano and loves animals.
Which candidate do universities prefer? Well-lopsided Chirs or well-rounded Tina? To those who are untrained in university admission, Tina may look like a great candidate on paper. But for admission officers who read tons of applications per day, Tina has nothing special. She is just like any other prospective student, causing her vulnerable to rejection. In contrast, only by scanning through Chris’s profile, the admission officer already knows he is math savvy. Chris will bring his passion, talent, and knowledge in math to campus, and this is what the admission officer is looking for.
It is essential to know that universities want to know who you are as a person, rather than checking a list of prescribed criteria. Students must show their uniqueness to stand out from the crowd.
How Many Activities Should A Student Take?
I think now you should have a better understanding of extracurricular activities, but come back to the question – How many activities should a student take?
Students sabotage their applications by throwing in a bunch of extracurriculars on their application and mentioning leadership a couple of times. Repeating keywords is not your golden ticket to universities. In fact, admissions officers can sense whether students are stockpiling their applications with extracurriculars simply to ‘get in’.
Here, Giraffe Learning gives three big pieces of advice on students’ extracurricular activities.
- You should aim for 2–3 main activities that show your passion and character.
- Your activities should have a cohesive theme.
- Focus on quality over quantity.
Good luck with your university applications!