How Important are Extracurriculars for UCAS Applications?

17 Jan, 2024 | University Preparation

Extracurricular activities play a key role in the holistic assessment of UCAS applications. Activities beyond the classroom can significantly boost your chances of getting the offers you want, as well as helping you develop as a person!

In this article, we’re going to look at some of the ways involvement in extracurricular activities can help you shape a compelling UCAS application.

We’re going to offer you some practical advice on how to select UCAS extracurriculars, and how to present them in your application. We’ll also review the impact these activities have on your overall application.

What Are Extracurriculars?

Your regular academic curriculum is the content that you learn at school, in the classroom. Extracurriculars are activities which go beyond this.

Joining a sports team, working on a school newspaper, or signing up for a robotics club – we’ll go into the huge variety of extracurriculars a bit later! – are all great ways to foster your own holistic development. 

You’ll get the chance to develop your skills, make new friends, and grow as a person.

Why Are Extracurriculars Important for UCAS Applications?

Before we dive into the huge variety of extracurriculars you can get involved in, here are five reasons to include extracurriculars in your UCAS application.

I. Holistic profile

Including some of the extracurricular activities you’ve taken part in shows university admissions officers that you are a well-rounded individual – that you have a life outside of school and your academic achievements!

You’ll also provide some insights into your many diverse interests, passions and talents, some of which may catch an admissions officer’s eye.

II. Skills demonstration

Many essential skills are developed and applied in various extracurricular activities, and you should definitely demonstrate these in your UCAS application by discussing your extracurricular involvement.

Show off your teamwork skills by talking about your role in your school’s cheerleading team, or mention how time spent in the debate club has made you a world-class communicator. Maybe you’re a head volunteer at your local charity shop – how has this helped you with your leadership?

III. Competitive edge

Your extracurriculars can help set your UCAS application apart in a competitive admissions environment. Don’t be afraid to show off your unique personality and diverse experiences in order to get ahead of the curve!

How many other students demonstrated their dedication and commitment to a goal by winning an essay competition in Year 11? Who else has volunteered with a homeless charity every weekend for five years? Can anyone claim to show extreme determination by joining a local climbing gym and conquering their fear of heights like you can?

IV. Personal growth

We’ve already mentioned how taking part in activities beyond the classroom can boost your own personal growth, and admissions officers know this too!

Including extracurriculars on your UCAS application will signal your commitment to personal development and continuous learning, while also demonstrating valuable qualities like resilience, adaptability and a proactive attitude.

V. Alignment with values

Every university tries its best to foster a unique culture through the promotion of certain values, and these universities will be looking to accept students who can make a positive contribution to the student community.

On your UCAS application, try to illustrate the ways in which you’re a proactive member of your community. Volunteering is especially good for showcasing your contributions to your community, and proving you’re a socially responsible and engaged individual.

10 Extracurricular Activities to Include on Your UCAS Application

Alright, so we’ve established that extracurriculars are great to include on your UCAS application. But what have you done that counts as an extracurricular, and what can you pick up now in order to boost the chances of receiving the offers you want and deserve?

Student at a debate podium

1. Academic clubs and societies

Extracurriculars are activities that go beyond the classroom – but this doesn’t mean that you can’t do them at school or engage in academic activities!

If you haven’t joined one already, have a look at the range of academic clubs and societies on offer at your school (and in your local community!). If you can tell universities that you were the president of the Maths Club, a member of the Science Society, or a participant in a Model United Nations, you can demonstrate a passion for learning and your subject in particular, which is exactly what they’re looking for!

This can also demonstrate effective organisation and time-management skills, and if you secure a committee position, you can show off your leadership skills too!

Participating in activities like academic debates or competitions will enhance your critical thinking and communication abilities, which won’t go unnoticed by your chosen universities!

Start building your list of academic extracurriculars today by signing up for one of OxBright’s academic research internships.

2. Sports teams and fitness clubs

Sports and fitness activities are also great extracurriculars to include on your UCAS application. Universities know that participating in yoga classes takes self-discipline, captaining the school football team takes leadership, and belonging to the athletics club involves teamwork.

On top of this, all of these indicate a personal commitment to your physical health and wellbeing, signalling your sense of self-value. You don’t make decisions or goals lightly, making you a valuable and confident student to have on board!

3. Art, music and drama

Show off your creativity, self-expression and dedication to a project by mentioning that you played the lead role in the Year 10 school play, or have been a member of the school choir since Year 7. Maybe you regularly visit art exhibitions or enter (and win!) competitions.

Participation in performances and the like hones your presentation skills, and universities know this.

You can also take these opportunities to contribute to your own personal and artistic growth!

Group of teenagers participating in a beach clean-up

4. Community service and volunteering

By volunteering at a local food bank, cleaning up your neighbourhood, or tutoring younger students at your school, you’re showing that you’re a self-motivated individual wanting to make a difference in the world.

By including these activities on your UCAS application, you demonstrate your commitment to social responsibility, and highlight your empathy, compassion and willingness to contribute to the community.

There’s a lot in this for you too! These activities are incredibly rewarding, make a difference, and can lead to a broader understanding of societal issues.

5. Leadership roles

Maybe you were head prefect, president of the student council, captain of the debate team, or worked tirelessly behind the scenes to organise school events.

You’re a leader – you can take charge, delegate efficiently, and produce great results. You’re not afraid to take an active involvement in decision-making processes in order to contribute to improving your community.

Bonus points if you were elected to your position – you can clearly demonstrate how your peers trust you to represent them!

6. Work experience and internships

Interning at a local marketing firm, getting a part-time job at the local book shop, or securing work experience in a research lab will offer valuable practical exposure to a chosen field, as well as demonstrating a proactive approach to learning and gaining real-world experience.

Connecting academic studies to their practical applications is a skill universities are looking for, and it will also help you further down the line when you’re making career decisions. 

Continue your journey, or get started, by applying for one of OxBright’s work experience internships.

Young photographer holding up a camera to their face

7. Non-academic clubs and societies

You might be thinking that extracurriculars are all extra academic work that you’re only doing to improve your UCAS application – but they should be fun too!

Indulge one of your interests by exploring the after school clubs available to you – join chess club, the environmental club, shoot for the stars and become president of the photography club! All of this demonstrates a life outside of school – you’re not just an exam-taking robot!

8. Language clubs, exchange programmes and cultural societies

Demonstrate your language proficiency and cultural awareness by showcasing your involvement in language clubs, exchange programmes and cultural societies.

Tell your universities how adaptable you are, and that you possess a global perspective. Not only can you speak different languages, but you also have an awareness of different cultural contexts – your communication skills are through the roof!

9. Innovative projects and competitions

Maybe you won the Regional Science Fair, joined your school’s robotics club, or entered some entrepreneurship competitions. Add these to your UCAS application to showcase your scientific acumen and innovation, as well as your passion for problem-solving and critical thinking.

Universities love to see how you have encountered and dealt with real-world challenges, so this is a great way to do it! 

Get started with, or add to your portfolio, by entering OxBright’s Essay Competition.

Student waving at laptop camera

10. Online learning and certifications

Have you completed an online coding certification, language proficiency certification, a digital marketing course, or something similar? Include this on your UCAS application to demonstrate your proactive approach to skill development, and provide real, tangible evidence of your skill set.

Haven’t done one of these yet? Don’t worry – enhance your academic and professional profile now by signing up for one of OxBright’s online summer schools.

How Do I Include Extracurriculars in My UCAS Application?

Before starting your UCAS application, you should take some time to decide on your most relevant extracurriculars for your chosen course to maximise the impact of your application.

Personal statements

Writing your personal statement gives you the chance to speak to your chosen universities directly, so it’s important to make your words count.

In your statement, you’ll be composing a narrative. You want to include aspects of reflection and storytelling, alongside your personal accounts. Listing off your classes and academic qualifications isn’t going to cut it here, so use your extracurriculars to showcase your personality and well-roundedness!

Refer to our UCAS Changes Ultimate Guide and this article to understand the changes being made to personal statements in the coming years.

Referees and references

In the academic references section of your UCAS application, your referees will attempt to provide additional information about you so your chosen universities have a better understanding of your student profile. 

Encourage your referees to sing your praises, emphasise the impact and relevance of your extracurricular activities, and provide context for your achievements. You might even ask them to include some of the things you couldn’t fit in your personal statement!

The academic reference section of the UCAS application is changing – read our UCAS Changes Ultimate Guide for more.

We hope that this article has helped you to understand why extracurriculars are important to include on your UCAS applications, which extracurriculars you might consider including, and how you might include them.

You should approach your UCAS applications holistically, leveraging your unique strengths and experiences.

That said, while extracurriculars are indeed a great tool to boost your university applications, don’t forget their main purpose. Extracurriculars should be fun, and they can ultimately help you to relax.

Jen

By Jen Protheroe

Jen is a finalist studying Classical Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Oxford. Outside of work, Jen enjoys spending time in nature and is a strong advocate for the mental health benefits of this – although she does like to soundtrack her peaceful, scenic routes with punk, rock and metal music mixes.

Boost your UCAS applications today!

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