Is there any benefit to starting early?

Is there any benefit to starting early?

"It's a popular misconception that good grades and a strong SAT score are the only essential factors in your application."

In fact, it's all too often that we see students with stellar scores who spent all their time in high school hitting the books, whilst neglecting the bevy of extracurricular activities available to them.

Grades will certainly play a major role in your admissions process, but they will only serve to help you get your foot in the door.

Admissions officers are looking for evidence of breadth as well as depth of knowledge, and strong extracurriculars (ECAs) as well as super curricular activities (SCAs) can be the difference between a good application and a great one. 

About [prefix]curricular activities

Although the term ‘extracurricular’ is one bandied about constantly, few students understand the importance of supercurriculars.

ECAs for one, consist of anything that you pursue outside the realm of your classroom. Clubs or organizations within school count, as do sporting and volunteering activities.

SCAs, on the other hand, as a subset of general ECAs, are pursuits, normally of the academic kind, that relate to your intended field of study. These will form a core part of your UK applications. 

Major Differences

Although you may think they sound similar, ECAs and SCAs serve very different purposes.

The importance of ECAs for one, stems from the holistic nature of the US admissions process.

Rather than place emphasis solely on your academic performance and SAT scores, admissions officers want to know who you are, curious to get a glimpse of your personality through your interests, motivations and experiences. 

Strong SCAs on the other hand are key features of every successful UK application.

The UK process is far more academic than that of the US, and as a result, your sporting and volunteering activities won’t count for much (unless of course, you’re pursuing Sports Science or the like).

Instead, admissions tutors are hoping for evidence to back up your expressed interest in a particular field.

Rather than hear about what you may potentially achieve with your Law degree, tutors want to see you chart a path that has led you to the discipline.

Whether you were inspired by your time at your school’s debate or MUN clubs, or by a real life legal case, you should make sure to outline the different stepping stones that have driven your curiosity for intellectual and personal growth over your high school years.

It's a shame then, given the foundational impact that ECAs and SCAs have your development, that most students find themselves severely wanting in activities in the run up to their application submissions.

With the tremendous emphasis placed on schoolwork and grades in Singapore sapping their time and energy, students often find themselves academically qualified for their dream schools, but nevertheless lacking the evidential activities that could potentially set them apart from their peers. 

Now, how important are SCAs?

This makes it all the more important for you to start acting on your interests early on in high school life, while you still have the time and capacity to explore relevant activities.

Although a tiny portion of students grow up knowing that they want to pursue a career in actuary or medicine, most students don't have the faintest idea.

And there’s no problem with this - in fact, its a normal part of growing up.

Other than improving your holistic wellbeing, exploring different activities of interest will allow you to sample different fields, before finding key clubs or organizations to commit to and help grow in the long term, whilst also discovering potential fields of study to pursue at university.

This in turn, could lead to forays of an academic nature.

Another term that is often thrown around in relation to the admission process is “spike”.

The word itself is used to describe a student’s specialization or deep experience in one particular field.

The idea is that even though admissions officers want to see that you are a Jack of all trades, they are also hoping that you’d be a master of at least one of the fields you’ve explored during your time in high school.

Many students will point to a long and fruitful time at the pulpit representing their debate club, or a rewarding stint with a robotics team.

Yet a path often not taken, yet nevertheless incredibly fruitful, is that of research. 

Beyond the endless barrage of tuition and never ending homework sessions that most students are subject to in this day and age, successful applicants to top universities are often able to share formative research experiences.

These ‘capstones’ are in effect high-effort and high impact initiatives such as a personal project through which you research or investigate a topic of key interest to you, before you share your learnings and insights with the world, whether through a research paper, youtube video or slide deck. 

Ultimately, starting early and taking the time to explore activities and areas of research can be foundational to a strong application, and ultimately to acceptances to your dream schools in the US and UK.

To learn more about how you can make the most of your time in high school, and to discover potential areas for growth, book a complimentary consultation with our experts!