The importance of extra-curricular and standing out as an applicant reminds me of a 2008 Hollywood drama on a heist in Vegas called ‘21’. Most of you must have seen the movie, but for those of you have not, here’s the plot – This super-intelligent, extremely talented MIT student (majoring in Mathematics) with a 4.0 GPA and an MCAT (It’s the entrance exam to into Medical school here in the US) score of 44 on 45 or 99.9 percentile dreams of going to Harvard Medical School. He is offered an admission but can’t afford to pay $300,000 as his tuition fee. So he applies for this prestigious Robinson scholarship and faces stiff competition as other applicants also have similar scores. The director of the school calls him for an interview and tells him that all applicants are stellar as far as academics go. So, he will be awarding the scholarship to the student who “dazzles” him. Check out the trailer here. http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi313655577/ Interesting movie.
Some of you are in the same boat as Ben, the MIT student from this movie. Only, you’re seeking to get an admission to a prestigious university (and possibly a scholarship as well). What you need to understand is that there is no dearth of competition as far as your test score goes. Stellar students compete with equally stellar applicants, the same goes for students with good to mediocre scores. So what is it about you that will “dazzle” the admission committee? What makes you stand out? It’s the work that you’ve done outside your class room.
Universities mainly look for two separate sets of information from your application - your academic preparedness and your personality. In other words, they want to know if you are a good student and in addition to that, they want to know about your personal qualities when you’re outside your classroom. They don’t want offer an admission to somebody who only scores high. That would only make the university full of nerds and geeks, right? They want to find diverse students who will be a good fit in the program and in the university community. And the only way to tell them that you will fit in is through what you do outside your class. This can be anything from sports to organizing blood donation drives, NGO involvement to tutoring fellow students and even part time work; basically your day-to-day life outside the class. Were you a part of your school/college cricket team for 4 years? Mention it. Did you tutor a group of students from your colony? Put this on as well. Did you volunteer for a major cause? Say it all. All this goes to show that you’ve been a great team member. You’re committed to something. It tells the admission committee that you have what it takes to strike a balance between your regular life and things that you want to do because you’re passionate about it and are excited.
That said, it is important to understand that listing 53 activities that you were a part of will not really help. Most of us might have done a whole lot of work, but we may not be able to explain it well. As an applicant, you need to look at yourself and assess the work that you’ve done to find out what demonstrates all those qualities. Your application has to have an articulate account of your experiences, what these experiences meant you and if they were meaningful to others. Did you add value and/or make a difference? How many hours in a day did you put in for this work apart from your regular day as a student? You have to be able to give an accurate description of the work you did. If you’ve not been active outside class, it’s never too late to start.
Remember, it’s not about the list of things you’ve done, it’s about how show who you are through what you do. Show them that you were able to seize the opportunity when it came knocking. Scores are not high enough? Don’t worry. Chances are, the extra-curricular work that you’ve done might be able to compensate for the not-so-high scores and get you an admission offer from that dream university of yours.
Almost forgot, watch the movie to find out what Ben did to stand out from other applicants and if he got the scholarship. I’m up for a chat about it