When you are applying to competitive programs in universities across Canada, the university will look at you holistically, evaluating both your academics and your extracurriculars. It is important that you understand this so you can make good decisions about what to get involved in, and so you know how to showcase your experiences in ways that make sense and stand out.
Universities want to know what you are like beyond your academics. Have you shown that you can be responsible? Do you look like someone who is eager to learn and grow? Do you stick to things and get better? Have you developed leadership? Do you mentor others? Do you give back? Your extracurriculars give the university a sense of what they can expect from you as a member of their community, and eventually a member of a professional field.
While it can be exciting to try many new activities, sticking with one or two that you are passionate about can do more to make you a competitive applicant. This is especially true if you show continuous progress in your skills and/or level of responsibility.
Here is an example of a path that shows focus and growth. You start as an attendee in a school club, summer camp or some other entry-level experience. At first, you are just an attendee. As your passion and skills expand, you join the competitive team or take on a junior leadership role. As you continue on, you start to take home wins in competitions or take on higher levels of responsibilities. Then you go on to coach or mentor younger students in the same activity. You have demonstrated that you possess the dedication and a passion for growth; you have shown the ability to achieve goals, and to be a leader; you have also shown that it is important for you to give back and help others in your field. This is the kind of person the university will see as a good candidate.
Even though it is important to show focus and growth, it is also important to show that you are well-rounded, so don’t choose activities that all demonstrate the same skill.
For example, if you organized special events for the student council, organized special events for your church and were also on the editorial committee for a school literary anthology for 3 years, think about what shows different sides of your personality and skill-set. If you have limitations on the number of things you can tell them, choose two that are different.
Of course, standing out from the crowd is not always easy, especially if other applicants are also well-rounded and have demonstrated focus and growth.
What is something that you can do, or have done, that others are not likely to have done? We had one student accepted into a selective program and the only activity that was different from the ‘usual’ ones was a time he worked in an upscale restaurant as a busboy. For him, this stood out because he came from an affluent family and it was unusual for someone from his private school to have a part-time job. The university saw this as a promising sign of a willingness to do hard, thankless work. By being a busboy, this student showed a unique character trait that others did not show.
Your high school activities give the university a sense of overarching character traits, and your activities are even more valuable if they show development in an area that is related to your potential major or career. For example, if you want to embark on a path that can lead to a career in medicine, volunteering at the hospital or St. John Ambulance show the most direct tie-in. If you feel called to a career in communications, roles where you wrote, edited, curated or managed social media are all related.
Remember that universities are looking at you as a whole person, and they want to offer places to people who can focus and grow into leadership roles. They want people who are well-rounded, and have something unique to offer. They prefer those who are already developing knowledge and experience in the field they will be entering. If you can show these things, you will make your application incredibly strong, and give yourself the best chance of acceptance into the program you most want.
February 4, 2020