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Extra-curricular activites for university application.

(66 Posts)
ttlshiwwya Mon 16-Dec-13 15:22:31

DS1 wants to be an engineer but has just been told by his school that he needs to improve his extra-curricular activities for his university application (he hopes to go in 2 years time). His hobbies are watching and playing sports with his friends, gaming and girls (although I don't think he mentioned the last two to his school but instead mentioned he plays trumpet).

Apparently he doesn't have measurable achievements in the sports or the music. He was in his primary school football but isn't good enough for his secondary school team (they only have one per age group). However he still goes to the training and plays football at least twice a week with his mates. He also plays golf and tennis when the weather is good but doesn't go in for competitions or medals preferring to play with his mates. Similarly with the trumpet he declined to do the grade exams or join the school band (not cool apparently) - prefers to play for pleasure (he no longer has music as a school subject but still plays). A friend who plays says he would be about Grade 4+.

Any advice?

titchy Mon 16-Dec-13 16:35:40

Don't worry about measurable activities, doing stuff in downtime is supposed to be fun, not another achievement for a UCAS form.

If he really wants something meaty how about a few days next summer at a university doing engineering - google smallpiece trust for details of such a scheme - there are others too.

MrsBright Mon 16-Dec-13 22:01:06

For a 'vocational course' (in all forms) Extra-Curricular is VERY important. It shows you have a clue about the practical application of the degree subject, ie. have thought about it beyond A level and have hands-on experience of how Law/Nursing/Pharmacy/Engineering/whatever to prove you understand what the subject/job will entail.

Work-experience in any form of engineering company no matter how small/basic, any relevant Science/Engineering Fairs etc visits, and any relevant public lectures you can get him to at any local Uni* would be good. In terms of UCAS application, he then needs to explain what he got out of doing these things in terms of interesting topics/ideas and 'thinking outside' A level syllabus etc - practical problems with practical solutions etc.

*example =

VegasIsBest Mon 16-Dec-13 22:13:28

Previous suggestions are good. Focus in things which relate to his preferred course ie smallpiece trust. And / or work experience. Trumpet is lovely, but universities look for subject related experience.

MillyMollyMama Tue 17-Dec-13 02:00:24

Will he have Leadership opportunities at school? Engineering competitions? What sort of engineering by the way? What has interested him in the branch of engineering he wants to study? What inspires him? Relevant work experience is good for engineers. Local firms can often help out.

He comes across as someone who is not particularly engaged in hobbies but he needs to find something that shows he has commitment and interest in the course and career he wants. At the moment it sounds as if he is easily put off and has backed out of doing things other young people will have done. However, he has time to get going with something constructive.

BeckAndCall Tue 17-Dec-13 06:44:07

Extra curricular stuff is all about relevance for UCAS applications. I can't see how an admissions tutor would really be instead in. Music or sport, tbh ( might depend where he wants to apply - the places that care the least are the hardest to get into, perversely)

For engineering, you might try Young Enterprise, if your school offers this in the sixth form. Also helpful would be Headstart courses - engineering taster courses run for the end of lower sixth. Or similar taster days at various unis - university of London has by far the best coordinated options - just google 'taster courses university of London' and it will bring up a long list.

MrsBright Tue 17-Dec-13 08:17:57

As someone who works in Admissions, I can tell you that we get very bored with long lists of hobbies - sport. music, voluntary work etc - and then no explanation of WHY this is relevant to their application.

Its only worth mentioning if its something like playng in a local orchestra that has increased their self-confidence, given them experience of dealing with peolpe from lots of different backgrounds/ages, ability to work to deadlines etc - all skills that show a greater maturity and most importantly, engagement with the world outside A levels. AND the need to say this - otherwise its totally meaningless!

PS. We arent impressed by 'overseas expeditions' that mascerade as voluntary work etc and pretend to be 'life-changing challenges'. We know these are 'bought' by wealthy parents and are nothing more than glorified holidays. Dont waste your money! Working one afternoon a week in the local charity shop for 6 months would impress a great deal more!

chemenger Tue 17-Dec-13 10:33:11

Where I am the overriding element of the application is academic qualifications, this is an RG engineering dept, for what that is worth. We give little or no weight to hobbies and interests. We are careful, if considering personal statements at all, which is not usual, to discount any activity which is "bought" ie would not be available to applicants from backgrounds of restricted opportunity. Show a genuine interest in the field of engineering you have applied for with evidence of some research. If applicants have taken part in engineering outreach activities these should be to inform their choice of degree, not to enhance the application.
Other subjects and other institutions will be different, there is no one answer to this query.

mindgone Tue 17-Dec-13 11:34:11

My DS has just got 4 offers and 1 pending for chemical engineering (all RG, all in top 10 for chem eng). His PS is very enthusiastic about the subject, and how he came to believe it is right for him, based on his love of his subjects, and how they relate to it. He has been a member of a rugby club for 5 years, (although he gave it up in Y11, he made it sound current). He has played instruments, and described his love of them (again, making it sound current, and no mention of grades!). He did the DofE bronze, and talked about teamwork, and has done quite a bit of local volunteering, and mentioned getting on with lots of different people and more teamwork. Mind you, he already has the grades required, which does put him at a huge advantage.
I really think, as already mentioned, the most important things are fab grades and enthusiasm for the subject. Of course, some engineering experience would be great, if nothing else, to confirm that he loves it! Best of luck to your DS, I think he sounds very well rounded!

secretsantasquirrels Tue 17-Dec-13 13:10:55

DS was told similar stuff when he was in 11. He considered doing DoE and other extra curricular bit then he read up on what universities themselves say they want.
It's all about the AS grades.
DS1 has offers from top unis. His Personal statement was 99.9% about his subject, his wider interest and involvement in it. He had done some summer residentials in his subject which were in there.
He doesn't do much extra curricular and there was probably one sentence at the end about none subject related stuff.
He did get very high marks in his AS levels though.

Bonsoir Tue 17-Dec-13 13:16:04

Not everything that can be a credible demonstration of interest in a subject at university can be a "measurable achievement" and PSs that read like a list of medals are very dull. Insight and self-awareness are valuable qualities and make for better reading and more original PSs.

Lancelottie Tue 17-Dec-13 13:33:26

Hmm. DS's statement (also for engineering) started something like 'I have always been obsessed with taking things apart to see how they work -- and the more moving parts, the better.'

I'm not sure his Grade 1 flute and Preliminary Canoeing Award made it onto the page anywhere.

Lancelottie Tue 17-Dec-13 13:34:13

More to the point, OP, why does he want to be an engineer?

Bonsoir Tue 17-Dec-13 13:37:52

"We are careful, if considering personal statements at all, which is not usual, to discount any activity which is "bought" ie would not be available to applicants from backgrounds of restricted opportunity."

How does that work? Do you discount fluency in several foreign languages, for example?

secretsantasquirrels Tue 17-Dec-13 13:49:52

summer residentials DS did Sutton Trust. There are others, often aimed at those who would be first in their family to go to higher education and only open to lower income families.

bruffin Tue 17-Dec-13 13:52:46


Do you take into account Arkwright scholarships?

IShallWearMidnight Tue 17-Dec-13 14:15:30

DD1's PS (Maths at RG unis) tied all her extra curricular stuff into why she loved Maths. A summer school triggered her interest in a cutting edge research area which she studied for her Extended Project, but she could work as a team (DofE) and wasn't a total geek (Saturday job at her ballet school, house captain). Most of it was aimed at being a talking point if she was called for interview (some of her other places did interview), as generally for STEM subjects, the most important thing is grades.

She did charm a professor at the open day though who made a note of her name, and the offer arrived in the post two days later. Whether the two things were connected or not, we don't know wink.

Anecdotally, her friends who got most offers were the ones who'd made their pS relevant to the subject, not just a list of done this, done that.

chemenger Tue 17-Dec-13 14:26:57

Bruffin - not as far as I know. Not to say they are not a valuable thing to do, we do sponsor scholars but I don't think it gives preference for a place on our programmes.
Bonsoir - Fluency in foreign language is not a preferred attribute, ie it has no weight in selection here, although its obviously a good thing.
Lancelottie - have we met? My opening line when chatting at open days is often - "did you like taking tour toys to bits?", because I think it is an indicator of an interest in engineering. This is not taken into account in the selection process smile.
secretsanta - I would agree, what out published requirements say in the prospectus is what we want. In our prospectus there is a section on the selection process which explains how we select. There is no hidden thing that will make up for academic grades that are not good enough.

Having said all this the extracurricular things that are mentioned are good to have for CVs for jobs and placements when that time comes, and just good to do. Employers are looking for people who fit workplaces and need a good picture of what they do, we are looking for potential students who will complete the programme successfully, which is largely down to qualifications.

Lancelottie Tue 17-Dec-13 14:29:13

Chemenger, I don't think we've met, but if you do interview DS1, could you ask him to put some of them back together, please?

Bonsoir Tue 17-Dec-13 14:40:29

OK. So you are saying that anything that is not a preferred attribute is actually neutral to the selection process and has no impact either way?

chemenger Tue 17-Dec-13 18:45:49

Not preferred was a rubbish way to express that it has no influence, but it would be huge advantage for the future, for example in getting placements overseas (for us, we could place student who speak Chinese relatively easily for example) and for graduate jobs and even exchange years. We struggle to fully exploit Erasmus exchanges because of a lack of bilingual students. I definitely didn't mean we would prefer applicants who don't speak other languages. Once again I have to say this is just our selection process, other universities are different.
I don't interview and I never successfully put my toys back together either, so I can't help lancelottie with that!

Bonsoir Tue 17-Dec-13 19:33:37

Sorry to bother you on this issue, but it interests me hugely. Obviously I think (surrounded as I am by plurilingual people who use several languages every day) that speaking several languages to an operational level is a huge life advantage. In my fond imagination I like to believe that an engineering department looking at admissions would, all other things being equal, think that the plurilingual candidate was more desirable than the monolingual one. Maybe I am mistaken?

rightsaidfrederick Tue 17-Dec-13 19:47:57

Unfortunately, the idea that admissions tutors want to see irrelevant extra curricular activities is an idea peddled by PE teachers who need more sports team members and music teachers who need more bodies in the orchestra.

They want to see things that are relevant to the subject he's applying to study. So, summer schools are great - but admissions tutors are aware of which ones are just bought by parents. Equally, building things (and taking them apart, and reassembling them) in his spare time will look great
e.g. if he was going for electronic engineering / comp sci he could build a computer
e.g. if he wanted to do civil / structural engineering, an interest in woodwork and having built things will look relevant

chemenger Tue 17-Dec-13 19:57:59

All things are not equal though are they - not all applicants have an equivalent opportunity to be fluent in more than one language. We need students to be competent primarily in maths, chemistry and physics, without those they would not be able to complete the programme. I think that it is fair if we select on the basis of necessary attributes which all applicant should have similar opportunities to attain, allowing for differences in school success in preparing students for higher education, rather than on other attributes. Employers would be biting off the hand of a polyglot graduate, but we are not selecting student on the basis of their future employability.

I should say that we are possibly one of the more formulaic selectors in the sector and certain factors, which would out me even more, make it relatively easy to select on school qualifications for us. I would highly recommend asking about this at open days or to selectors at specific universities.

chemenger Tue 17-Dec-13 20:00:11

Sorry, my last comment was to bonsoir.

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