The 34 Best Super-Curricular Activities for Applicants to Top Universities
As the new university application season opens for another year, you may be considering some extra ways in which you can enhance your personal statement before you submit your UCAS form.
Top universities will be expecting you to demonstrate your love of your subject, so you can’t do much better than enjoying your subject by taking part in a variety of so-called ‘super-curricular’ activities: that is, extra-curricular activities that relate specifically to your subject. Our suggestions for each subject are below, with a final section devoted to general super-curricular activities for any subject at the end.
The primary super-curricular activity for English is, of course, reading, with writing your own work coming a close second. Here are a few other ideas.
1. Take part in a writing challenge, such as National Novel Writing Month
Writing challenges are a great way of demonstrating your love of the written word. National Novel Writing Month takes place in November, and its object is as its name suggests: you write a novel in a month. It’s a huge writing challenge, but you get lots of support from the online community of other writers who are taking part, and it’s an undertaking that will give you a better understanding of the novels you read for your A-level. If you’re applying before the 15 October Oxbridge deadline, it should be enough to mention in your personal statement that you enjoy writing, and that you’re preparing to take part in the challenge; by the time interviews come round, you’ll have written your novel and it’ll be a good talking point in interviews.
2. Visit Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon was the home of one of the most important writers of all time: William Shakespeare. It’s also the headquarters of the Royal Shakespeare Company, one of the best theatre companies in the world. As such, it’s a must-visit town for any literature enthusiast. With the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the Swan Theatre and the Courtyard Theatre all offering superb Royal Shakespeare Company productions, a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon is also the perfect place to do the next activity on our list…
3. Go to the theatre
You’ll doubtless be studying a play or two for your A-level, and you’ve probably already realised that if you’re to appreciate a play properly, you need to see it performed. A theatre trip should therefore be an essential complement to your A-level study, and it’s something you should approach with a critical mind. Be prepared to think about questions such as how well the production brought to life the words on the page, how the production differed to how audiences would have experienced it at the time, and so on.
Maths doesn’t, at first, seem a subject that particularly lends itself to super-curricular activities, but there are still a few things you can do to demonstrate your enthusiasm.
4. Visit Bletchley Park
A great place to visit if you’re enthusiastic about maths is Bletchley Park, home to the wartime codebreakers who, among other things, unravelled the workings of the Enigma machine. Once the workplace of the renowned mathematician Alan Turing, Bletchley is a place that demonstrates the importance of maths in the real world, and it’s also home to the world’s first computer.
5. Enter maths competitions
A good way of demonstrating that your interest in maths goes beyond the classroom is to enter maths competitions, such as those organised by the UK Mathematics Trust.
History and Classical Civilisations are two subjects that lend themselves particularly well to super-curricular activities; indeed, such activities are a fundamental part of studying these subjects, and they can be broadly categorised into museum visits and site visits.
6. Museum visits
You name it, there’s a museum dedicated to it, and that’s particularly true of History and Classical Civilisations. The British Museum in London and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford are two obvious examples of superb museums spanning many periods of history, but there are numerous others, your experiences of which make a great talking point on your personal statement and in interviews.
7. Site visits
Whatever period of history you’re studying, site visits are always advisable because they help you develop a deeper understanding of what you’ve read in books. From visiting Roman villas, Hadrian’s Wall or even Greece and Rome for Classical Civilisations, to visiting the First World War battlefields for History, there’s no limit to the interesting places you can talk about on your personal statement. If you’re studying Georgian history, you might want to visit some stately homes, or perhaps admire the Georgian architecture of Bath; similarly, a module on the Elizabethans could be supported with a visit to an Elizabethan country house such as Longleat. You could even volunteer at a National Trust house to demonstrate your love of history.
Another subject well-suited to super-curricular activities is Geography, as getting out ‘into the field’ is an important part of understanding the concepts you’ve learnt about from books.
8. Field trips
Field trips will be a part of your A-level syllabus, but you can organise your own in your spare time to give yourself even more to write about on your personal statement. Visit a variety of environments: glacial valleys, river valleys, urban landscapes, coastal environments, and so on. Conduct your own research and make your own notes on the phenomena you observe: glacial features such as striations or drumlins, coastal erosion, oxbow lakes, sand dunes and so on. You could try fossil hunting, too.
9. Read National Geographic magazine
National Geographic is the world’s most famous geography-related magazine, and it’s the official magazine of the National Geographic Society. Subscribing to it will keep you abreast of geographical issues around the world, and it’s the perfect way to demonstrate your interest in the subject.
There are lots of language-related super-curricular activities with which you can demonstrate enthusiasm on your personal statement.
10. Visit a country where the language is spoken
Most obviously, visiting a country that speaks the language you’re learning is highly advantageous. Making an effort to talk to the locals in their language will develop your confidence, improve your pronunciation and conversational skills, and give you a practical application for the skills you’ve developed in the classroom.
11. Watch films in the language you’re studying
Another thing you can do to support your learning of a language is to watch films in that language, as this will help you tune into the sounds of that language, as well as familiarising yourself with the country’s culture. If you find it hard at first, you could watch with English subtitles to begin with.
12. Gain a pen friend
Join a penpal website and find someone with whom you can exchange letters in the language you’re learning. This gives you practice at both reading and writing in your new language.
13. Read foreign-language newspapers
Keep abreast of news in the country in which your language is spoken, and develop your language skills at the same time, by reading a newspaper from that country. For example, if you were learning French, you could read Le Monde.
We group the core science subjects – Physics, Chemistry and Biology – together here because many of the activities mentioned apply to all these subjects.
14. Perform scientific experiments and studies at home
You don’t need a lab to perform scientific experiments and studies; these can be carried out in the comfort of your own home. Approach such studies and experiments as though you were doing them for school, and you’ll soon start to develop sound scientific principles and methods. For Biology, for example, you could observe the nature in your back garden and how it changes throughout the year, being scientific about it of course: writing down your observations and recording exact numbers of different species and how they vary throughout the year, such as birds, butterflies and so on. Ideally, blog about your studies as evidence that you’ve done them. You could even contribute your findings to a wider study, such as those run by the RSPB or Butterfly Conservation.
15. Subscribe to scientific publications
Keep abreast of scientific developments ready to talk about them in interviews by subscribing to reputable scientific publications and journals such as New Scientist, Scientific American, Nature and so on.
16. Visit science museums
Science museums aren’t just fun: they’re educational. Visit as many as you can, and find out about areas of science you hadn’t thought about before. For example, there’s a museum in Oxford dedicated to the history of science itself, which would encourage you to think about developments in scientific methods and beliefs.
17. Join scientific societies
Membership of scientific societies dedicated to your favourite science subject shows your commitment to the subject, as well as keeping you up to date with developments and allowing you to attend events; these include the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics and so on. These organisations usually have student membership options suited to various stages of your education (under-18, undergraduate, post-graduate and so on).
18. Take part in National Science and Engineering Week
Each year, the National Science and Engineering Week celebrates science in all its forms, with events and projects you can get involved in.
19. Arrange a visit to an observatory
Those wishing to demonstrate a particular interest in astrophysics can do so by visiting an observatory, the most obvious example in the UK being Jodrell Bank, which is part of the University of Manchester. Its Discovery Centre may be pitched at a more basic ‘family-friendly’ level, but there’s nothing wrong with emailing them to ask if you might be able to delve a bit further behind the scenes, perhaps to shadow a scientist as a form of work experience.
Clearly, producing works of art yourself is a crucial activity on the syllabus for this subject; but it’s one that you can build on outside school.
20. Visit art galleries
Learn about a variety of artistic periods and genres by visiting art galleries and recording your responses to the art you see. You can mention some examples on your personal statement and this will be a good talking point in any interviews you are invited to.
21. Build a varied portfolio
You’ll be building a portfolio anyway as part of your A-level, but you can also be contributing to a personal portfolio that goes beyond the classroom. Experiment with different forms of art and build as varied a portfolio as you can, with a mix of genres and materials, such as photography, sculpture, watercolours, oil painting, and so on.
Music is almost a super-curricular activity in itself, which makes it easy to suggest things you can do to support your university application for this subject.
22. Take graded instrument exams
Prove your musical capabilities by taking the graded instrument exams, if you haven’t already. Ideally, attain at least Grade 8 on your main instrument and at least Grade 5 on the piano (if that isn’t your main instrument), as many universities like to see evidence of keyboard ability because it makes life easier for composing, among other things.
You’ll understand music in a lot more depth if you’re able to perform it yourself. There will likely be a performance element to your A-level – you’ll probably be required to give a recital – but there are plenty of other performance opportunities. Join an orchestra, choir or other music group to expand your experience of making music, and try, if you can, to experience performing a variety of genres, such as jazz and all periods of classical.
Again, composition is part of the A-level Music syllabus, but the more of it you can do in your spare time, the better. Experiment with creating different sorts of music using composition software such as Sibelius. One way you could challenge yourself is by watching a segment of a film with the sound off and coming up with a soundtrack for it.
25. Go to concerts
Hearing other people perform music is also important, and it’s a good way of expanding your knowledge of different genres. If you can review the concerts you’ve been to – perhaps on a blog – then even better. In particular, try to attend concerts from different periods of music history; a performance of Baroque music on period instruments, for example.
General super-curricular activities
Finally, we end with a quick-fire list of some super-curricular activities that can be applied to any subject.
- Read widely beyond the A-level syllabus.
- Start a blog about your subject.
- Tweet about your subject, and follow others who do the same.
- Listen to subject-related podcasts.
- Join a society or club dedicated to your subject.
- Do some work experience in a career related to your subject.
- Enter competitions related to your subject, such as essay competitions.
- Take extra qualifications relating to your subject.
- Join Mensa.
As you can see, the possibilities for supporting your university application with relevant super-curricular activities are endless – and great fun, too. Any of these will enhance your application and provide excellent interview talking points, so indulge in as many as you can, and enjoy them!
Image credits: banner; Nanowrimo; Stratford-upon-Avon; Bletchley Park; British Museum; glacier; experiment; science museum; Tate Modern; flute; composition; reading.