Your involvements outside of the classroom can be an important component of your graduate school application. Can you draw a connection between your extracurricular activities and the field you are entering? Has your participation in a certain activity influenced your decision to pursue this career?
For example, an applicant to graduate school in clinical social work or counseling might have served as a resident assistant in college. In this role, they used mediation skills as a peer leader to resolve conflicts between roommates. They created a cohesive living-learning environment, developed crisis management skills, and led educational and social programs in a residence hall. These experiences are clearly relevant to working in the helping professions.
If you are applying to graduate school in occupational therapy or speech and language pathology, have you had any experiences working with people in need? If you volunteered at a shelter, you likely interacted with diverse populations facing a variety of challenges, including housing, financial, and mental health issues. Did you volunteer with individuals with special needs as a Best Buddy? If so, your ongoing connection with and support for your buddy demonstrates an ability to relate to individuals with developmental delays.
Were you a member of an athletic team? As a varsity athlete, you likely learned to balance your academic commitments with your athletic schedule and thereby developed strong time management skills. You also learned how to work as part of a team to achieve goals. Some activities might have given you exposure to the career field that you want to enter. For example, did working with an athletic trainer open your eyes to a career in physical therapy?
Did you serve in a leadership role in student government and advocate for policies to improve the student experience? Did you start a new club or student organization? Your entrepreneurial skills relate to many career fields and can show your ability to take initiative and motivate your peers.
You can include in your graduate school application any activities that you engaged in during your undergraduate education, in your community, or in a faith-based organization. What matters most is the depth of the experience, what you learned, and how the experience changed you. A long list of short-term activities will not distinguish your application. Activities that you engaged in where you had an ongoing commitment, took a leadership role, stretched yourself, and did something you are proud of are the ones to include in your application.
Recognizing the importance of experiences outside of the classroom, many in higher education are now describing activities as “cocurricular” rather than “extracurricular.” Sharing with the admissions committee your participation in meaningful activities that reveal both your personal and professional development can really make your graduate school application stand out.
By Alice Diamond, former associate dean for career and community service at Lesley University. Alice has a BA from Colgate University, an MA from Bryn Mawr College, and an MS from Cornell University. She has more than 35 years of experience in career and admissions advising for undergraduate and graduate candidates. Alice’s clients have been accepted to top programs in a wide range of fields. Want to work with Alice? Click here to get in touch!