The Master’s application should reflect your accomplishments, talents, and dreams for the future. Apart from describing your academic experience and explaining your decision to complete a graduate study program, it’s also beneficial to include examples of extracurricular activities you have been involved in. Don’t miss out on any opportunity you can get to make a good impression and show that you are a proactive and open-minded student.
Extracurricular activities are as diverse as you can imagine. They range from practicing sports to participating in university associations or doing voluntary work.
If you are unsure how to approach the topic in the various elements of your application, these guidelines can help.
Make room in your CV/resume
Some graduate programs will ask you to include a CV/resume when submitting your application. By the time you decide to apply for a Master’s program, you will have accumulated plenty of experience to feature in a professional CV/resume – at school, in your personal life, and maybe even at work. Needless to say, a lot of your time and effort will go into highlighting these accomplishments. However, don’t underestimate the “Extracurricular activities” section – the Master’s Admissions Committee will be interested to read it.
There are many ways to name this section – “Volunteer projects”, “Extracurriculars”, or merge it with “Hobbies and interests”. Then, think of the most appropriate position for it in the document. It is typically placed after more important topics such as “Education” and “Professional experience”.
Read: 6 Pitfalls to Avoid in Your Master’s or MBA Resume (Part 2)
Finding the optimal way to present extracurricular activities in the CV/resume is also useful in the long run once you start looking for a graduate job. Employers are just as curious to get to know students’ involvement in projects outside university. Here is how Ian Hodges, Careers and Employability Manager at the University of Exeter (UK), comments on the topic:
All employers are looking for students and graduates who have a range of skills, personal qualities, and experience, which will help them to be productive in the workplace. Extracurricular activities give you the chance to develop these by doing things you enjoy. This is the best opportunity to have fun and make yourself more employable at the same time.
Give examples in your motivation essay
While the CV/resume is more or less confined to a standardized format, the application essay gives prospective students the opportunity to focus on the topics that are most important to them. If you have had a memorable experience in a volunteering project or another extracurricular activity, you can discuss it in a bit more detail in your letter of motivation. For example, did this experience help you decide what Master’s subject you would like to pursue? Did it help you develop important technical or interpersonal skills? Try to explain what made the project meaningful for you and be clear as to how this relates to your university application.
An article published by test preparation company Magoosh points out:
Any extracurricular activity that relates to your research or ties into your future area of focus will likely be important to the admissions panel. For example, serving as a student editor for an undergraduate science journal can show you’re serious about choosing a career in science.
Don’t be afraid to explore different takeaways and learning opportunities that you gained from your extracurricular work. Some might be very specific and related to your dream graduate study. For example, if you managed to hone your image and video editing skills, this will come in handy when you are applying to Master’s specialisations related to creative media and communication. At the same time, students who participate in debating teams or student councils might want to use those to illustrate their awareness of politics and leadership.
Read: 7 Myths about the Master’s Application Letter of Motivation
Prepare for additional questions and interviews
Applicants who advance to the final stages of the admissions process may be invited for an interview by the school. Some universities such as INSEAD (France) ask candidates to submit a video interview recorded on their own. In either case, it is best to be prepared to address the learning outcomes of your extracurricular activities.
If the question about your experience outside university comes up during a face-to-face interview, this will be your chance to show your passion for the project. Admissions committees are always in search of highly ambitious additions to their Master’s classroom. As Sherry Hamby, research professor of psychology, advises:
Anything that shows that you are willing to go over and above [is valuable]. What does ‘over and above’ mean? That means showing that you are dedicated to the work and the field and you are willing to do what it takes to make a project successful. No one wants a graduate student who just goes through the motions or does the minimum required by a class or a degree program.
Read: Making the Most of Your Master's Degree (Video)
So, if you still haven’t gained some experience with volunteer work and other extracurricular activities, go out there and find a cause that sparks your interest.