Applying to colleges has become competitive but could your extra-academic portfolio be the differentiator?

July 26, 2021 6:57 PM

Participating in an extracurricular activity is the perfect opportunity for a student to hone these soft skills.

Extracurricular activities nurture a child holistically.

By Yashovardhan Poddar & Akshay Rampuria

It’s been more than a decade since the iconic movie, 3 Idiots, captivated the hearts and minds of millions of Indian parents as to how they should support their children through their school and college. Today’s Indian parents, recovering from a year of online learning in the pandemic, have moved away from the rhetoric that only marks matter.

While every parent wants their child to score well, they also realize that good marks are neither enough to get into a good college nor do they guarantee a successful career.

Let’s first address the problem of getting into a good college. Higher education in India suffers from a typical demand supply problem – there are too many students and just not enough seats. Last year, 5.63 lakh students applied for sixty four thousand available seats in Delhi University. For every seat, there were nearly 9 competing students. Among Ivy League universities abroad, the acceptance rate stays in single digits, where Harvard University’s acceptance rate is a mere 4.6 percent.

Getting into a good college isn’t just about marks then. Something has to differentiate two students who score a 1560 out of a 1600 on their SAT or a 98 percent in their board exams. What they do outside the classroom can end up making all the difference.

Foreign universities notice students who are all rounders and once in college, they give them ample opportunities to pursue extracurricular activities at a national and global level. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, students of Stanford University won 26 medals, which is more medals than most countries won.

Looking closer to home, Delhi University has an Extra-Curricular quota through which students who have shown exceptional participation in debate, dance, theatre and other activities can enter the same college on a lower cutoff of up to 15 percent.

Most liberal arts colleges in India like Ashoka University interview applicants. Even reputed business schools such as ISB and IIM, have a written exam and a personal interview round. In a personal interview, how confidently a student carries themselves, collaborates with peers and problem solves becomes a determining factor.

Participating in an extracurricular activity is the perfect opportunity for a student to hone these soft skills. For example, debating improves a student’s oral communication skills. A group of students performing a play together will learn to communicate with each other and work together. They will learn to find solutions to problems and not give up even when the journey seems tough.

There is a very good reason why colleges have begun to pay more attention to extracurricular activities in their selection process. Today, startups and tech companies have started to recruit in large numbers from these colleges and they look for candidates who have unique experiences, are creative problem solvers or team players. These soft skills have become front and center.

Parents in Tier 1 cities in India appreciate the value of extracurricular activities and are investing time and energy to help their child find their niche whether it is blogging on YouTube or starting their own Instagram store. You’ll be amazed to know that in China, parents have started planning extra curricular activities when their children are just 6 years old. They are opting for niche programs like archery, fencing & ballet to help their child stand out by the time they apply to college at the age of 18!

Extracurricular activities nurture a child holistically. They are no longer a bonus and are coming closer to becoming an integral part of a child’s education. These trends have not gone unnoticed by the government. The National Education Policy 2020 recognizes this and is nudging schools to strengthen their extracurricular programs. In the coming decade, it is up to schools, educators and edtech startups to work together to support teachers, build interesting curriculums and take extracurriculars from “extra” to essential.

(The authors are Founders of Openhouse. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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