04. Organizing information about your extracurricular activities

This section has been extracted from the EGF Guide.

Colleges are interested in knowing how you spent time outside class. Extracurricular activities are very diverse: leadership roles, drama & music festivals, sports, volunteer activities, income-generating projects like rearing rabbits, coding apps, etc. You’ll be given little space to show your extracurriculars, so it’s crucial that you include relevant details. EALP advises applicants to use the STAR technique. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result.

Situation (Set up the context in half a sentence):

As a student volunteer once a week at a mental health mobile outreach clinic, Kamili, in Kangemi, one of Nairobi’s low-cost housing districts…

Task (What were you responsible for?):

…I was responsible for welcoming sometimes highly distressed potential clients and their families to our mobile clinic, helping them to complete necessary administration and referring them on to our volunteer psychiatrists…

Actions (How did you go about achieving your task?)

… This included supporting individuals who had sometimes walked from as far as Lake Victoria, some 150km away, in search of affordable medication; identifying and recording relevant details from often highly confused narratives of patients suffering from untreated schizophrenia and other mental illnesses; and maintaining a calm yet purposeful atmosphere in the clinic while scores of patients waited for hours for assessment and treatment…

Result (the outcome, potential learning for the individual, any feedback or statistics)

…The clinic’s director noted in my end of year review that ‘Without Jane’s positive and pragmatic support it would have been difficult to maintain Kamili’s outreach services in this initial year.’ During the year we supported over 140 patients, such that some, who previously had been isolated and highly disturbed, burying food and tearing their clothes, were, with the help of our medication, able to dig their shambas and contribute to supporting their families. I have learnt what a difference such low-cost interventions as this may make to overstretched and vulnerable families, and I am committed to returning to work in this field, were I to qualify as a psychiatrist in the US…

Go ahead and make a STAR account of each of your extracurricular activities. Notice that the material is evidence-based. Statements like ‘I like football because of the camaraderie. I feel really close to the people on the team since we’ve been through so much together. I hope to play in college.’ are meaningless.

These STAR accounts will help you when approaching your referees for letters of recommendation so don’t throw them away. Also, the Common Application is very strict on word limits so practise squeezing out the essence of each extracurricular activities in about 2 sentences!