Singapore has some of the best education systems in the world, hence it is no surprise that many Singaporean students are academically gifted. It is no surprise too, that when it comes to university education, many Singaporean students aim for (and make it into) the top tertiary institutions in the world.
But with thousands of other equally qualified applicants here and overseas, it is increasingly harder to stand out when applying to competitive universities.
So what can your kids do to set themselves apart?
The good news is that they don’t always have to compromise on their busy school schedules to do so. There is much that teenagers can do during their school holidays to bolster their profiles and boost their chances for admission into the world’s best universities.
“But aren’t school holidays a time to have fun and relax?”
Absolutely. School holidays give kids an opportunity to relax after a jam-packed school year.
But if you have your sights on an Ivy League or an Oxbridge future, you need to know that university admissions for these is demanding.
The best students manage their time wisely. In addition they use their school holidays to catch up on rest, while working in opportunities for what we call “candidacy building” at top universities.
How does it work?
When applying to competitive universities, students will need to demonstrate their interests (whether academic or personal) via extracurricular activities.
Increasingly, universities are looking for students who go the extra mile to excel in activities that aren’t just “built-in”. In other words, only investing in school CCAs (co-curricular activities) will not cut it anymore. Additionally, taking up extra projects over the holidays gives students something impactful to discuss in their applications and interviews.
Read on for ideas on how your teens can use their school holidays to maximise their chances of admission to a top university.
4 Things to do during the school holidays to boost your university admissions portfolio
1. Pick up an internship or a part-time job
More and more, universities are looking for students who excel both in and outside of the classroom. Simply cramming for exams and getting good grades is no longer enough. One of the best ways to demonstrate maturity, initiative and independence — traits top candidates possess — is by picking up an internship or a part-time job during the holidays.
This could be an internship to apply in practice what they have learnt in school. It could even be something as simple as a part-time job at a coffee shop.
Both ventures demonstrate a willingness to thrive in the “real world” outside of the classroom. Eventually, they will stack up to be formative experiences in your child’s development.
Moreover, an internship or a job where you learnt skills that you can list on your resume (whether digital marketing skills at an internship or sales skills from a retail job) is always a good use of time.
How to start? Encourage your child to develop strong relationships with their school seniors or teachers. They will have connections or networks your child can tap into for internship opportunities.
In the meantime, teach your child to keep their eyes peeled for opportunities elsewhere. These include school notice boards, on LinkedIn, job boards like Indeed.com, InternSG, Careers.gov, and more.
2. Take online courses
The truth is that when it comes to competitive universities like Harvard, Oxford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Stanford, more is certainly more. Excelling in school is rarely enough to stand out.
Universities are looking for students who have demonstrated intellectual curiosity outside of the classroom. Even better, if they have gone beyond the norm to push themselves academically.
However this does not have to mean extra stress and pressure for your child. We find that many students enjoy the ability to pursue their intellectual interests without the pressure of timetables or exams.
Many do this on online platforms like Coursera, Crimson Global Academy, and EdX. These platforms give students the opportunity to take university-level coursework in subjects that are not always available to them at their level in schools — such as Statistics, Computer Science, Art History, Languages, and more.
The bonus is that when students “graduate” from these online courses, they do so with certifications recognised by universities worldwide.
These are tangible outcomes that they can list on their university applications, demonstrating their ability to go above and beyond expectations of them at school.
Often, we find that children who are given the freedom and the independence to pursue their intellectual passions autonomously, outside of school, are more motivated, happier, and more academically successful.
It is important for children to learn the value of giving back to their community, both in terms of personal development, as well as for top university admissions. The bonus here is that the time you spend doing good is always worthwhile.
Guide your children towards doing a sustained volunteering or community service project for at least a few hours every month. This can be for a cause close to their heart, whether it is animal rights, helping the elderly, or environmentalism.
There are many ways to source impactful volunteering opportunities, from LinkedIn, to Facebook interest groups, to word of mouth. The main thing to consider is that this is something your child genuinely finds meaning in, and wants to do on a sustained basis.
Remember, this isn’t solely about padding your child’s resume for university applications. Volunteering can also help them discover important truths about themselves, as well as develop socially.
(See also: 10 Places to Volunteer with Kids in Singapore)
4. Pursue independent projects
COVID-19 has put a damper on most students’ extracurricular activities. But that doesn’t mean the show has to stop. With today’s tech-savvy teenagers, the potential for impactful extracurricular engagements is limitless.
You can guide your child towards pursuing a meaningful project that aligns with their interests. This could include funnelling their passion for cooking into a food blog, or directing their interest in software engineering towards a coding project.
One student interested in computer science self-studied programming languages during his school holidays. He eventually built an app that helped students who had dyslexia with their school reading.
This student’s profile was made much more impressive by the fact that he went beyond what was required of him. He did this by pursuing an independent project outside of school that was directly applicable to his subject interests.
Need inspiration on how to start? Check out how these students started extracurricular ventures — from an art auction to raise money for ventilators, to an online learning blog — during their COVID-19 lockdown.
The sky is the limit!
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately, your child’s interests and passions will determine how they choose to spend their time.
The truth is that in today’s rapidly evolving world, your child’s opportunities are limitless. The doors that a top university education can open are unparalleled, and it is up to you to help guide your child there.
This article is a contribution from Crimson Education, a consultancy which helps students with US/UK university admissions support.