Extra-curricular activities won’t improve university offers

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The head of admissions at Oxford has made it clear that extra curricular activities undertaken by students to persuade universities to award them a place are a waste of time.

Mike Nicholson, director of undergraduate admissions at Oxford, said it was a myth that non-academic pursuits could make a difference to pupils' applications, according to the Telegraph.

He suggested extra curricular time would be better spent on improving their studies than trying to embellish personal statements through charity work or Duke of Edinburgh awards.

Mr Nicholson told the Times Educational Supplement: "It really doesn't matter if you haven't got any friends or hobbies or if you don't do any charitable work. Acceptance is a purely academic judgement.

"Universities were only interested in enthused, engaged and excellent candidates, rather than second-rate historians who happen to play the flute". 

The remarks are likely to surprise teachers who routinely advise pupils to emphasise their non-academic interests in the personal statement on their application form.

The comments also fly in the face of recent remarks made by David Willetts, the universities minister, who advised pupils that volunteering could improve their chances of being accepted onto courses.

A spokeswoman for Cambridge said: "All admissions decisions are based on academic criteria, and excellence in an extra-curricular activity will never compensate for lower academic potential."

Mirroring the comments, a spokesperson for Oxford University said: "This won't come as any surprise to teachers, as we've been making it crystal clear for years. The fair way to select the very best students from a very strong field is to assess only academic ability and potential for the chosen subject of study.

"We don't discourage students from pursuing extra-curricular activities – they apply to five universities, not just us – but we tell them upfront that they won't be assessed on that by Oxford."

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