I got a really good question on Twitter this week asking: what are the kinds of extracurricular activities that you can do to help you get into psychology? The short answer is: pretty much anything! The most important part, in my opinion, is that you recognise what skills you feel you want to develop and that you look at doing something that interests you. However, to give you some inspiration, here are my main thoughts when it comes to extra-curricular activities:
When you set out to build your CV/application it’s really valuable to gain a broad range of experiences. I’d really advise trying to put yourself into as many different types of extra-curricular opportunities as possible. Having said this (and this is something I really need to work on) it’s really important not to burn the candle at both ends! a.k.a. Don’t take on too much and find that your work/health/personal life suffers because of it. Trust me, it’s happened to me before and the stress is honestly not worth it. However, as I said at the beginning, look at your options and choose what you think will be most beneficial to you, and developing yourself as a person.
Sport – a very popular choice amongst young people, and for good reason! Not only is it one of the most enjoyed extra-curricular things to do and besides the obvious in terms of keeping you fit, it also teaches you discipline and how to work in teams, gives you communication skills, demonstrates your ability to listen and take guidance from coaches. It also shows you can work hard at something (if you stick at it for a while)…the list goes on. So try and see if you can get yourself on a team, or if you’re not a fan of competing, maybe try teaching your favourite sport to local schools. I’m sure you’re all aware, but it’s probably not enough to say you do it twice a week as part of your timetable – for a sport to count as extra-curricular and personal development, it needs to be off curriculum and off your own back!
Creativity – in my experience people tend to do either sports or creative activities. If you can, do both! So this can include performing arts, creative writing, playing an instrument or artistic creations such as painting/sculpting/woodwork etc. Letting your creative side develop can actually be more beneficial to academic work than you may initially realise, as once you get into the latter years at university you’ll need to rely on your independent intellect a lot more. So in terms of psychology, you start personally piecing together theories, forming your own arguments that might not have been thought of before, and in your final year, you’ll need to design your own study. This can all sound very overwhelming (trust me, I know! I was in your shoes once and genuinely thought there was no way I could do any of what I just listed, but actually now I really enjoy doing all of those things), so long as you start equipping yourself now and practising these skills you’ll find it comes second nature.
Part-time work – Now this is always another popular choice. Mainly because it provides the additional benefit of something in your pocket and of material worth. However, still try and recognise what less tangible and personal worth you can get from it. Again, working in a team and taking direction are probably two of the most crucial skills here, but it also develops your time keeping/time management skills, depending on what job you take it can really boost your interpersonal skills and your ability to deal with ‘the general public’. If you do really well and get to a managerial position, it will obviously give you the chance to develop the vast number of assets that come under managerial skills. It will also start giving you insights into how a business is run, which come entering a new job role will probably be very useful.
Volunteering – I can safely say this is probably one of the most rewarding and enjoyable ways to build your CV. Most of my volunteering I spent trying to get experience with people from a range of ages and situations, but again, you can tailor this to suit what you want to do. What volunteering shows is that you have some ulterior motive other than financial benefit. It also shows you care about a cause that goes beyond your own benefit. Really try to find a volunteering project that you are passionate about, as I can safely say, every volunteering project I’ve been on, I have been surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
A note for the psychology students here: Working with people is pretty much central to psychology, so try to look at developing your interpersonal skills. As I’ve mentioned, all of the above areas contribute to that one way or another, whether it’s volunteering with people from different backgrounds, working with the general public, or learning to work in a team, all experiences can be incredibly valuable as long as you really throw yourself into it.
On the other end of the scale, if you feel like you’ve got a number of experiences but aren’t sure what skills they’ve helped you develop, here’s a hint that may help when it comes to writing your CV. Type into your search engine ‘transferable skills’ and see what skills come up. Make a list of the ones you consider to be most important, then write a list of all the activities/experience you’ve got. Start pairing these two lists up, and voila! you’ve got the backbone to your CV. With a bit of practice, you’ll start to see how each activity can bring with it the opportunity to develop a broad range of skills. Remember a skill can be developed in a number of different ways, similarly, an activity can give you the chance to develop a number of different skills – try and pull out as many pairings from the list as you can, and then decide on the activities that best represent each skill.
A final tip that may help when applying for job interviews. Try to do things with the motivation to develop yourself as a person and build on your skill set, rather than trying to hit criteria in order to get the position you want. The reason why I say this is due to a few factors; firstly, you’ll be more likely to enjoy the activity you choose as it will be less out of necessity and more out of a willing to improve. Secondly, you’ll start to recognise your key skills/areas of development with greater ease, and from that will stem a sub-conscious ability to easily put together a personal development plan (key to your growth at university and success within your future career). Thirdly, you’ll find you get a far richer experience as you’ll probably invest more effort into the whole process purely because you have the deeper motivation than trying to hit a few checkboxes – even better if you can find an activity or cause that you are passionate about.
Just remember, experience can be gained anywhere, in any form, and for any length of time – the dance class you’ve been attending since you were 7, the 4 weeks of summer you spent working at a children’s summer camp, or the part-time job you’ve taken up over the past year. One of the most valuable experiences I had actually taken place over the course of a day. So, take a look at what you do already, think about what the kind of skills are that you’d like to develop and then think about what activities are you interested in that could help you develop those skills.
Hope this has helped, and remember any questions, please feel free to comment below!