Some 59 per cent of staff say evidence of extra-curricular activities has become more pivotal in their decisions, according to a poll of 63 university admissions teams commissioned by the gap-year provider World Challenge.
Only 5 per cent say non-academic achievements are less important than they were a decade ago, says the report, titled What is the Real Value of Extra-curricular Activities in the University Application Process, published on 15 January.
Some heads of admissions say they have placed more value on extra-curricular activities because predicted A-level grades are not always reliable, while others say they help to distinguish between applicants with identical predicted grades.
The demise of the AS-level, which is set to be decoupled from A-levels, is likely to increase the importance of non-academic achievements because they are a good indicator of academic performance at university, other tutors say.
When asked what type of extra-curricular activities add value to a student’s personal statement, 92 per cent mention work experience and 68 per cent say regular volunteering.
The Duke of Edinburgh Award is the third most cited form of activity (cited by 39 per cent of tutors), followed by fundraising (22 per cent) and captaining a sports team (18 per cent).
The report also includes 20 one-to-one interviews with admissions staff, as well as 32 further interviews with university staff, heads of sixth forms, university students and applicants.
Admissions officers cited in the report say it is useful for applicants to have some extra-curricular activities, but must do it for the right reasons, rather than simply to “tick a box in the application process”.
“It is like on the [TV show] The Inbetweeners when Will encourages all his friends to do the DofE because it looks good on your application,” said Dominic Davis, head of undergraduate marketing and recruitment at City University London.
“Unless you show why it will help you at university it is not that valuable – it is about being relevant and applied; not just ticking the boxes,” he added.