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Top Universities Seek ‘Supercurricular’ Students

  • 3 min read

South African students with dreams of studying at top universities abroad are swapping out traditional extracurriculars for ‘supercurriculars’ – activities that explore a student’s main area of interest and show a real-world impact. With steep competition from every corner of the globe, investing time in activities that go beyond normal schoolwork, both in and outside of the traditional classroom, can help local students to stand out among the best when applying internationally.

“The ‘super’ in ‘supercurriculars’ talks to both achievement level and choice of activities. It’s important for students targeting top universities to not only have activities in their field of interest, but also high-level achievements on a national and even international level, in order to be competitive enough for spots at top universities, particularly in the United States,” says Rebecca Pretorius, Country Manager at global mentorship company Crimson Education.

Ivy League and equivalent universities expect more than top grades and standard extracurriculars. “While academics remain a priority, students need to understand that all candidates applying to these universities have top marks. Supercurriculars give students an opportunity to demonstrate aptitude in key subjects, show commitment to their area of interest, and highlight their achievements at every level,” says Pretorius.

Taking significant coursework outside of the local curriculum, such as additional A-level subjects or Advanced Placement (AP) courses, can help local students meet the expectations of admissions officers at Ivy League and similar top universities and compete with other international students. Students can also look at conducting independent research in their chosen field.

“Overall, students should aim for depth, not just breadth. This means putting their focus into one or two main activities, and three to four secondary ones. South Africa has a strong culture of doing a wide range of extracurriculars. While a well-rounded list of activities is good, local students have room to improve when it comes to picking extracurriculars in their specific field of interest and looking further than traditional school activities,” says Pretorius.

Beyond the classroom and the sports field, students can apply for internships or job shadowing opportunities, take online courses that interest them or teach them new skills, read books in their subject field, or implement an innovative leadership project. Putting in many hours of volunteering or participating in community service projects, while valuable, is less important than a focused effort to run an independent initiative that shows measurable change.

Crimson Education is a global EdTech company which focuses on building the candidacy of high school students wanting to study at top-ranked universities in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Europe, and Australia/NZ. Through a team mentorship model, learners connect with admission strategists and tutors to assist them with the complex application process for overseas universities. Crimson, which launched in South Africa in 2018, offers regular information evenings and workshops around the country. For more information, visit