High school learners with dreams of studying abroad will need to spend their winter holidays wisely.

Learners who want to apply to top universities can use the school break to build a strong portfolio outside of the classroom – without the stress of daily classes and homework.

With the holidays now extended until 26 July, learners have more time to engage in community activities, learn valuable skills, or launch impactful leadership projects.

“Almost all applicants to top universities have excellent school marks, as well as strong standardised test scores – so beyond this, students need to find a way to stand out.

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“The holiday period is the perfect time to get involved in a project that expands, develops, and combines a student’s interests in a novel and interesting way, and creates a strong personal narrative of a well-rounded and interesting individual,” said Rebecca Pretorius, the Country Manager at global mentorship company Crimson Education.

With top universities worldwide receiving more applications every year, students who demonstrate potential and initiative have a greater chance of standing out among other top performers.

Admissions officers at top universities abroad look for students who are curious, teachable, and show passion about an interest or field that they have explored beyond the walls of the classroom.

“Whether it’s conducting research, building a website, or establishing a community outreach project, it’s all about doing things that you find fulfilling. If you fill your holiday with activities that you’re enthusiastic about, it won’t feel like hard work.

“Consider activities that show the kind of positive impact you can make, and showcase independence, curiosity, and wider learning – as well as your personal interests and habits,” said Pretorius.

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To make the most of their winter holiday, Crimson Education recommends the following activities for learners:

Launch a leadership project

This involves identifying a problem and presenting an innovative solution, through diligent and meticulous planning. Capstone projects are different to extracurricular activities, such as being captain of a soccer team.

Instead, they include things like writing an article, building an app, starting a podcast, or launching a charitable initiative. With the right tools, and enough passion and enthusiasm, anything is possible.

Conduct independent research

Another way to demonstrate interest and depth of knowledge in your intended area of study is to participate in or conduct research. Start small with a literature review or research prospectus to help you decide whether you are ready to pursue more research. Independent research projects develop valuable skills around designing and conducting research, as well as demonstrating the ability to see patterns and trends.

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Do deeper subject reading

Taking the time to do additional reading or online courses in a subject that relates to your area of interest shows admissions officers that you are dedicated and intellectually curious. It also gives you an opportunity to test out how much you will enjoy studying the subject in the future. Search online for resources and courses to help you get started.

Participate in competitions

From Olympiads to hackathons and writing contests, competitions can help you achieve at a higher level of participation – from provincial through to national, and even international.

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This shows that you are passionate and competitive enough to succeed. Additionally, some competition awards can include scholarships and prize money which can help cover tuition in the future.

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