common application

Mastering the Activities Section of the Common Application

College applicants are infamously known to stress about their essays. And it’s not uncommon for students to spend weeks (if not months) brainstorming their ideal essay topic and then editing it down to perfection. But our college admissions experts would like to point out that there’s another section of the Common Application that also requires a great deal of writing yet receives far less attention. Some application readers would argue that it also happens to be the section that applicants most often overlook and under appreciate.

What is it?

The “Activities” page: a single form that invites students to describe up to 10 of their most interesting, meaningful, and important extra-curricular activities – from arts and athletics to clubs and summer commitments. Looking for another way to help your application stand out from the pack? Follow these 12 pointers for crafting a rich and memorable Common App activities page.

  • DO be sure to list the actual name of the club/activity on the “Position/Leadership” line. Otherwise, colleges will know you’re “Secretary,” but they won’t be sure which club you belong to.
  • DO list your most impressive and relevant activities near the top of the list. In the event that an admissions officer only has time to skim your activities page, you’ll want to ensure the first few items are the most compelling.
  • DO choose a different word at the beginning of each description line. Vary your vocabulary to bring linguistic interest to your list, and avoid vague words that don’t reveal any particular skill. Implemented, collaborated, initiated, coached, led, coordinated, and researched are some of my favorites.
  • DO use present tense for activities that are ongoing; past tense for those that have concluded. For example, if you’re no longer a member of the school orchestra, you “performed in bi-annual concerts.” If you’re still involved, you “perform.”
  • DO keep your punctuation consistent. If you opt to end one of your descriptions with a period, make sure they all conclude that way.
  • DO give specific details about your club, rather than providing general explanations. For example, if you helped with fundraising efforts through Key Club, also mention the actual amount of money you raised, in addition to the name of the charity that received the funds.
  • DO inject some personality in your descriptions. Admissions officers know what “soccer” is, so why not describe the activity with a sense of humor or mention how you enjoy the camaraderie and sportsmanship aspects of the game the most?
  • DO think outside the box for which activities to list. You are not limited to only including school-sponsored clubs and organizations. If you spend 10 hours per week babysitting at home – list it! If you enjoy tinkering with computers in your spare time – that counts, too!
  • DON’T check “yes” for the “I intend to participate in a similar activity in college” question for all of your activities. Unless you genuinely want to engage in those types of activities in college, you should mark down the occasional “no.” A long list of “yeses” can look awfully suspicious.
  • DON’T provide scant descriptions for your clubs and activities or type “see attached résumé.” Follow the rules and complete the activities page as fully as possible. Most colleges don’t allow students to upload separate résumés anyway, and those that do may have little time to actually review them.
  • DON’T exaggerate your time commitments. Admissions officers know you need to sleep, and they also know that most clubs meet on average of one hour per week. Be truthful, and don’t embroider the facts.
  • DON’T feel bad if you have fewer than 10 activities to list on the Common Application. Admissions officers favor depth over breadth, so it’s perfectly all right if you’ve left a few blank lines at the end of the page. As long as your other activities are well-documented and robust in their own right, listing just a handful of clubs/organizations is okay!

Check out Elyse’s other Common App articles:

Listen to Elyse’s segments on the 2015-16 Common App on Getting In: A College Coach Conversation:

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Written by Elyse Krantz
Elyse Krantz is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Elyse received her BA in linguistics from Dartmouth College and her MA from Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to joining College Coach, Elyse worked as an admissions officer at Barnard College and Bennington College.