The Common Application, as well as many individual college applications, provides room for students to list out extracurricular activities. Students should spend time filling out this important part of the application. Here are a few tips for making a good impression in the activities section.
1. Create your activity list
Extracurricular activities can include everything a student has participated in during freshman to senior year in high school. This includes summer activities, volunteer work, political activism, and employment; both in and out of school clubs and organizations like speech and debate, music, drama, art, sports, or Boy Scouts / Girl Scouts; as well as unstructured – yet productive – activities like baking, robotics, family responsibilities, cultural activities, and more. Look at the options for extracurricular activities on the Common Application drop down menu for ideas.
2. List activities in order of importance
The Common App instructions say list your activities “in order of importance to you.” Follow this instruction. The assumption of the admissions officers reading the application will be that the activity listed first is the most important. First impressions count.
An activity that a student has devoted a lot of time to and was important to his/her development has the potential to come across better than the one that sounds the most impressive to other people, if it is presented correctly.
3. Write a clear description of all activities
Students are only allowed 100 characters for details, honors won and accomplishments and then 50 characters for position/leadership description and organization name. This is not a lot of space, so students need to be as efficient as possible with their writing and use abbreviations when possible. Start with an action verb and try to tell a few specific things that were done.
Of great importance is that the description written for each activity makes sense on its own. Readers of the Common Apps will not be able to call and ask for clarification. If the description is not clear, then students may lose the credit they deserve.
While a student might know that Beachcomber is the name of their school newspaper, the admissions team reading the Common App most certainly will not know that. When writing about a position held like editor or president of a club, include the responsibilities. Also, be sure to note any specific achievements. Students who really believe they need more space to explain their role in an activity may be able to include it in the additional information section on the Common App or they can integrate the information into their essay.
If a student has participated in an activity like a club for three years but has only been president for one year, add the grade level: “President (11).” If a student has held multiple positions for a single activity, these should be listed in order: “VP (10); Pres (11).”
The question of how many hours a student has typically devoted to an activity can be estimated if hours were not recorded.
4. List only important activities
While there are ten spaces to fill in activities, there is no need to list ten activities if you do not have ten quality activities to list. Colleges are more impressed by dedication and commitment, rather than quantity. Signs of commitment and dedication include an activity participated in continuously for several years and-or an activity where a student has gained some level of distinction, either as a founder, leader or officer; made a significant contribution; or was publically recognized or won an award.
It is important to note that most accepted students to elite colleges fill in 8-10 activities on the Common Application. The exception is typically a student who has stellar achievement in at least one activity.
Students should work to make sure their extracurricular list is diverse. For example, students devoted to the orchestra should also try to list community service or athletic activities. Students who show that they have a wider range of interests will appear better-rounded to an admissions officer and convince them that they are a student who will be open minded to new opportunities on campus.
5. Use action verbs and numbers
Action verbs show what a student has accomplished. A description for an activity can start by finding an action verb. Boston College’s helpful list of resume action verbs is organized by category.
Numbers quantify achievements and make for easy reading, so students should use them when possible. For example, if you collected donations, say how much. Saying, “Collected 1,000 books for youth center” sounds better than “Collected books for youth center.” If you were a manager, mention how many people you directed. Saying, “Supervised 4 vendors,” sounds better than saying, “Supervised vendors.”
6. Proofread the Application
Students will get a chance to preview the application before they submit it. They should triple check to make sure the order of activities, spelling, and other details are correct. Students should also have a trusted adult and/or their college advisor read over the whole application before it is submitted.