The activities you have been involved with during high school are of great interest to the college admissions committees. Whether you played sports, volunteered at an animal shelter, or were part of a church youth group, such involvements help the adcoms understand what matters to you and where you choose to invest your free time. Yet despite how important these activities are to the schools, you have only the tightest of spaces in which to list them – just 150 character spaces per activity.
What this means for you is that for your Common App to stand out from the crowd, your super-short activity descriptions must reflect the same thought and care you give to your personal essay.
When you open the Common App activities tab, you’ll find this note:
Reporting activities can help colleges better understand your life outside of the classroom. Examples of activities might include:
- Arts or music
- Community engagement
- Family responsibilities (learn more)
- Work or volunteering
- Other experiences that have been meaningful to you
Do you have any activities that you wish to report?
We hope you will have several to choose from, and you can list up to ten activities on your application. For each activity, you’ll need to include the following:
- Activity type
- Position/Leadership description (Max characters: 50)
- Organization name (Max characters: 100) (optional)
- Please describe this activity, including what you accomplished and any recognition you received, etc. (Max characters: 150)
- Participation grade levels
- Timing of participation (during school year, during school break, all year)
- Hours spent per week
- Weeks spent per year
- I intend to participate in a similar activity in college. (yes, no)
The Common App specifically asks you to list your activities in the order of their importance to you. We want to offer a word of caution here, which is that the activity that you believe sounds most impressive might not be what you genuinely consider your most personally significant activity. Do NOT list an activity as being the most significant to you if it really wasn’t. Honesty and authenticity are extremely important throughout your application. You need to present not just your best self but also your most true self. Besides, unless you’ve demonstrated an unusual level of commitment to an activity through your essay or elsewhere in your application, you will lose some legitimacy with the application reviewer.
To restate — because this really is so vital – the correct choice for your most significant activity isn’t necessarily the community service project you think will impress the adcom. It isn’t necessarily the sport in which you’ve set records or even the club that elected you president. Instead, focus on the activity (or hobby) that truly makes you happy and provides fulfillment. Colleges want all sorts of students on their campus. They want tuba players and tennis players, presidents and prose writers. So be yourself!
Spend some time thinking about WHY you dedicate yourself to this activity. What makes it rewarding to you? How do you feel when you participate? Because there’s no real room to elaborate, you’ve got to state its significance in a straightforward, bottom-line way. The good news is that you can expand on your relationship with this activity more personally in one of your essays.
Avoid redundancy. If you’ve written your primary common application essay about an activity or interest, or even a person related to one, branch out here and mention something else. Show the admissions committees that you are not a one-note applicant, that you have several interests, thereby proving that you are a multidimensional individual.
Many of your activities likely take place within your high school, but also think about how and where you spend the rest of your time. Do you devote many hours a week to a hobby or special interest? Are you particularly involved with a church or religious group? Are you a budding photographer? Videographer? Are you learning graphic design? Play chess? One year, an applicant who was a dedicated baker took the time to explain her commitment to mastering the croissant. The adcom found her absolutely compelling, and she was able to convey that her interest went well beyond baking a batch of cookies for the track team bake sale.
Be real when stating your true commitment. Sure, you might spend 12 hours during one week preparing for a debate tournament, or a full week on a mission trip. But most special activities involve far less time on a regular basis. If you claim that your individual club commitments add up to more than 50 hours in a single week, you’ll be suspected of exaggerating. This will work against you, so resist any such temptation.
We appreciate that the less space you have to write, the harder it typically is to be effective. Often, applicants’ entries in this section seem to be one-draft statements, lacking in thought and heedless of editing. But crafting yours with care and thought will do you proud and add bonus points to your application. Take the guesswork out of your college applications. From school selection and essay strategy to deciding which extracurricular activities to highlight – and how – our experienced consultants will offer wise and supportive guidance. We are here to help you get Accepted!
By Judy Gruen, a former Accepted admissions consultant. Judy holds a Master’s in journalism from Northwestern University and is the co-author of Accepted’s first full-length book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!