The Common Application is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it allows students to fill in information just once that will then be sent to multiple schools (note that though most schools accept the Common App, not all do, so you want to be sure you double check which, if any, of your schools will need separate applications). On the other hand, it is a tedious process to complete all necessary information within each section and you want to be sure you take your time, being as thorough as possible. There are multiple sections within the Common Application, but one that might raise the most questions is the Activity Section. So let’s dive in!
First, why do colleges want to see this? Colleges are looking for all types of students – leaders and participants alike. Each of you is unique and a large part of that uniqueness comes from the activities in which you are involved.
Let’s start with some things to avoid.
Leaving this section empty.
There are two reasons you may leave this section empty. The first being – you haven’t really done anything throughout high school other than school itself. Look, studying and being focused on your school is great, but it is important that you show you have interests elsewhere too. If you find yourself in this situation, I urge you to get involved in something this week. Go sign up for a club at school, join an intramural sports team, find somewhere in your community where you can volunteer and participate in service, or get a part time job. Do something! And then be prepared to address the fact that you do have limited activities. This may come up in a school interview or there may be a way to incorporate it into one of your essays. You will find the best place to do so.
The second reason you may find yourself with an empty activity section on the Common App is because you’ve decided to list everything on an attached resume. Please don’t do this. College reading teams are reading hundreds of college applications in any given week. You want to ensure you make it as easy as possible for them to read yours and making them go to an attachment to discover what you’ve done throughout high school already irritates them. Some readers might not even bother looking for your resume so they just assume you either didn’t participate in anything, or that you can’t follow directions. It may feel redundant, but list all those great activities you have on your resume in the allotted space on the Common App.
Fluffing it up.
The second thing you want to avoid is the complete opposite of leaving the activity section empty – filling it with fluff. Say you participated in a club for one month. This club is in no way related to a major you are pursuing, nor did it impact you in any way. It was simply an activity you tried that didn’t stick. Don’t include it. It will look like you are just trying to stack on as much as possible and will take away from those activities that truly mean something to you. College reading teams are smart. They can tell when things are actually important to you and when you’re just trying to hard. Include the things that matter and make them shine.
So what should you include?
An activity could include the arts, clubs, athletics, community service, any jobs you’ve had, or even personal responsibilities such as caretaking of a younger sibling or parent. An included activity should mean something to you, be it something you really love or an opportunity that helped you grow. You can list up to 10, but don’t feel like you must. Again, don’t fall into the trap of filling this section with unnecessary fluff.
Describing your activity.
Once you select your activities, you will need to describe them. Be as clear and concise as possible. Remember, not every reader will know what certain clubs are, so it may be useful to include a brief description and how you played a role. You’ve only got 50 words, so make it brief but specific. This is your time to brag! Lay it all out there- what did you accomplish in each activity? How did you make an impact within the organization or on your team? Shine bright!
Lastly, think about your strategy and mechanics.
It might make sense to you to list the activities in the order they happened. However, you should put the most important activity at the very top. This is the one you want the reader to know the most about. This could be related to a major for which you are applying, or it could just be an activity you enjoy the most and you want the admission team to know about you. Be smart in how you order and present. Watch your tense. If you are currently participating in an activity, use present tense. If it is something from your past, use past tense. Seems pretty obvious, but when you’re filling a ton of stuff out, this sometimes can get overlooked.
Again, it’s your time to shine and share what activities are a part of who you are. If you don’t have 10, don’t worry! College admission teams would prefer to see a long-term commitment in 3 or 4 activities rather than sporadic participation in 10. When in doubt, focus on the quality, not the quantity. As always, we are here to help! If you have any questions or want someone to look over your activities page, do not hesitate to reach out. Best of luck and happy applying!
About the Author:
Elise holds a Master of Arts in Early Childhood Special Education. She currently runs her own Tutoring and College Consulting company, Embark Education, LLC. Elise has experience working with all ages, as well as with children with physical and developmental disabilities. She has served on multiple College and University admission teams and understands the importance of a strong, well-rounded application, as well as how to make it stand out from the pile.