The Right (And Wrong) Way to Complete the Common App Activities Section

The Common Application officially opened for the 2018-19 application season on Wednesday, August 1, confirming what students have suspected for months: the start of senior year mania comes faster than you think. While many students are rightfully focused on the personal statement, [[click here for 21 application essay brainstorming exercises]] there are other equally important pieces of the Common Application. Today, we’re going to focus on the Activities section.

First, let’s get some common misconceptions out of the way. No, you do not need to have been involved in every single club,  team, and project at your school in order to stand out on this section. No, they are not going to fault you if you haven’t completed 500 community service hours. No, having a really awesome Insta following is not an activity (unless it’s accompanied by a blog).

Now, time for the Dos and Don’ts:

DO consider the order in which you will list your activities

  • Give precedence to any activities in which you have established leadership roles and those to which you have committed the most amount of time. Save spots further down on the list for activities you recently began or do not participate in as frequently as the others.

DON’T exaggerate

  • We’ve all heard stories of students who “make up” involvement–or get alarmingly hyperbolic on this section. Don’t be that student. Colleges can always double check your information with your guidance counselor, and a stain on your character is not going to bode well for you in admissions.

DO pay attention to format and detail

  • Our love of, and insistence upon, proofreading and perfection extends beyond the personal statement. We encourage our students to pay attention to style and structure in the activities section as well. Choose a format and stick with it, and use the 150-chararacters provided for your description wisely. For example:
    • Position/Leadership description and organization name, if applicable (50 characters)
      • Captain: Varsity Team | 800m backstroke medalist
      • Tip: Use vertical lines to cleanly separate information
    • Please describe this activity, including what you accomplished and any recognition you received, etc
      • 2nd pl NJSIAA Meet of Champions (backstroke; 2017)| Team Spirit Award (2016) | Supervise off-season training | Compete in 1 meet per week in season
      • Tip: Frontload achievements and include descriptions that are specific to your involvement rather than to the activity in general. If you’re an athlete, admissions is going to understand that you attend practice and train–you don’t need to waste characters stating this.

DON’T forget about work or family responsibilities

  • Colleges use this section to get a better sense of how you spend your spare time outside of school. If you have a job, watch younger siblings, or assist older relatives, include this! These pursuits are just as worthwhile, and speak just as much to your character, as do more “traditional” extracurriculars such as sports and student government.

DO proofread

  • It’s extremely important to put your best foot forward on all pieces of your application. If your activities section is riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes, admissions officers are going to take this as an indication that you didn’t take the application process seriously enough.
  • Tip: it’s easiest to check this section from the .pdf view, which you will review when you submit your Common Application. Block off enough time on the day you plan to do this in order to be able to carefully review all sections.

DON’T include any activities from middle school

  • High school only 🙂

If you’re reading this, but haven’t yet created your Common Application account, what are you waiting for? Getting started before school begins is the best way to ensure that you won’t have too many frantic evenings leading up to the application deadlines.




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