Extracurricular and volunteer activities are one way to help students stand out from the crowd when applying to colleges. Many students will be applying with similar grades and test scores, but your activities are one way to introduce yourself to the admissions committee. This section can include activities at school, church, or their community, as well as jobs and hobbies. Many of these activities illustrate some our personality and the things we are passionate about. However, college applications typically only give a small amount of space to share information. Therefore, it is important to strategically think about how you will share your activity information on college applications.
Over 600 colleges and universities use the Common Application. The majority of students will use the common application during the admissions process. Therefore, I will focus on the activities section of the Common Application, but many other college applications will be similar.
- Students can list a total of ten activities.
- Students have 50 characters to give each organization name and position description.
- Students have 150 characters to describe the activity and any accomplishments or recognitions they have received.
When you have limited space to share information, the words you use can be very important. Here are 12 tips for sharing your activities on your college application:
- List activities in order of importance. Admissions officers will do their best to read everything, but there could be times that they skim through the activities section. The first few activities will be those the admissions officers will be sure to see.
- Stay away from acronyms. Space is limited, so the first thing students may want to do to save space is to use acronyms for the activity name. However, the acronym may not mean anything to the admissions officer who is reading the application. For example, GEMS can be well known at your school and your community. But, will the admissions officer know what it is? Probably not, but they may make an assumption that is not correct. They might assume the club is about gemstones and jewelry, but it is actually “Girls Excelling in Math & Science.” You cannot make an assumption that the reader of the application will know what acronyms will mean.
- Don’t repeat position title in the activity description area. When space is limited for the description, there is no reason to repeat your position title. Instead, share what you do in the position.
- Use action verbs. Instead of sharing what the club does, share what you do for the club. Let your words help the admissions officer visualize the impact you had with the organization or activity.
- Vary your verbs. The activities list can be quite boring for the reader if every activity includes a word like “helping.” Plus, “helping” infers you were not leading. Therefore, use words such as organize, teach, led, coach, collaborate, etc.
- Use lists. Space is limited, so you don’t have to use complete sentences in the activity description area. For example, it is not necessary to say, “I am responsible for brainstorming service ideas, creating action plans, and organizing volunteers for event.” Instead, save space and list, “Brainstorm ideas, create action plans, and organize volunteers for service project that have made a difference in the community.”
- Use specifics. If you’ve have raised money, share the amount and what it will go towards. If you have organized a donation drive, share how much was donated and how it will help. For example, “Organized clothing drive, collected over 1,000 pieces of clothing, and gave to Downtown Homeless Shelter.”
- Be consistent. Stay consistent with how you describe your activities. Try not to use complete sentences for some of the activities and lists for the others.
- Don’t assume colleges will accept your resume or brag sheet. There are some colleges that will accept additional information, including resumes and brag sheets. However, not all colleges will accept additional information, and even if they do accept additional information, there is no guarantee the admissions officer will read it. Therefore, don’t write, “see resume,” in the activities description.
- Don’t exaggerate time commitments. Be honest with the amount of time you have spent participating in the activities. You do not want the time spent to seem impossible, which will raise red flags for the admissions officers.
- It’s okay if you don’t have ten activities. Just because there is space for ten activities does not mean you have to use all ten spaces. If you have covered all of your activities, there is no need to dig around looking to find more to add to the list.
- Start big. When thinking about what you will include on the application, create your resume that details everything you have done with very detailed descriptions. This will help you to remember all of the great things you have done and then you can narrow down the words you should use when describing the activity.
Activities are a great way to make you stand out from the crowd. Make sure you present yourself well so that the admissions officers will be impressed with your activities.