College admissions can be competitive, especially when you are applying to highly selective schools. In addition to your essay, your activities can help you stand out from the crowd. Your college applications will give you the opportunity to share information about your activities at school, church, your community, as well as information about your jobs and hobbies. Many of your activities will introduce the admission committee to your personality and the things that are important to you. However, college applications do not provide a lot of space to share your information. Therefore, it is important to be strategic when listing and describing your activities. Below are 14 tips for sharing your activities.
With more than 700 member colleges and universities, many students will use the Common Application! Therefore, it is important to know how the activities section works on the Common Application.
- You can only list ten activities.
- You only have 50 characters to share your position or leadership description and the organization name.
- You only have 150 characters to describe the activities and share any recognition you have received.
While the above is specific to the Common Application, you will find most other college applications will have the same or similar requirements.
When space is limited to share information, the words you use can be very important. The tips below will help you as you are sharing information about your activities on your college applications.
- List activities in order of importance. Admission officers will do their best to read everything, but there will be times they will skim through the activities section. The first few activities will be those the admission officers will be sure to see.
- Stay away from acronyms. Even though space is limited, it is important to stay away from acronyms that are not commonly used. Unfortunately, the acronym may not mean anything to the admission officer who is reading your application. For example, GEMS can be well known at your school and in your community. However, the admission officer might think it has something to do with gemstones and jewelry when it actually stands for “Girls Excelling in Math & Science.” You cannot make an assumption the reader will know what an acronym means.
- Don’t repeat position title in the activity description area. When space is limited for the description, there is no need 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 admission officer visualize the impact you had on 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. When space is limited, you do not have to use complete sentences when describing your activities. For example, it is not necessary to say, “I am responsible for brainstorming service ideas, creating action plans, and organizing volunteers for events.” Instead, save space and list, “Brainstorm ideas, create action plans, and organize volunteers for service project that has 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. There are some colleges that will accept additional documents with your application, such as resumes or brag sheets. However, not all colleges will accept additional documents, and even if they do accept additional documents, there is no guarantee the admission 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 your activities. You do not want the time spent to seem impossible because it can raise red flags for admission officers.
- Think outside the box. The activities section is about how you spend your time outside of the classroom. If you are being productive away from class, you might want to consider listing the activity. Maybe you are in a band that performs at events in your area. Or, maybe you have learned coding and you have created an app. Maybe you have a website and blog that you are consistently updating and you have thousands of followers. These activities do not always fit in the nice, neat box people typically think about when thinking about extracurricular activities. However, these examples are productive uses of your time and can definitely impress the admission committee. If it is something that is important to you, list that activity!
- 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.
- Preview your entries. The boxes you use to enter your information can make it hard to reread your work. Or, if you copy and paste information, you may not realize that only a portion of the text fit in the box. Hit the “preview” button to make sure all of the information that needs to be there will be submitted.
Activities are a great way to make you stand out from the crowd. Make sure you present yourself well so that the admission officers will be impressed with you and your activities.