Advising 101: Getting a Jump Start on Your Common App Activities List

Because the space on the Common Application is limited to 10 activities and brief descriptions of each, it can be very helpful to craft a résumé or list of all your extracurriculars before you log them on the application. Also, you can use the list for the UC Application as a blueprint for creating a professional résumé in the future.

Since many students will be putting together a list of activities for the first time this summer or fall, Green Ivy wanted to share some ways to best capture them on college applications.

General Tips:

Organize the list according to your most meaningful activities or your biggest time commitments. Admissions officers are admittedly reading these lists quickly, so the first two or three activities should show them where you have spent the bulk of your high school years. Speaking of time spent, estimating or averaging the hours spent per week on each activity is fine, but be honest and conservative with what you report to schools.

(Almost) nothing before 9th grade counts. Sorry, but colleges don’t want you to go back any further than freshman year. Exceptions to this rule are when you’ve participated in an activity for many years, going back to middle school and you are currently still participating.

Go with the formatting colleges are familiar with. For instance, use 9,10,11,12 instead of 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th. Also, always use your grade level instead of the year: 10-12 as opposed to 2016-2018.

Take advantage of the space in the top box on the Common App to list your position and the organization for each activity. You have only 150 characters in the bottom box to elaborate on what you achieved or learned in each activity, so capitalize on the extra room above.

Use active (and varied) verbs to emphasize measurable impact and/or tangible skills. How much money did you raise? Who benefitted from the activity? What specifically was your role in the organization’s accomplishments? What did you learn?

Capture lists instead of complete sentences. Since space is so limited, grammar rules go out the window. Instead of “I raised money to donate to a school in Guatemala by selling t-shirts and bracelets,” try “Arranged advertising events, organized fundraisers, and gave presentations at school meetings.”

For awards and honors, give admissions a sense of context. How many students did you compete against? Was it a local, state, or national competition? Pro tip: Always spell out the full name of an organization instead of providing an acronym—don’t assume readers will know what the acronym stands for.

Edit, revise, and then revise again. Your activities list carries weight in admissions, so making it readable and compelling can only help to strengthen your overall application.

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