Nov 18

Common App: Acing Extracurricular Activity Section

Common App: Acing Extracurricular Activity Section

Understanding how to maximize the extracurricular activity portion of the Common App is one of the trickiest aspects of the application. You might be wondering how to describe your extracurricular activities to impress readers of college admissions, whether you participate in a ton of activities or not too many.

Read on if you’ve been perplexed about what to do in this part and how to make the most of your extremely constrained space.

In this guide, we’ll explain:

  • How many extracurriculars should you list?
  • How to select the activities to list
  • How to write your extracurricular activities

However, before we do that, you might be curious about…


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Why Is It Necessary to Participate in Extracurricular Activities?

Colleges adore seeing their students participate in their communities and make contributions. More significantly, they adore seeing kids pursuing their hobbies and abilities.

There is a good possibility that a student who participates actively in extracurricular activities and the community while in high school will continue to do so in college. Universities like to be known as centers of culture, philanthropy, and action, and students mainly contribute to this reputation.

The Common App’s activities section is crucial because of this. This is your time to demonstrate to the admissions committee how you will actively contribute to the school community.

Keep in mind that nearly everything in which you participate actively and successfully qualifies as an extracurricular activity. This involves responsibilities like holding down a job or looking after a family.

You’ll need to consider what you’ve learnt from your experiences and how they’ve shaped you for the Common App. Admissions officers will be especially curious to learn about your involvement in leadership roles and how much time and effort you have put into your extracurricular activities.

You are aware of your requirement for extracurricular activities and what the admissions committee values most. Do you, however, know how many you’ll need for your application?

On the Common Application, how many activities should you list?

It’s time to take the application seriously and consider what belongs and doesn’t belong in the activities area.

You have space in the Common App to list ten of your activities.

What If You Don’t Have Ten Activities, though?

That’s perfectly OK. There’s no need to freak out or try to invent things to fill in the gaps. In fact, college admissions officers would rather see a select few activities that you’ve put a lot of effort into than a broad range of activities that you’ve participated in just sometimes.

Instead of listing ten things that you were hardly involved in because you spread yourself too thin, it would be much better to demonstrate considerable involvement, leadership, and personal development in two or three.

Depending on the number of hours invested in each activity, a great-looking application might have one to three activities that demonstrate significant involvement and a few others that demonstrate lower levels of involvement. These are probably from your first few years in high school before you discovered your true passion or a side hobby you devote a few hours to each week.

What Happens If There Are Too Many Activities?

Though many might initially believe it to be a problem, this will really only be an issue for a small number of people.

The only activities you have participated in significantly are those that admissions officers are interested in seeing.

Although “substantial engagement” has no set meaning, the majority of individuals can figure it out. You don’t really need to mention that you volunteered at your church’s pancake breakfast one year on your application. However, if you have volunteered at the hospital for four years, putting in 10 hours each week, it counts as significant participation.

To put it another way, you should prioritize quality over quantity. Make sure that everything you include reflects a major time investment and an event that you gained from, rather than trying to fill every blank with something insignificant just to have it filled.

If none of the events are noteworthy enough on their own or if you need to conserve space, you can frequently group several activities under one category. Say you enjoy playing volleyball. You’ve played club volleyball during the off-season, you’ve played on the JV team at school for four years, and each summer you both run volleyball camps and assist in coaching camps for younger players. Feel free to combine all of those into one activity on the application if you are running out of space.

Lastly, be careful not to conflate extracurricular activities with academic accolades. For instance, the National Honors Society accepts lots of deserving students each year. List it as an academic honor if you were accepted and that was the extent of your involvement. On the other hand, mention it as an activity if you were admitted, were chosen as the chapter’s president, ran weekly meetings, and organized a number of volunteer events during the year.

What if you truly participated in more than ten activities and feel that your application wouldn’t be complete without them?

Fear not! The “Additional Information” part of the Common Application is where you should inform admissions authorities of these extremely crucial details that don’t fit anywhere else. Just be sure they are actually crucial! If you insist on filling out this part to discuss the hour you spent working at the pancake breakfast three years ago, they’ll be rolling their eyes.

Still unsure on how to decide between all of your options for activities? For a detailed description of how to choose which activities to write about and how to list them on your application, continue reading.

Choosing Your Activities through a Step-by-Step Guide

This section of the application is challenging because you must provide a lot of information in a limited amount of space. In order to get the most out of this section, it’s critical to do some preliminary brainstorming.

Step 1: List your activities

Make a list of your activities on a piece of paper. You can choose from practically any activity you participated in while in high school, including work, organized groups, extracurricular activities, hobbies, and community service.

Make sure to record the following for each activity:

  • The name of the club or organization where you did the activity
  • A description of your activities. Please feel free to elaborate on your role. Did you show up to meetings? Classes? Have you planned any events?
  • Anytime you had responsibility for the behavior of others or had responsibilities beyond those of a participant, write down any leadership roles you may have held. These don’t need to be authorized. Even if you weren’t given a formal title but managed the meetings, note it down. Include any accomplishments or unique duties you had as well.
  • Were there any unique projects that you oversaw or handled? If so, just what did you do? This might be a one-time project (like setting up a food drive) or something longer term, like running a tutoring center all through the academic year.
  • What dates did you take part in the activity? How many hours did you work each week?


Your examples could be as follows:

Soccer Team: I played forward for the soccer team for my high school. Varsity team for two years, JV squad for two years. I was my junior year’s top goal scorer. Organizer of a spring fundraiser that brought in $800 to pay for team travel expenses.

Volunteer at an animal shelter: freshman through junior year. I spent ten hours a week at my neighborhood animal shelter caring for cats and dogs, cleaning cages, feeding animals, and conducting owner interviews. In May 2017, I was given the “Volunteer of the Month” honor.

Outdoors Club: A four-year participant who served as vice president his senior year. attended and participated in weekend activities as well as weekly meetings. In charge of organizing more than 15 outdoor-related activities that gave students a chance to enjoy nature and get to know one another.

Step 2: List your tasks in order of importance, starting with the most important.

Determine this based on the time you invested in the project, your leadership during the activity, and the significance of the activity for discovering a passion or pursuing a future objective.

Important information: Be sure to arrange them in the order of significance for you, based on your interests and hobbies. Since the goal is to highlight your values, don’t just try to guess what the admissions committee wants to see.

Why is this crucial? You will list your activities on the application in the following order. To make it as clear as possible to the college admissions staff what is most essential to you, place it at the top of the list. They shouldn’t have to go through your list to find your best contributions and endeavors.

Step 3: Review Your List with Your Parents or Friends.

This is not just to ensure that you have recalled everything, including the dates and deadlines, but also to ensure that you have not forgotten any crucial information. Maybe you forgot about the three hours a week you volunteered to be a peer counselor. Always ask someone to look it through and offer any input they may have.

To confirm that what you’ve written makes sense, it’s also crucial to get feedback from someone else. You might be accustomed to particular acronyms or believe that everyone is familiar with what the Quill and Scroll Club accomplishes.


Step 4: Recognize Your Story

After making your list, it’s crucial to reflect on it and try to imagine how the admissions committee will see your extracurricular activities. Do you believe that your stated and described activities reveal anything about your character? Is it an accurate reflection of your four years spent outside of the classroom? Does it also demonstrate the kind of impact you intend to make to the campus community?

It’s crucial to think about your presentation at this time. You may have heard that admissions staff want to enroll a diverse group of students. While that is true, it does not imply that they are just seeking kids who are well-rounded.

Some pupils have a “pointy.” They have outstanding accomplishments in one area, but not many in others. Consider the scenario where all of your extracurricular activities are biology-related. You’ve spent the past four years working with a professor at the local community college on some biological research, you’re the president of the biology club at school, you volunteer five hours a week as a biology tutor, and you’ve taken part in (and won awards at) numerous science competitions around your state.

You may still use this to create a fantastic story about having a strong passion in one subject even when you haven’t explored many different things.

Admissions officers favor “pointy” pupils because of their sharp focus and potential to have a significant impact on the course of a certain profession. A varied student body will be made up of many “pointy” individuals who have accomplishments in various fields.

But in all likelihood, most applicants won’t have made such significant advancements in a single field. Try to consider how your varied activities might help tell your story because well-rounded students contribute to having a well-rounded student body. You’ve probably gained different but valuable lessons from each experience, and having a wide variety of hobbies demonstrates that you’re not afraid to try new things, which is something that admissions officers will find appealing.

Additionally, bear in mind that uncommon behavior will frequently stand out. Numerous pupils participate in fairly standard activities. While that isn’t a terrible thing, something unique will make you stand out, so don’t be hesitant to put something a little off-the-wall on your list, especially if you’ve had success with it and it’s significant to your story.

Now that you are clear on what you will be writing about, let’s discuss the specifics of how to complete the application.


Writing About Extracurricular Activities: Also Known As Utilizing Your Twitter Skills

Let’s go through the Common App’s Activities area step by step.

You can decide whether or not to report any activity when you click on the Activities page. You’ll find a brief explanation of what’s anticipated in this part.

Select yes. Next, click “Continue.”

Then select “Activity 1.

You will be able to select the type of activity you want to discuss from a drop-down menu. From the list you already generated, pick the entry that most accurately represents the first activity.

In the next box, you may add the Activity Name.

For this area, you have 50 characters to work with.

The important guideline here is to be as specific as you can be within the character allotted.

This is done in order to conserve as much space as you can for describing the action in the following section.

Consider that your past four years have been devoted to playing the violin as your activity. You’ve been taking lessons for 12 years, are the first chair violinist in a community orchestra, the soloist in your school’s concert band, and you’ve received local prizes for your performance.

The incorrect way to say this is:


The better way to say this is:

First-chair violinist and award-winning soloist

By doing this, you will make the most of your first 50 characters and be able to expand on the themes you introduced in the activity name in the activity description.

On to the Activity Description now.

You have 150 characters to describe the specifics of your activity in this box.

Older generations may have found that difficult, but anyone who is accustomed to using Twitter should find it easy.

Take a look at the list of activities you previously wrote. Pick the most significant aspects of each activity, such as leadership roles, projects you oversaw, and significant contributions you made.

A broad explanation of what the club or group conducts shouldn’t be written in this area. Make sure to emphasize your own contributions to the activity.

Tip #1:

Try not to use a complete sentence here. To describe your actions, use short phrases and action words. To conserve space, it’s acceptable to utilize symbols and abbreviations (&, /, etc.).

Tip #2:

Be precise! Highlight the numerical aspects of your work. How many individuals did you manage? How many new members did the club gain as a result of you? How much money specifically did you raise for that cause? The admissions officer will have a better idea of what you truly accomplished if you are more explicit.

Tip #3:

Don’t lie or embellish what you’ve accomplished, but also be cautious not to be modest. This is your chance to shine and take pride in your accomplishments.

What if there isn’t enough space to include a thorough description?

The want to write more will almost always be present, but try to hold off on doing so until you genuinely believe that there is something crucial that cannot be adequately explained in the available space.

If so, the “Additional Information” section will be useful in this situation.

This may be found on the Common App under the “Writing” area, which is the next portion.

If you do decide to use this area, be sure to make reference to the Activity section very apparent. Stay succinct and draw attention to the points that, in your opinion, cannot be missed.

Return to the Activities page and check the boxes next to the years you participated in each activity. You may also choose whether you took part during the academic year, during breaks, or all year long.

Next, enter the duration of the activity in hours per week and the number of weeks you engaged in it annually.

Check to see whether you want to pursue a similar endeavor in college. If you don’t genuinely wish to do something comparable in college, you don’t have to mark “Yes.” While having at least one activity you’d like to carry on in college is advised, it’s okay to desire to explore new hobbies.

When done, select “Preview” from the menu. Check it over to make sure there are no errors, that it makes sense, and that it conveys the message you intended.

Repeat with up to nine additional activities if you’d like.

Congratulations! One of the most challenging parts of the Common App is finally finished!


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