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The Ultimate Guide to the Common App Activities Section

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Commonapp.org logo on display screen

The Ultimate Guide to the Common App Activities Section

Regarding university applications, the Common Application is a comprehensive tool that combines all your relevant information in one place. Of its many components, the Activities Section plays a cardinal role.

In this guide, we will walk you through this section, assist you in making the most of it, and help you avoid common mistakes.

Understanding the Common App Activities Section

Importance of the Activities Section

The Activities Section offers a platform to showcase your non-academic interests and accomplishments. It is an opportunity to present the diverse facets of your personality and talent that academic transcripts fail to capture.

Admissions officers are intrigued by applicants’ activities as they provide a glimpse into their character, commitment, and passion. The Activities Section can give you an edge over other applicants with similar academic records, making it an integral part of your application.

When crafting this section, choosing activities that genuinely reflect who you are and what you are passionate about is essential. Admissions officers are not simply looking for a laundry list of activities; they want to see depth and meaning in your involvement.

Consider selecting activities that have significantly impacted your growth or allowed you to make a difference in your community. These activities range from volunteering at a local shelter to starting a business. Remember, quality is more important than quantity.

What Constitutes an Activity?

An activity in the Common App can take various forms. It is not limited to participation in a school club or a sports team. It can include jobs, family responsibilities, summer activities, independent research, or hobbies.

a teacher demonstrating something on the computer

When brainstorming activities to include in this section, consider the different areas of your life where you have invested time and effort. Have you taken on a part-time job to support your family? Have you spent summers volunteering at a hospital or conducting scientific research? Have you pursued a hobby that has allowed you to develop unique skills?

An activity can be anything you spend significant time on outside of your school work. It is an opportunity to reflect on your growth or a capacity to make a substantial impact.

Remember, the goal is not to list all the activities you have been involved in but to provide insight into who you are. Admissions officers want to see your passion, dedication, and the impact you have made through your activities.

Additionally, don’t forget to include any leadership roles or significant achievements within each activity. This will help admissions officers understand the level of your involvement and the impact you have had.

How to List Your Activities

When listing your activities on the Common App, there are a few key considerations to remember. First and foremost, you should be aware that you are allowed to list a maximum of 10 activities.

While this may seem generous, it’s important to remember that quality trumps quantity in this case. It’s not about how many activities you can cram into the list but rather about choosing the ones that truly showcase your skills and highlight your most meaningful commitments.

A female student thinking while holding her pen and notebook.

When deciding which activities to include, choosing those that resonate most with you is essential. Rather than focusing solely on activities that may seem impressive to others, admissions officers are more interested in the stories these activities tell about you as an individual. They want to see your passions, dedication, and unique perspective shine through in your activity list.

Properly Describing Your Activities

Once you have selected the activities you want to include, the next step is adequately describing each. This is where you can demonstrate the significance of the activity and your specific role in it. It’s essential to balance being concise and powerful in your descriptions.

When writing the descriptions, opt for precise language that effectively communicates the nature of the activity, your responsibilities, and any notable accomplishments.

Remember, admissions officers may not be familiar with every activity you list, so it’s crucial to provide enough detail to give them a clear understanding of what you were involved in. Avoid using vague or generic language that doesn’t truly capture the essence of the activity.

Take the time to refine and polish these descriptions carefully. Even the most impressive activities can be undermined by poorly written reports. This is your chance to showcase your achievements and highlight the impact you made through your involvement. Ensure each description is compelling, engaging, and effectively conveys the significance of the activity.

Tips for Maximizing the Impact of Your Activities

Highlighting Leadership Roles

Demonstrating leadership is an effective way to grab the attention of admissions officers. Leadership roles show your ability to inspire others, manage a team, and take initiative. Hence, highlight this if you were a club president, team captain, or student council officer.

Admissions officers always seek students who can make a difference and lead others toward a common goal. Being a club president, for example, demonstrates your ability to organize and lead meetings, your commitment to the club’s mission, and your dedication to improving the club’s overall experience for its members. It shows you have the skills and qualities to take charge and positively impact.

Even if you do not have a formal leadership position, you can still show leadership through your actions. Were you proactive in founding an initiative or coordinating an event? These instances also reflect your leadership skills.

Admissions officers value students who take the initiative to create positive change, even without a designated leadership title. It demonstrates your ability to think outside the box, take risks, and motivate others to join your cause.

Showcasing Your Skills and Talents

The Activities Section should anchor your versatility and unique skills. It is an opportunity to showcase your talents and passions beyond the classroom. For instance, if you were part of a debate club, it shows your argumentative skills, critical thinking abilities, and ability to articulate your thoughts effectively.

Volunteering is also a great way to demonstrate your empathy for community service and your commitment to making a difference in the lives of others. Whether you volunteered at a local shelter, organized a fundraising event, or participated in a community clean-up, these experiences highlight your compassion, dedication, and willingness to contribute to the betterment of society.

Remember not to limit yourself to school or community activities. If you’ve taken up learning a musical instrument or a foreign language, these, too, are perfectly valid to include and indicate dedication and perseverance. Learning a musical instrument, for example, showcases your discipline, patience, and ability to master a complex skill. Similarly, learning a foreign language demonstrates your cultural awareness, adaptability, and commitment to expanding your horizons.

Ultimately, the Activities Section is your chance to paint a vivid picture of who you are beyond your academic achievements. It is an opportunity to demonstrate your leadership potential, showcase your unique skills and talents, and highlight your commitment to personal growth and making a positive impact on the world around you.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in the Activities Section

Overloading Your Activities List

Brevity is the soul of the Activities Section. Resist the temptation to fill all ten slots with extrinsic activities. Instead, focus on selecting your most significant and impactful activities.

Typing in a laptop on a table.

Overloading your activities list may lead admissions officers to believe you lack focus or depth in your commitments. Choose wisely to portray a balanced and dedicated version of yourself.

When deciding which activities to include, consider the ones that have significantly impacted your personal growth and development. Maybe you were the captain of your school’s debate team, leading your team to victory in multiple competitions. Or perhaps you dedicated countless hours to volunteering at a local animal shelter, where you developed a deep sense of compassion and responsibility.

Remember, it’s not about the quantity of activities but rather the quality and significance of your involvement. Admissions officers want to see that you have made a meaningful impact in the areas that matter most to you.

Neglecting to Show Depth in Your Activities

While displaying a range of skills and interests is crucial, showing depth in your involvement is equally important. Colleges appreciate candidates demonstrating sustained interest and significant contributions in their chosen fields.

For instance, if you’ve been involved in a research project for multiple years and have achieved substantial results, this should be celebrated and emphasized.

When describing your activities, go beyond simply listing your responsibilities. Provide specific examples of how you have made a difference and the skills you have developed.

Maybe you conducted groundbreaking research to create a new medical treatment or organized a fundraising event that raised thousands of dollars for a charitable cause.

You demonstrate your commitment and dedication to your chosen activities by showcasing the depth of your involvement. This not only gives admissions officers a better understanding of who you are but also sets you apart from applicants who may have only superficial participation in their activities.

Remember, it’s not just about the number of activities you participate in, the impact you have made, and the personal growth you have experienced. So, choose your actions wisely, and highlight the depth of your involvement to create a compelling and authentic Activities Section.

Making Your Activities Stand Out

When showcasing your activities, making them stand out is essential. One way to do this is by using action verbs in your descriptions.

Instead of stating that you were part of a club, consider starting with a strong action verb to grab the reader’s attention. For example, you could say, “I managed a team of five for a community fundraising event.” This sharpens your descriptions and better captures the true extent of your role and responsibilities.

A woman smiling for the camera.

Powerful verbs can create a stronger impression and make your activities more memorable. By using action verbs, you can paint a dynamic picture of your involvement and highlight the impact you made.

Whether leading a project, organizing an event, or spearheading a campaign, these verbs can bring your activities to life and demonstrate your leadership and initiative.

Demonstrating Personal Growth Through Activities

While admissions officers are undoubtedly interested in the activities you participated in, they are also keen on understanding how you grew through these experiences. Did you learn a valuable lesson from a failure? Did a particular activity open your eyes to a new perspective? These are the stories that can truly set you apart.

Thinking beyond the surface level is essential when utilizing the description space for your activities. Instead of simply listing your responsibilities or achievements, consider how these experiences shaped you as an individual.

Did you develop essential skills such as teamwork, resilience, or problem-solving? Did you gain a deeper understanding of a particular issue or cause? These personal development aspects can create a lasting impact and showcase your ability to learn and grow.

Furthermore, don’t be afraid to share any challenges or obstacles you faced during your activities. Admissions officers appreciate honesty and resilience, so if you encounter setbacks or difficulties, explain how you overcame them and what you learned in the process. This demonstrates your ability to adapt and persevere, highlighting your maturity and self-reflection.

The Power of the Activities Section

In conclusion, the Activities Section of your application holds significant power in swaying the admission decision in your favor. It is not just a space to list your involvements but an opportunity to showcase your dedication, growth, and passion.

You can make your application shine by using action verbs to make your descriptions more impactful and highlighting your activities’ personal development aspects.

Investing time and effort into accurately and effectively representing your activities can make a difference. Remember, this is your chance to demonstrate your unique qualities, experiences, and perspectives. So, take the time to craft thoughtful and compelling descriptions that reflect who you are and what you have accomplished.

What Do Admissions Officers Look For?

Regarding the Common App Activities Section, admissions officers are not merely skimming for a list of impressive titles or a litany of awards. They’re delving into your character, passions, and potential for growth. The activities you choose to include—and how you describe them—can speak volumes about your priorities, leadership skills, and social awareness.

Are you someone who initiates change, or do you wait for others to take the lead? Do you have a focus and depth in your interests, or are you more of a generalist?

These are the nuanced questions that admissions officers consider as they sift through your application. The Common App activities section provides a lens through which they can view you as a whole person, not just an academic machine.

The Weight of the Activities Section in Different Types of Colleges

The significance of the Common App activities section can vary depending on the type of institution you’re applying to. This section can be a decisive factor for highly competitive universities, where most applicants boast solid academic records.

It’s your chance to stand out from the crowd, to show what you bring to the table that’s uniquely yours. On the other hand, smaller colleges or those with a more specialized focus might weigh this section differently.

For instance, a liberal arts college might be more interested in a well-rounded profile, while a tech-focused institution could prioritize STEM-related activities. Understanding the ethos and priorities of the colleges you’re applying to can help you tailor this section more effectively.

Decoding the Unspoken Rules and Preferences

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the Common App activities section, some unspoken rules and preferences can guide your choices. For example, longevity and depth in a few activities often trump short stints in many.

Admissions officers appreciate seeing the progression, whether moving up the ranks in a club or deepening your skill set in a particular area. Another unwritten rule is the importance of authenticity.

It’s usually quite evident when activities are included solely for the sake of appearance, and this can be a turn-off for admissions officers. Your activities should reflect a genuine interest and a real commitment—they should be things you would do whether or not they’d ever be listed on a college application.

How Do You Revise and Polish Your Activities Section?

Start by revisiting each activity description. Are you using specific, action-oriented language? Are you quantifying your impact wherever possible? For example, instead of saying, “helped with fundraising,” you could say, “spearheaded a fundraising campaign that raised $5,000 for local animal shelters.” The latter paints a much more vivid and impactful picture. This level of detail can set you apart in the Common App activities section.

The Importance of Peer and Mentor Reviews

You’ve read and re-read your Common App activities section so often that you can recite it in your sleep. But sometimes, familiarity can close your eyes to minor errors or areas for improvement. This is where peer and mentor reviews come into play.

A fresh pair of eyes can provide invaluable insights into how others perceive your activities. They can catch mistakes you’ve overlooked, suggest better phrasing, or even recommend a different order based on impact or relevance for your listed activities. Don’t underestimate the power of an external perspective; it can be the difference between a good section and a great one.

Last-Minute Checklist: What to Double-Check

As the deadline looms, rushing through the final steps is easy, but a last-minute checklist can be a lifesaver for your Common App activities section. Double-check the spelling and grammar, ensuring that each sentence is error-free.

regular decision application

Verify that you’ve adhered to the character limits without sacrificing meaningful content. Ensure that the activities are listed in order of importance to you or in a way that aligns with your narrative.

Check that you’ve included any significant time commitments, as this can also be a point of interest for admissions officers. This checklist is your final quality control, ensuring your activities section is complete and polished.

The Role of Feedback in Refinement

Feedback is the cornerstone of any refinement process, and the Common App activities section is no exception. Whether it’s from teachers, mentors, or peers, constructive feedback provides actionable insights that you can use to improve your section.

Did someone suggest a more effective way to phrase your leadership role in a club? Take it into account. Was it recommended that you focus more on your contributions to team activities? Make the necessary adjustments.

Feedback is not just about correcting mistakes but elevating your activities section from good to exceptional. It’s a cycle of continuous improvement that can make your application stand out in a sea of qualified candidates.

Ready to Take Your Common App Activities Section to the Next Level?

You’ve read our comprehensive guide on mastering the Common App Activities Section, but you may still feel a bit overwhelmed. Or perhaps you’re looking for personalized guidance to make your application stand out. That’s where AdmissionSight comes in.

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Upon receiving your application, our team will diligently review each section and provide comprehensive feedback, including a thorough assessment of your Common App activities. We aim to deliver actionable insights to help you improve your overall application and increase your chances of success.

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