How to Write a Strong Activities List for your Common App

It’s no secret that extracurricular activities are important to admissions officers when evaluating candidates. The way you spend your time outside of the classroom in extracurricular activities is a great indication of who you are and what you care about. Admissions officers care deeply about both of those things. The more they can learn about you, the better they are able to determine whether their school is the right fit for you. By understanding what you care about, they’ll learn more about the impact you would have in their incoming freshman class. If they can see you bringing a unique perspective and experiences to campus, they’re likely to fight for your admission in committee discussion. In the admissions process, nailing your activities list is essential.

In this post, we will go over the following:

  1. What the activities section looks like
  2. The types of extracurricular activities admissions officers like to see
  3. How to write activity descriptions
  4. Sample activity descriptions
  5. List of great action verbs to use

The Activities Section of the Application

First, let’s take a look at what the Activities Section looks like in the Common App.

Before you begin the application, you should create a Common App or Coalition App account. Scroll through the application system to get an idea of what will be required of you. Most schools you apply to will be on either the Common App or Coalition App. There are a few exceptions though, so make sure you do your research before you begin! For example, The University of California system and MIT have their own application systems. When you get to the Activities section, you will notice a few things:

  1. You have the opportunity to list up to 10 activities.
  2. You are limited to 150 characters in your activity descriptions.

With just 150 characters, you essentially have the length of a tweet to describe your involvement. This is often the most overlooked section of the application, or the section of the application that is mismanaged. When you look to craft your 150 character descriptions, focus on impact.

What Admissions Officers Want to See

It’s also imperative to understand that admissions committees are not looking for “well-rounded” students. Sure, it’s great that some students dabble in a little bit of everything, but admissions committees are more interested in building a well-rounded freshman class. Their goal as a committee is to admit students with individual and unique perspectives/experiences so that as a whole, the incoming freshman class is well-rounded and full of students with much to offer their peers.

How to Order your Activities

  1. Your biggest accomplishments/most significant activities should go first
  2. In chronological order starting from most recent

How to Write Activity Descriptions

  1. In most scenarios, it works to start your description with an action word. If you start with “I was responsible for..” you will be wasting valuable space.
  2. Review each of your activities and, separate from the application, list all of your accomplishments. Use those lists to guide your activity description.
  3. Focus on strong verbs, and use a variety of them throughout your descriptions.
  4. Ensure your descriptions detail what you’ve learned and/or the impact you’ve made. If you don’t address these areas, you are not submitting the strongest activities section possible.

Sample Activity Descriptions

Weak activity description:
President, Science Club
I run Science Club meetings, plan activities and participate in science fairs and Olympiads with my peers.

Strong activity description:
Organize Science Club meetings, schedule speakers and prepare activities for 16 students. Mentor younger students and compete in national science fairs and state Olympiads. Awards detailed in add’l comments.

If you’re feeling stuck on how to get started, try using this list of strong action verbs!

We’d also love to support you in this process. Reach out and schedule a consultation with us to learn more about how we can help!

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