Acing The Common App’s “Activities” Section

After writing and re-writing your main essay and dozens of supplemental essays, your brain might turn off a bit when you get to the more straightforward aspects of your college applications. Many applicants float through the “Activities” section without much thought – after all, listing your clubs and titles doesn’t really require all that much, right?

Student Government, President. Lead my student government during my junior and senior years.

Varsity Cross Country, Captain. Responsible for leading and motivating teammates.

It’s concise and accurate, of course, but… it’s boring. It’s even more boring when you consider how many student body presidents and team captains across the country are applying to that same college or university.

Here’s what you need to remember: every single blank space on your college application is a place for you to show off.  Use the Activities section to not simply list the organizations you joined and the positions you held, but the most interesting and noteworthy impact you had in those roles. Consider the limited space available your test to be clever and original while still being succinct.

Student Government, President. Convinced 500 students to vote for me by promising to offer new items in the cafeteria – and I delivered on that promise. Most notably, I helped negotiate longer passing periods with the school administration and positively demolished my fear of public speaking.

Varsity Cross Country, Captain. Worked my way from 10-minute miles on JV to 6-minute miles on Varsity, continuously setting new goals and encouraging my teammates to do the same. Though not a “natural” runner, I pride myself on the fact that you’d never know it!

Before you begin filling out your Activities section, you’ll need to do a bit of prep work. First, determine the order in which you’ll list your activities. The first ones listed should be the ones you’ve dedicated the most time to and are the most passionate about (and hopefully these will also be the ones where you’ve made a significant impact, won an award, assumed a leadership position, etc.). Then, get to brainstorming the things you’ve done in those clubs and organizations that you’re most proud of. Get creative. Big awards and tangible achievements are great, but don’t overlook the ways you’ve changed through these activities.

Every question on the college application is an opportunity to differentiate yourself from the crowd and share a bit of your brilliant personality, and the Activities section is no exception. Take advantage of it!