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Activities, Activities, Activities: Showcasing Your Activities on the Common Application

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

The Common Application utilizes the essay section to get to know their applicants’ personalities, values, strengths, and vulnerabilities better.

Since colleges are unable to interview all of their applicants, the personal statement is the next best vehicle for painting a portrait of the applicant. Furthermore, to gain a clear picture of what the applicant did in their free time outside of the classroom, the Common Application then relies on the Activities Section of the application to gather this information.

Where Do I Start?

You have probably participated in a variety of activities in high school….some you may not even remember. So sit down with your family members and start recalling all of the activities that you participated in during your 9th grade year.

Your mother or father may remember some activities better than you - they were probably the ones to tirelessly drive you back and forth from events. After you cull these together, do the same for your 10th, 11th, and upcoming 12th grade year. Discuss the number of hours per week on average that you participated in each. Then calculate the number of weeks that you engaged in each activity during the year.

What is Considered an Activity?

All of the following are considered activities:

  • Community Service

  • Employment/jobs (e.g. babysitting, lifeguarding, newspaper route)

  • Sport teams

  • Clubs (e.g. STEM)

  • Church activities, mission trips

  • Events (e.g. organizing or attending)

  • Academic teams

  • Organizations (e.g. school newspaper, yearbook)

  • Programs (e.g. mentorship program, leadership conference, study abroad)

  • Music (e.g. choir, orchestra, bands)

  • Theater/drama

  • Dance, cheerleading

  • Art (photography, drawing, etc. in your free time)

  • Foreign language

  • Research

  • Social justice work

  • Coding

  • Teaching yourself to play an instrument in your free time

***Also look through any past awards that you have received and your yearbook to jar your memory for activities that you participated in.

What Guidelines

Do I Need to Know About?

The Common Application allows applicants to list 10 activities. There are several steps that a student takes in listing each activity.

  1. First the applicant chooses their activity category from a drop-down menu.

  2. The application permits students 50 characters to describe the Position/Leadership description and organization name, if applicable.

  3. Next, the applicant is asked to describe the activity, what he/she accomplished and any recognition that he/she received in 150 characters.

Does Order Matter?

It is important to order your activities in a manner that makes an impact on the reader. Remember, first impressions are lasting impressions! Also, you might want to group similar activities together to show a sense of continuity to the reader.

How Do I Phrase Each Activity?

In the Position/Leadership description and organization name box, supply as much succinct information as possible by using commas so to keep within the 50

character limit.

Example: Treasurer, STEM Club, Costa Mesa High School

(In the description field, try not to repeat any of the information that you already supplied in the position/leadership field. Start off each description with a DYNAMIC ACTION VERB!)

  • Responsible for...

  • Organized...

  • Collected...

  • Tutored...

  • Chaired...

  • Achieved...

Quantify the work that you did - break it down into some detail.

"Tutored 8 students weekly. Raised $2,000. Chaired 10 meetings yearly."

Be as specific as possible when describing your activity.

"Attained California Lifeguarding Certificate at the age of 17."

How Does the UC Application Activity List Differ?

There are four major differences:

  1. The UC application allows the applicant to list up to 30 activities.

  2. Applicants are permitted to add up to five activities in each of the categories (Coursework, Educational Prep-programs, Volunteer Community Service, Work experience, Awards & Honors, Extracurricular Activities).

  3. The UC application allows up to 500 characters to describe what you did for each activity.

  4. The UC application also asks you to describe the organization, program, school, or group (another 500 characters).

If you are using both the UC application and the Common Application, we recommend starting with the UC Application Activities List first and then trimming your activities list down for the Common Application.

Remember, you have put a lot of passion, time, and effort into your activities over the past 3-4 years; so now is not the time to be humble - SHOWCASE ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND BE THAT STAND-OUT APPLICANT!

Want to hear all this info explained by a professional?

Click the image below to view a recording of our live webinar,

"How to build a dynamic college resume and activities list."


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