The Activities section on the Common App may appear to be a simple listing of a student’s 10 extra-curricular activities. However, if tackled strategically, it provides a great opportunity to showcase breadth, depth and impact, beyond what is demonstrated in your essays.
For instance, which of the following leaves an immediate impression?
- Founder, School Math Club: Organized meetings and prepared for competitions.
- Founder, School Math Club: Organized and ran weekly meetings for Grades 7-11. Mentored 15 students for competitive exams (AMC, Olympiad). Won 3 inter-school events.
I’m sure all of you chose the second one. So here are 5 tips with examples to help you stand out:
1) Quantify. Provide numbers and specific details wherever possible.
Instead of saying “Assisted children….”, try “Assisted 50 children ages 8-12…”
2) Avoid repetition. If you have mentioned a detail in another field within the activity, don’t reuse it.
If you have written “Founder” in the leadership section, don’t say “Started a school club …” in the description.
3) List in order of importance. Ranking activities in chronological order may seem logical as it shows your progress. However, colleges want to read your most notable achievements first.
For instance, which one would you start with?
Delegate, School MUN (Grade 12), Head Girl (Grade 11) or Editor, School Magazine (Grade 10, 11)?
Here, Head Girl should be listed first, followed by Editor and then Delegate.
4) Lead with strong verbs. The right phrasing of your descriptions can leave a powerful picture.
Instead of saying “helped”, use “mentored” or “trained”. Use “authored” instead of saying “wrote”.
5) Evaluate before writing. Quality over quantity. The final 10 should show your diversity, but also uniqueness by including activities like leadership position, major-related involvement and community spirit.
The 10 extra-curricular activities section is critical to your application as it showcases your individual candidature in the most succinct way. It is imperative that you achieve the right balance between what is and what should be left out. Always remember, reflection is key and impact is paramount.