Developing Your Common App Activities List

InGenius Prep

Developing Your Common App Activities List

When you’re completing your college applications, you will be asked to fill in the Common App activities list. While your test scores and academic performance are important, admission offices are also interested in your character. What could be more revealing about a person than how you spend your free time? Your achievements outside of the classroom are what make you stand out from other applicants.

What counts as an extra-curricular activity?

Many students express concern over this question because they are unaware that extra-curricular activities can be defined on broad terms and can go beyond school-sponsored clubs. Family activities, work experiences, and your hobbies can all fall under this category. Your Common App activities list is endless, but to provide you with an idea of what can be considered an “extra-curricular”, here are a few examples:

  • Arts. Art encompasses a wide variety of options for creative students. Aside from painting or sketching, you can involve yourself in photography, theater and creative writing. It’s a chance for you to show your creative side.
  • Sports. Sports make great extra-curricular activities, as they show self-discipline and require cooperating with a team. Your contributions as a player should be highlighted and can even help you in getting a merit-based financial aid at certain schools.
  • Hobbies. Your hobbies are second-nature to you. Running, reading books or knitting may be something you only do to take your mind off of school, but they can also count as an extra-curricular activity. It’s even better if you can turn your hobbies into verifiable credentials.
  • Music. Are you a member of the glee-club or do you have a band of your own? Do you play a musical instrument? Do you participate in the Church Choir? Like art, it is difficult to find someone who does not appreciate music.
  • Media. Media involves work that relates to television, movie, broadcasting and print. There are a lot of high school clubs in this field - your yearbook committee, school radio, television or newspaper. If you are really passionate, try venturing into online publications like blogging or get an internship at your local newspaper.
  • Debate Team. If you want to learn how to make decisive arguments or apply proper reasoning in different contexts, join the debate team. It can be a useful and powerful tool to use in classroom discussions.
  • Governance. A great way to showcase your leadership skills is by being a part of the Student Council. However, student council is not the only way you can play a leadership role. You can be the leader of other school organizations, or better yet, start your own club in high school. It’s a great way to exemplify your ability to take responsibility and manage students.
  • Community Service. Community service can really strengthen a college application. Community service activities that are tied to your academic interests or what you intend to pursue in college are even better ways to stand out, and more importantly, more effective ways to make an impact in the community.

How to Describe Your Activities:

You only have 150 characters to describe each activity that you’ve pursued throughout high school. 150 characters, not words! It can be incredibly difficult to sum up every extracurricular you've done within this limited space, but there are 4 things you can focus on to make your Common App activities list descriptions impressive.

1. Leadership:

Having a leadership position shows that you were not only involved, but you actively participated. Top schools look for change makers who will tirelessly work to improve their campuses. If you have any sort of leadership role, whether it be president, team captain, or treasurer, be sure to emphasize the impact you’ve had. If you founded an organization or started a club, that’s all the more impressive. Creating something on your own captures creativity and drive. Feature your leadership on your Common App activities list to show your initiative.

2. Sustained Involvement:

College admissions officers love to see your engagement span all four high school years. Sustained involvement signals an applicant’s commitment to his or her passions. Have you been involved in show choir since 9th grade? Highlight your dedication by putting this activity higher on your list. Have you been involved with Boy Scouts since you were in 1st grade, and are now pursuing your Eagle Scout Award? Even better. Don't fear if all of your extracurriculars have not lasted throughout high school. An admissions officer expects experimentation of activities! That being said, your devotion shows genuine passion. Don’t try to build your resume by joining 10 clubs junior year! To an admissions officer, this will come across as a lack of interest and focus. Show persistence through your activities, and you’ll stand out.

3. Quantifiable Impact:

Admissions officers have approximately 12 minutes to read every page of an application. They will quickly (but carefully) go through your Common App activities list, so you need your pursuits to immediately stand out as impressive. Using numbers is an effective way to do this. Did you raise $5,000 for charity? Increase your club’s membership by 75%? Start 2 new branches of an organization? If you quantify your impact through each description, your extracurriculars will be far more compelling.

4. Word choice:

With only 150 characters, every word you use counts. Carefully consider vocabulary choices, and make sure each phrase highlights your impact. Don’t use meaningless filler words that fail to show what you’ve done! Use strong action verbs to underscore the role you played.  Here are a few examples that come to mind:

  • Managed
  • Developed
  • Grew
  • Started
  • Created
  • Initiated
  • Founded
  • Led
  • Organized
  • Increased

Remember, all of these activities should be prioritized to reflect your own priorities and what you want to convey about yourself. Ask yourself what these activities, and how you’ve described and ordered them, say about you as a person and as an applicant. If you need help strategizing your Common App activities list, our former admissions officers at InGenius Prep will help you every step of the way.

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