Common App Activities: How to Fit More Than 10 Extracurriculars on Your List

Angela Sherman

Common App Activities: How to Fit More Than 10 Extracurriculars on Your List

Preparing your Common App activities can be just as stressful as completing the personal statement and college-specific supplements. This is especially true when your list of activities exceeds the limit set by the Common App! For some students, the 10 spaces for Common App activities are just not enough.

If this sounds like you, then consider the following tips for how to fit more than 10 extracurriculars on your activities list. With careful planning and a little creativity, it is possible to make everything fit.

Study the Activities List

Before thinking about how to squeeze in more than 10 activities, familiarize yourself with the way the activities list is formatted. There are 30 activity categories, ranging from “Academic” and “Athletic” to more specific types like “Debate/Speech” and “Social Justice.” In the 2020-21 version of the activities list, Common App now provides 50 characters for the position you hold in an activity and 100 characters to list the organization or club's name. Previously, students were only given 50 characters for both the role and organization's name.

This isn’t much, but you can maximize your use of the small spaces provided for your Common App activities. Take advantage of common abbreviations when appropriate and use phrases instead of sentences. With 150 characters, you have no space to waste. Don’t use it to include obvious details — dive straight into your achievements to cover as much as possible. Understand these constraints and you’ll be ready to fit more activities in.

My colleague David discusses more tips for fitting more Common App activities onto your list here:

Showcase Your Standout Activities

You will likely have to make some tough choices about which extracurriculars make the final cut. The first step to perfecting your Common App activities list is downsizing to include only the best and most impressive activities — ones where you made a long-term commitment, played an active role, and/or achieved significant results.

Quality over quantity will come into play as you choose which extracurriculars to feature. Just because you have 16 activities you could list doesn’t mean they are all meaningful involvements worthy of a shout out on your application. Eliminate the club you only participated in during 9th grade and the community service project you’ve done for a couple hours because your parents forced you to participate. Choose only the best of the best! If you still have 13 activities you hope to include, we have more tips for you…

Thematically Group Activities

Use the activity categories to your advantage. Since each activity must be assigned a specific activity type, why not include related activities under a single, overarching theme? Let’s say you are a member of your school choir, but also actively participate in your church’s youth group choir every Sunday. Instead of taking up two activity slots, you could select the activity type “Music: Vocal” and combine the groups for the title: “Alto, School Choir and Youth Group Choir.” Then, have a description that presents your overall history and any shining moments as a choir singer: “Have been performing at local competitions, charity concerts since 4th grade; at school, was selected out of 20 to sing solo at int’l competition.” (145 characters)

Even though two activities have been reworked into one, this entry is effective at showing a sincere passion for singing, long-term commitment to different choir groups, and a notable achievement. Unless you have very specific and detailed items to put in the description for each choir activity, they can be joined together, opening a precious empty slot for another amazing activity.

Thematically grouping 1-3 activities together can be a good way to include either activities with descriptions that may have looked too sparse on their own, or those that were short-term commitments but still worth mentioning.

Take Advantage of the Honors List

Activity descriptions not only include accomplished tasks and achievements, but can also be where you mention special awards, prizes, trophies, or any other honors received. Instead of a full-blown activity entry, you may want to consider substituting with an activity-related award or honor. This would be put in the Common App honors section.

Be smart about picking and choosing these, since only five honors can be listed in total. Drawing attention to an activity-based award in the Honors section can be a good idea if it is standalone and contributes to your Application Persona – the thematic framework running through your application. When the most impressive part of your activity culminated in a single award, place this in honors instead of activities.

Upload a Resumé and Use the Additional Information Section

So what do you do if, even after fine-tuning your activities list as much as possible, you are finding it difficult to stay within the 10 entry limit? If necessary, you can upload a resumé to cover extracurriculars and achievements that just weren’t able to fit within the Common App. You can also use the additional information section under the Writing tab to add details like research paper abstracts and other noteworthy items related to your Common App activities.

Please note: you should proceed with caution here! Remember that admissions officers have a ton of reading to do, with thousands of applications in their pile. Use these options to expand upon your activities list in a meaningful way but respect the Common App guidelines. The reality is, admissions officers may just skim an uploaded resumé for the sake of time. Don’t treat these opportunities as “extra space” – only use these options if truly necessary!

Fitting more than 10 extracurriculars onto the Common App activities list is no easy feat. But by minimizing less important activities and details, grouping activities together, and utilizing other sections to their fullest extent, you can make it all squeeze in. After all, having too much to say is a better problem than having nothing to say at all!

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