Making Your Activity List Pop

Making Your Activity List Pop

The Activities section of the Common Application provides an opportunity for you to distinguish yourself and highlight your specific interests, defining talents, and character traits.   

Here are some suggestions to make your Activity section stand out:

Don’t sweat calculating your time commitment -- but be honest. Assume that you are in school for about 40 weeks each year, which means roughly 20 weeks per semester or 12 weeks per season.  You can’t report anything you did prior to 9th grade, but if you have an activity that you continue to be involved in, be sure to mention that.

Be specific about what you did..  You’re only allowed 150 characters, make every word count.  

  • Give tangible, measurable outcomes. For example, if you were involved in a fundraising event, mention how much money you raised. If you did community service, mention how many children you worked with or how many trees you planted. 

  • Use active verbs that precisely describe what you did. Be sure your verbs reflect your personal qualities and strengths. If you have strong planning and organizational skills, use words like “manage” or “coordinate”. If you are a leader, words like “supervise,” “oversee,” or facilitate” will communicate that. If you like to help others, talk about how you “share” or “guide” or “support.”

  • Verbs should be present tense

  • Use punctuation to your advantage. Write bullet pointed phrases, and use parenthese to state what year you did the activity. Lists are a great way to fit more information in the section. For example, if you were on the varisty soccer team, you might write: * Starting player (11th, 12th) * Team qualified for Regionals (12th) * Played JV (9th, 10th). And see how we snuck the JV team in there? Tricky, right?

  • List what you were responsible for in your role, not just that you were a member of the club or an employee.  For example: Responsible for opening and closing the store, reporting daily sales activity, and stocking merchandise.

  • Double up to get more in: Include the title of your position after the name of the place you worked, or the club were involved in. For example, write Photography Club: Founder and President or Main Street Cafe: Server, Cashier.

  • Don’t use personal pronouns like I, me, or my.  

Be sure to articulate selective positions.  Mentioning that you were elected, appointed or chosen for distinction for something isn’t bragging - it’s a fact, and shows that you are being recognized by others for your ability or character.   

Volunteering at one-time events.  Many high schools require volunteer hours, so it’s important to be able to stand out when reporting your volunteer time.  Just showing up for organized volunteer work is great, but demonstrating that the work aligns with your passions is better.  Describe why this work is meaningful to you.

Put time and care into completing the Activities section of your application to demonstrate your personal qualities and highlight your talents.  It’s a powerful way to tell your story to colleges.