How to Ace Your Common App

The Common App is a website students use to apply for colleges. It offers over 900 colleges across the world. If you want to apply for any college, you need to fill in many details divided into sections. One of these sections is the "Activities" section. It is one of the essential sections which can influence a college's decision on admission. So let's see what common app activity is all about.

What is the Common App Activities Section?

The "Activities" section in Common App allows you to describe yourself above academics. College wants to know how you live your life outside the classroom. They want to know what are interests you developed within you. Are you doing any activity as a leader? They want an excellent academic student with leadership qualities.

This section becomes more vital if you apply for a prestigious college. It's because all the prestigious colleges are the most selective ones. Many deserving candidates are the ones which excellent academic scores. But one thing which has the potential to make a difference is the "Activities" section.

For example, there may be many applicants with a perfect score but lacks everything else. On the other hand, you are the one student with a good score also involved in few other activities. It can indeed influence the decision of college admission as it presents you a step above. Now let's see what you need to mention in the Common App Activity Section.

How Common App Activities Section Looks like

When you fill your application form, the 5th section will be in the "Activities" section. In this section, you'll be first asked, "Do you have any activities that you wish to report?" If you want to report any activity, you can click "yes."


Common App Activities page


After clicking yes, you will get a form where you can mention your activities. First, the thing you need to mention is the "Application Type." In Application Type, you need to select the type related to your activity. 

The other area is "Position/Leadership Description." Here, you will mention your position while doing that activity. The position can be anything like a captain, President, or anything else. You have 50 characters to describe your work. The next is "Organization Name," where you need to write where you have done the activity. If you worked for any renowned organization, you could mention the name of it. However, if you worked for some organization that is not well known, then you need to give the name with context. Here you will get 100 characters to describe.

After this, you'll get a section with 150 characters limit to describe your activity. You need to explain what you have done specifically in that activity. You can mention the achievements or positions which you got. You can describe it even further. If you said that you won the college election, you should also mention what you did after that. Next is "Participation Grade Level," where you will mention at which grade you participated in the activity. In "Timing Of Participation," you need to mention at which point of time you participated. Here you get 3 options, "During school Year," "During School Break," and "All Year."

Then you will have the last two options, "Hours Spent Per Week" and "Week Spent Per Year." Here you may understand what you need to mention.

At last, You need to answer a question in yes or no. The question will be, "I intend to participate in a similar activity in college." Often, the college may not be much interested in your continuation of the activity. But in some cases, a college may want you to continue the activity.

Common App Activities Page


How To Fill Common App Activities Section

After knowing the Common App activity section, let's look at the correct way to write the section. Here correct means filling the form so that it will increase the chances of your admission. Because, as mentioned earlier, this section has the potential to influence decisions. So, let us look at each area of the section:

Activity Type:

Before moving further, Look at the activity types common app offers:

  • Academic
  • Art
  • Athletics: Club
  • Athletics: J.V./Varsity
  • Career-Oriented
  • Community Service (Volunteer)
  • Computer/Technology
  • Cultural
  • Dance
  • Debate/Speech
  • Environmental
  • Family Responsibilities
  • Foreign Exchange
  • Journalism/Publication
  • Junior R.O.T.C.
  • L.G.B.T.
  • Music: Instrumental
  • Music: Vocal
  • Religious
  • Research
  • Robotics
  • School Spirit
  • Science/Math
  • Student Govt./Politics
  • Theater/Drama
  • Work (paid)
  • Other Club/Activity

As you can see, there are many activity types, but when it comes to mentioning your activities, you have a limit of 10. It means you have the choice to showcase ten activities at most. Thus, while mentioning, mention activities that can influence the decision. So, know what your desired colleges want from students. 

You may have more than ten activities to mention, and all are important. In this case, you can use an essay or additional information section to mention them. With this, many colleges allow you to submit a resume. It can be even better for you as it will give you more space to show your activities. However, keep in mind that it's not at all necessary to mention ten activities. If you don't have ten activities to showcase, it's okay. Often, the college will prefer a student with fewer activities but dedicated to it. 

It's also crucial to choose the correct type for the specific activity. For example, if you have done any action related to science. This activity should have an activity type as "Science/Math" instead of "Academic." The reason is that the type "Academic" is very broad. And as there is type "Science/Math" available, it gives more specific information. 

In the other case, you may don't find any relevant type for your activity. In this case, you always have the option to mention your activity in the type "Other Club/Activity." You can later explain the activity in "Position/Leadership" or description. When you are mentioning more than one activity, don't use the same category type. If any of your activities are almost the same, try to mention it as one type and make space for other activities. The college will prefer a person with more activity types over a person with the same activity.

Also, focus on mentioning the most recent activities, and you did the most. The college will be more interested in the activities you did in recent years than what you did earlier.

Position/Leadership Description:

It is the space you get with a limit of 50 characters. Here you will write about what position you held while doing the activity. Here you may be a leader or maybe not, but you need to mention whatever it is precisely. 

Don't leave the space by just writing "member." Try to write in a way that the college will understand properly. For example, if you are an editor for a domestic column, you should report it as " Editor of Domestic Column." Writing like this will attract more attention compared to only writing as "Editor." The position you will write needs to be the highest position if your position has changed over the years. For example, for an activity, your position was Vice President when you started. But recently, you got the promotion, and now you are a president. In this case, you should mention the position as President.

Organization Name:

With a limit of 100 characters, you will write the organization name of your activity. Here you need to mention the name if there's any. If the name is very well known, you don't need much to say. Although, if there's no name or it's not that well known, then describe it.

For example, if you are an editor in your school newspaper, write newspaper name and school name. It will give more ideas about the organization. And if an acronym refers to the activity you are doing, then write the full name.


Now, it's the place where you will describe what you did in the activity. You have a limit of 150 characters to define everything in brief. You can mention the detail and achievements you had during the activity. It would help if you defined everything in short, instead of a few points in detail. If you want to write everything, in particular, you can do that while writing the essay.

If you are a leader of the activity, you need to focus more on writing it. You can write how your leadership created change in the activity. Also, how many members were working under your direction, and what benefit they got. Your achievements are a must for you to define, which should be quantitative. Mentioning the numerical value of your achievement can create more impact.

One mistake you should not make is being redundant while writing the description. Redundancy shows that you don't have much to report. Also, it wastes the space where you could have written something unique. 

Participation Grade Level And Timing Of Participation

In both of these areas, the college wants to know when you did the specific activity. In Participation Grade Level, you will have an option to choose grades from 9 to post-graduation. If you have done any activity between two grades, you need to write the higher grade. For example, if you did your activity in the summer holiday between 11th and 12th grade, mention 12.

After you mention the grade, now you need to mention at what time you did the activity. As mentioned earlier, you will get 3 options, "During school Year," "During School Break," and "All Year."

If done during the specific activity when the school was open, you will mention "During school Year." If the activity was during the summer holidays, then mention " During School Break." If the specific activity is the whole year, mention "All Year." 

Hours Spent Per Week And Week Spent Per Year

It is a very crucial section to ask how much time you spent on the activity. 

In Hours Spent Per Week, you need to mention, during the activity, how many hours (approximate) you spent. When mentioning this, try to be realistic, don't try to exaggerate. For sure, you are not spending perfectly the same amount of time on every activity. But if you write 10 hours a week for all ten activities, it will clearly show you are exaggerating. 

In Weeks Spent Per Year, you'll be mentioning the number of weeks you spent every year. Both of these sections will show which activity was your priority. The higher time you spend, the more importance it has. 

College Participation:

After you filled out everything else, now you need to answer a question. This question will ask you about the continuation of activities you are currently doing. The reason behind this is that they want to know how you will be in college. Colleges focus on these sections because they want a diverse student who may come up as a future leader.

If you Mentioned yes, it gives the impression to the college that you are genuinely interested in that activity. Also, many schools may doubt that you mentioned these activities only to impress them. But this doesn't mean you have to continue all the activities. There will be many activities like a club which you can't continue. Some activities you may not be interested in continuing further. But if this is the case, you need to think about mentioning this activity in the section.

If you selected yes for any activity, it doesn't mean you are bound to participate. College may give your name to the member of the organization, but it's up to you.


This section on your application is where you list awards you’ve won and honors you’ve received. 

Here’s what Common App says:

Do you wish to report any honors related to your academic achievements?

The focuses of this section will be on academic honors and awards; based on a few conversations with folks who work in admission, let’s list out other significant recognition and accolades that you’d like to highlight here.

What if I haven’t won any awards?

No need to worry. Many schools don’t offer academic awards, many activities are not competitive, and some students don’t have the time, money, or resources to compete.
Admission officers know this based on the context of the applicant and won’t use it against you. If you do have awards to list, here are

Tips for the Honors and Awards Section

1. List your awards in order of importance.

Start with those that mean the most to you. If you’re not clear on your awards’ personal meaning, start with international. Work down from there to national, state, regional, school-wide, club, then team-wide.

2. Specify what the award means.

Congrats on winning the “Beacon Award,”... but I have no idea what that means. Did you win a beacon? Were you the beacon? Say so! Similarly, an “academic excellence” award could mean so many things. Define the bar of excellence in the context of the prize.

3. Emphasize selectivity

Were you the best team out of four sides, or 400? We won’t know unless you tell us.

4. Explain acronyms.

Speaking of things, we won’t know unless you tell us. Some acronyms (like TEDx and AP) will be familiar to readers, while others (like Future Business Leaders of America or regional designations like California Scholarship Federation) may be less familiar. When in doubt, spell it out. (Totally didn’t mean to rhyme there.)

5. Want to pack multiple awards into one slot? 

Go for it. Just make sure they are somehow connected. Example: SkillsUSA, Best of Show (1st) Interior Design; (1st) Employment Portfolio; (2nd) Web Design Technical

6. Did your award include money? 

Throw it in there! Example: TEDx Student Startup Competition Winner: granted $5,000 in seed funding

7. Did they fly you out? 

State that too! Example:
Google “Young Innovator” Winner: all-expenses-paid trip + mentoring @ Google HQ 


Lastly, I'm sure you understood what Common App section activity is, what it has, and how you can fill it. All this clearly shows how crucial is this section considering the admission process. The section can make you stand out from everyone else. Hence, whenever you fill the common application, keep in mind the importance of it.  


What if I didn’t do much for the activity and I don’t have much to say?

A: If you aren't participating in many or any extracurriculars, ask yourself: why? And I’m not assuming you should be, I’m really asking, why? Perhaps a better, less confronting way of asking this is: What values have become more important to you than extracurricular activities? 

Do you have to work and provide childcare for your family, for example? Do you have and enjoy an intense academic load? Or maybe you practice gymnastics eight hours a day? If so, mention this in your Additional Info section, as that will help admission officers see your Activities List within the context of your life experiences. 

What if I think like I haven’t done “enough”?

First, stop comparing! Next, some questions to ask:

1. Have you remembered everything you’ve done? Try sitting down with a parent or friend who can help you remember stuff you might’ve forgotten you did.

2. How could you explore some things that are important to you, gain some experiences, or learn some new skills in the time left before your application is due? Heads-up: admission officers can usually spot it when a student is loading up activities in 12th grade just to pad their activities lists. That’s not quite what I’m talking about doing. If you have a few months before it’s time to apply, however, ask yourself, “What can I do that I’d enjoy doing?” But if you’ve remembered everything and you’re submitting your application soon...

3. Focus on what you can control. Use the resources above—the Epic Verbs List, BEABIES and questions, and Values Scan—to describe what you did in a way that’s clear and varied. 

Is it better to have a few really strong activities (less is more) or should I list everything I’ve done (more is more)?

A: I find counselors are divided into two camps on this: “less is more” and “more is more.” Here’s a quick comparison chart:



Less is more

You list only your most important endeavors, demonstrating focus and commitment.

You leave off some stuff you did, risking an incomplete portrait of yourself in your application.

More is more

You include everything you’ve done, demonstrating a wide range of interests and achievements.

Some of your listed activities don’t mean a whole lot to you. It may seem as if you’re trying too hard to impress.

What if a multi-dimensional activity is impossible to describe in 150 characters?

A: Write a short description in the Activities List, then put additional information into the... Additional Information section (that redundancy was on purpose). Here’s an example of such an activity:

Creator, AquaVR

Researched, brainstormed, created 3 prototypes for virtual reality scuba gear. Recognized statewide. Developing app with Siemens. (See add’l info.) 

That little note at the end signals the activity’s richness while directing the reader to find out more in the additional information section.