Some Facts About Common App Activities Section

Shobha Kadur

Showcasing achievements so the standout

Besides the Common App Essay and supplement essays that some colleges ask for, you will also have to fill out the Common App Activities section.

Your Common App Essay will give the college admissions staff an idea of who you are – the kind of person you are. What you include in the Common App Activities section will tell them what you do after school hours – how you utilize your free time. So this is a chance for you to make a lasting impression.

Colleges need more than just your high school grades, AP/IB scores, and standardized test scores to determine which applicants they should accept. With a majority of applicants meeting such application requirements, the college admission staff needs something that can help them know more about an applicant, and the personal statement, supplemental essays, and extracurricular activity lists come in handy.

It is therefore vital that you demonstrate your activities and strengths so that you create a memorable Activities section.

We’ll first discuss some of the necessities of the Activities section before exploring how to write it and some tips to help you with it.

What’s counted as an activity?

The Common App states that ‘an activity’ can comprise participating in the arts, athletics, employment, individual responsibilities, and any other activity. So this broadly covers anything that you participate in beyond your academic pursuits.

Is there a limit to how many activities can be put down?

Yes. You can enumerate ten activities.

Is there a specific character/word count for every activity?

Yes, there are clear indications of how much you can write in the Common App.

Position/Leadership description and organization name, if applicable - 50 characters

Explaining the activity you participated in, what you achieved including any credit or acclamation - 150 characters

With restricted room available to offer explanations about every activity, you have to write well using few words. We’ll examine how you can get the best results within the set boundaries.

Is there anything else to be mentioned about every activity?

There is some more information that you need to include in the Common App for every activity you mention:

  • Activity type – for instance, Athletics, Community Work, Debate, Foreign Language, Research, Volunteering, etc.
  • In which grades you were involved in the activity (9, 10, 11, 12, Post-graduate)
  • When you took part in the activity – all through the school year, during a part of the school year, or during school break
  • How many hours you put in each week
  • How many weeks in each year you participated
  • Will you get involved in identical activities at college too

Tactics to write the activity section well

Let’s now discuss a few feasible methods to write a high-powered Activities section and make a lasting impression:

1. Put in position and organization name in the uppermost box

This is how the beginning of the Activity on Common App appears:

I have copy-pasted this from the guide – you may want to change this

Once you have chosen an activity from the options in the drop-down menu, give details of your position and the organization name in the accompanying box. You have 150 characters to write all that you can.

For instance, instead of simply mentioning ‘Student Council’ or ‘President’ utilize the characters available to your advantage and write ‘President, Student Council’.

2. While filling the information in the activity description box don’t use the words in the position description box

Taking the ‘President, Student Council’ instance, rather than fill in ‘Being the president of the student council, I was in charge of …’ be precise and simply write ‘In charge for scheduling programs, collaborating with management, and executing school schemes like Sunday special meals for lesser privileged families.’

3. Concentrate on tangible and noticeable effect

When you make general statements about your activities, it’ll be hard for the college admission staff to appreciate the magnitude of your participation. For instance, instead of writing, ‘Arranged a mid-day meal campaign for slum children’, you should get specific and write ‘Arranged 750 mid-day meals for slum children last summer at Bombay’. When the information you share is that specific, there can be no debate or doubt of your participation.

4. Jot down jobs and use phrases instead of sentences

It is common knowledge that inadequate space leaves applicants with scant space to give detailed information about every activity. So, instead of writing a complete sentence – ‘I played the violin at the orphanage on Sundays and then gave music lessons to some of the orphans…’, use a descriptive phrase ‘Played violin on Sundays at the orphanage and also taught music there.’

5. Whenever relevant stick to the present tense

If you want to convey - ‘I taught music to orphans every Sunday’ you should instead write ‘I offer violin lessons every Sunday to orphans.’

Tactics – at the next level

  1. Itemize your activities based on their significance and magnificence

It’s human nature to remember what we see first. So when you begin listing your activities, begin with those activities that are significant, memorable, and showcase your participation well. The takeaway when you do this is, that you will have a captive college admission staff that will continue to read your Activities attentively.

  1. Narrate your activities to make them appear spectacular

When describing the activity that you participated in is difficult and can’t be simply stated, that itself makes your achievement spectacular. So when you have to describe your activity, list those that are difficult to express easily.

For instance, if you’ve blogged about channelizing wedding leftovers to the poor and were able to meet your district representative and make a beginning in this initiative, you should write about it. But don’t go overboard and make up stories to make your activity sound super spectacular.

  1. Group allied activities and build a connect around them

While perusing the Actvities section, the college admission staff pays attention to your individual activities as well as those activities that can be clubbed into a group because there is a connect in them. Listed below are such instances of student activity listings.

Student 1

- High school cricket team captain

- Model United Nations winner

- Music club president

- Math tutor

Student 2

- High school cricket team captain

- Youth cricket team trainer

- Arranged a cricket game once a month for slum children

- Interned during summer with a cricket groundsman

It’s obvious that Student 2 has not fudged facts or tried to impress with misinformation. What’s there in his activities list are all centered around one activity and he has demonstrated how much he has accomplished while being focused on it.

Student 1 however demonstrates that he’s tried his hand at many things and none of them are significant or memorable.

If we were to compare both their activity lists, Student 2 will make a lasting impression on college admission staff.

Activities Section Examples

Assistant Instructor, Jujitsu

Teach beginners of the martial arts to evolve the right methods and be self-assured.


Attained a brown belt within five years of training.

Writing Peer Consultant, The Good Counsel School

Helped high school students with writing that comprised class projects, school bulletin articles, and IB exam essays.

English Tutor, The Good Counsel School

Helped lower school students grappling with English grammar and compositions.

Customer Care Representative, Shems Boutique

Welcomed customers, led them to available sales personnel, attended to final billing activity.

President, Tutee Club

Organized presentations every month for a year, by sportsmen, achievers, principals, etc. to help 120 students in Mumbai recognize what they wanted to achieve.

Founder and President, Music for All

Organized music lessons by professional musicians for students in the neighborhood

President, The Music Club

Organized music recitals by professional musicians every quarter in the neighborhood, that included liaising with musicians and announcing the show.



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