Guide to US Applications • Undergraduate

How to Draft a Successful Common App Activities Section

POSTED ON 07/25/2018 BY The Red Pen

How to Draft a Successful Common App Activities Section | The Red Pen

Part 2 of a 4-part series

If you’re planning to study in the US for an undergraduate degree, it is likely that you will be filling out the Common Application form. A vital component of this form is the activities section. While the essays you will be writing may be daunting, filling out this particular section might also be a little difficult.

Here are a few tips to help you navigate the activities section in the Common Application form

1) Choose your activities wisely:

Admissions officers (AOs) in the US are looking for students who are engaged within and outside the classroom. They want to admit students who will, in their own ways, contribute to the college community. The activities section is where you can show how you are “fit” for the college. Activities may include anything from sports, performing arts and leadership roles to summer projects, internships, community services and other voluntary work. However, keep in mind that this form goes out to all the colleges to which you will be applying and cannot be customised for each college.

For the Common Application form, pick 10 activities that you feel are the most important. Make your choice wisely as your activities give the admissions officer insight into you as a person and how you spend your time. Once you’ve made your selection, the next challenge is writing a thorough description of the activity in only 150 characters, including spaces.

While you can use this opportunity to highlight all your talents and activities, keep in mind that you can only write about those that you have done over the past four years. This means that everything you have done before grade 9 cannot be included.

2) Don’t think about the number, think about the value:

If you do not have 10 activities to write about, don’t let that demotivate you. What you have to understand is that the AOs want to know how engaged you are as a student or a community member. So, it’s better if you list five activities where you have learnt a lot, rather than simply mentioning 10 that haven’t contributed to your character in a meaningful way. For example, if you are part of a state or national level football team and have to play a number of tournaments throughout the year, it is understood that a lot of your time will go into practice. The AO, too, will know that it is impossible for you to engage in multiple activities if others are time intensive. It is important to remember that not everything is an activity. For example, running one marathon or participating in one awareness campaign may not warrant a space in the activity section.

3) Make the hours count:

The time that you have allotted to each activity is also important. For example, visiting an orphanage once as part of your school’s excursion activity and playing with the children there isn’t enough. If you continue to visit that orphanage once every week to teach the children basic skills in language and mathematics, then it shows that you not only take initiative to improve your surroundings but are also engaged with the community in a constructive way.

Keep in mind not to exaggerate the hours, days, weeks and months spent on each activity in the form. AOs know approximately how much time you have free after school hours, school work, sleeping and eating and will easily call your bluff.

4) Additional Information:

For some students who have accomplished a lot, the space provided for extracurricular activities might not be enough. In such cases, the Additional Information under the Writing section in the Common Application form is where you can expand on your activities. For example, if you’ve been very involved in MUN and debate, you will not be able to list every conference and competition you’ve attended in the activity section, but you can list them in the additional information section. Or, if you’ve spearheaded a festival at your school and have been involved in numerous ways, from administering it and managing it to even participating in it, then, this is the section where you can give some more details.

If you are confused about the application process, read about how to fill out the Common Application here. If you would like more guidance with the process, get in touch with us.