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How to Tackle the Common App Activity Section

The Common App activity section might seem straightforward enough. You just copy and paste parts of your resume and bada bing bada boom, you're done!

Eh… not quite. There is a whole strategy and art to filling out the ten 150-character limit activity boxes that can elevate your Common Application from so-so to a showstopper. Here, we'll break down five ways to tackle the Common App Activity Section to highlight your achievements and activities better to stand out among the competition. 1. Utilize Strong Action Verbs Think of action verbs like the hook in an essay. It draws in the audience. You need to have a strong action verb that will grab the attention of the admissions committee, which is probably reviewing hundreds of applications a day. Of course, this doesn't mean to use the most obscure SAT word imaginable to where it doesn't sound like you, but you need to utilize action verbs to make your activity descriptions pop. For example, students overuse "attended” and “participated" a lot. There's nothing inherently wrong with these verbs, but they are lacking. They don't provide the reader with any information about what you actually did. What did you do when you attended? How were you able to attend? Were there any qualifying measures if it was a competition/tournament/event? You can reference the following link to upgrade your action verbs. 2. Focus the activity description on YOU, not the activity When writing activity descriptions, it's really tempting to write about the club and its mission, but you're the one who's applying to college, not the activity. It is incredibly crucial that you focus the activity descriptions on what you specifically did for the club, activity, or achievement because it allows colleges to see your initiative, responsibilities, and work ethic. For example, Member, Earth Club Devoted to spreading environmental awareness and education in the community The description tells me what the club's purpose is, but doesn't tell me anything about what YOU did in the club or for the club. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when writing to nail down your activity descriptions.

  • What are my responsibilities? How did I take the initiative?

  • What skills did I develop? What lessons did I learn?

  • How did I apply and build on the skills and lessons?

  • What did I do to earn my achievement? How selective was it?

3. Emphasize Numbers Adding numbers into your description where applicable will make your activity description that much more impressive. For example, 1st Place Winner, National Chess Competition Placed 1st at the 2019 National Chess Competition out of 400 competitors By adding "out of 400," colleges can gauge how selective or demanding the achievement was. 4. Diversify your categories A widely held misconception among students when filling out the activity section is that they need to only add activities and achievements related to their major. For example, a student wanting to major in computer science might try to stuff their application with only coding activities. That's not to say you shouldn't add your computer science experience in the activity section, but we recommend doing it moderation. Otherwise, your activity section will come off boring and dry. This rule of thumb applies to other majors, too. Don't just cram it full of just business experience because you want to major in business. Add activities and achievements related to your major, but also include your hobbies and other interests. 5. Check your formatting! This is often overlooked, but consistent formatting is crucial. It can make your activity section look clean and professional, making it easy to digest for the college admission committee. Here is an example of a completed description: Position: President (11-12) Organization: South HS Key Club Supervised regular volunteering opportunities for 200 members around the community; worked with sponsor and principal to create school events

  1. For position, add grade level participated or held title/role if it's more than one year

  2. For organization, include your school's name if you participated at the school level

  3. For description, only capitalize the first action verb of the description. Separate your descriptions with either a comma or semicolon. It doesn't matter which one, but make sure to be consistent throughout the application.

Still not sure how to fill out the Common App activity section? We can help! Contact us today at for a free consultation to learn more about our college admissions packages or hourly services!


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