Crafting an Impactful Activities List: Common App Edition

By Moksha Agarwal 2021-08-16

Filling out the Common Application can be a simple yet time-consuming task. While the majority of the form is objective in nature, there are some subjective elements. One of these is the Activities List. Today, we’ll be discussing how to make the most of it.  


Let’s start with the basics. You can enter up to 10 activities that you have engaged with during high school, i.e., grades 9-12. For each, you must provide the following:

       

  1. Activity Type: There’s a dropdown menu that typically covers most activities. If your engagement does not fall into any of the given categories, you can choose the “other club/activity” option.

     

  1. Position/Leadership Description (50 characters, including spaces): The character limit for this section is just enough to define the capacity in which you participated or the formal role that you played. 

       

For example: “President, Robotics Club,” “Research Intern,” “Captain, Senior Basketball Team,” and so on.

       

  1. Organization Name (100 characters, including spaces): In most cases, 20-25 characters are sufficient for mentioning the organization name. You can use the rest to provide a description for the same. Let’s say you interned at the Partition Museum. You can write something like this:

       

Partition Museum, a central repository of stories and artefacts related to the Indian Partition

(95 characters)

       

  1. Activity Description (150 characters, including spaces): 150 characters isn’t a lot when it comes to describing your participation. Not only do you want to tell the admissions officers what you did but you also want to quantify the impact you made and showcase your accomplishment. This is an exercise in brevity and precision, and you must not shy away from using contractions or commonly understood abbreviations. Here’s a before and after:

       

Before:

I conducted a research study on “Farmer Suicides in Modern India.” Collected data from the National Crime Record Bureau and applied statistical analysis to arrive at a conclusion. My paper has been published in the “Journal for Economics Research”

(246 characters)

       

After:

Ran regressions on National Crime Record Bureau’s data to study the causes of Farmer Suicides in India. Published in Journal for Economics Research

(147 characters)

       

  1. Hours/Week and Weeks/Year: If you can’t remember the exact amount of time you spent on an activity, it is recommended that you make an educated guess. An hour here or a week there isn’t an issue but don’t inflate your involvement to an extent that it seems unbelievable. If you interned for about 30 hours/week don’t say that you spent 80 hours instead. Admissions officers have a keen eye, they’re trained to catch it when you lie. 


Now that you’ve learned how to present each activity, let’s get into selecting your top ten items. There are three things you need to remember:


  1. Present Variety

       

The more you can diversify the better. This is useful as most American universities not only demand academic excellence but also appreciate a multi-dimensional personality.

       

  1. Prioritize meaning over Matter:

       

You may have spent six weeks organizing your school’s annual fest yet you may have derived more meaning from a five-day trek with your mentor. If you’re in a position where you have to choose one activity over the other, pick the one that’s more meaningful to you. 

       

  1. Sequence Effectively:

       

This is important to create the desired effect of presenting a character with diverse experiences. Sequencing can also help showcase your growth and development throughout high school. To arrive at the right sequence, first, arrange your activities in chronological order (most to least recent) and then intersperse the various categories. You can also sequence your activities from most important to least important and then adjust based on the grade levels. 


Last but not least, you’ll also get a 650-word long Additional Section. If there’s something that you haven’t been able to capture in the Activity Description, you can mention it here. Furthermore, you can use this space to provide evidence of your involvement (pictures, certificates, LORs, etc.). Simply create activity-wise folders on Google Drive and attach links to the same. Here’s a template:


Activity 1: Research Intern at Partition Museum


Internship Certificate: <Link>

LOR: <Link>

Images from Fieldwork: <Link>