Grades and test scores are fairly straightforward, but colleges are interested in a holistic view of their future students, so it’s no secret that extracurricular activities are an important part of your college application. You know it, and so does the Common App, which is where the “Activities” section comes into play. But unlike many other portions of the Common App, the Activities section can require you to make some judgment calls when it comes to what to include and how to fill it out. So, how do you go about filling out your Common App Activities section? Let’s have a look:

Choosing What Matters

The Activities section on the Common App might not look like much at first sight, but appearances can be deceiving. The Activities section is structured as a list where you can write out your extracurricular activities, with a short section underneath to detail the exact nature of the activity, and your participation and role in it.

The first hurdle comes at the beginning: What do you include? Many students have spent their time in high school sampling a wide variety of extracurricular activities as they learn more about what they enjoy, their schedules and time priorities change, etc. While it can be tempting to simply list everything you’ve ever tried, in the hopes of looking well rounded, that’s likely a mistake. Admissions officers know you only have 24 hours in a day and haven’t been devoting them all to extracurricular activities, and will have a hard time picking out from such a lengthy list what was important to you and what you only gave a brief attempt. Instead, list the activities you “clicked” with and stuck with for at least a year or two — you’ll show what matters to you and paint a better picture of who you are than a long, unwieldy list could ever provide.

Showing Your Skills

The Activities section on the Common App is about painting a picture of yourself — and you want it to be the best picture possible. This is the time to show your stuff!

While the Activities section is structured as a list, there’s space underneath each activity to list what your participation in it actually entailed. Here is a good place to be as detailed as the space given allows. Did you found the art club you’ve listed? Were you captain of the swim team? Did your time on the school paper involve setting up section meetings and arranging interviews? Time to tell all of that to the Common App! You only have 150 characters here, so it helps to be as specific as possible — instead of “Raised money for the ASPCA”, “Organized a charity carnival that raised over $1,000 for my local ASPCA shelter” tells a lot more in just a few more words. Not only will the added detail showcase your passion for your activities, it will also make it clear, as discussed above, that you weren’t just dabbling — you showed drive and focus in school and in your extracurricular activities.

Following Up

For all that’s been discussed, the Activities section does have fairly serious spatial limitations. If you’re in a spot where you feel like there’s still more to be said, particularly if one of your extracurricular activities was a major influence on your time in high school, or is impacting your college plans, consider writing your Common App Essay about this activity. When something is so influential to you, it can make a great essay topic — and that doesn’t stop you from including it in the Activities section as well!

Remember, if you’re struggling to complete your Common App, or even just think it could use a boost, there’s no shame in asking for help, either from a friend, a teacher, or a professional like A-List’s experienced coaches. College applications can be daunting, but with a little help, they will start you on your college adventure!