How to Complete The Common App Activities Section
Updated: Mar 22
If you’re anything like me, your activities list is pretty exciting to make. You get to list out all of your extra-curricular involvement on a neat, single-spaced page. However, if you have a lot or little to choose from, it can be stressful. Here’s a guide to making your activities list that should help ease a little of that tension.
Advice for the Common App Activities List
You might be under the impression that it’s better to put something than nothing, and that’s just not the case most of the time. Admission officers can tell when you’re putting something on your list just for the sake of filling it up. They can also usually tell when you only joined an activity or club for the sake of college admissions. For example, having very little extracurricular involvement for your first three years of high school and then joining a bunch during senior year. Having five solid activities is much better than having ten mediocre ones.
For example, I have a friend named Malia. She had five activities listed and was applying to pretty competitive schools. She was a little worried about not filling up all the available slots, but decided that it would be better to not use filler and just present her authentic self. Malia got into her first choice with a great scholarship, and she’s headed there next year. She had really involved, really personal activities that told the admissions officer exactly who she was, and that’s why she, out of 100k+ applicants, was offered admission to their school. You can be like Malia.
On the other end, you might have more than ten activities from which to choose. How do you pick the best ones? You should aim for an even split of activities: for every one that applies to your major, you should have one that shows your authentic self and who you’re portraying in your essays. I wrote about my own personal growth in my common app essay, and I reinforced that by listing activities that show how I grew. I said I liked helping people in my essay, and I proved that by listing peer mentoring in my activities list. I’m not going into service work or education, but that activity showed my admissions officer that I wasn’t just making stuff up to get into their school. Be authentic.
A solid activity usually has one of four things: long-term involvement, some form of leadership (even if it's behind the scenes), a significant personal investment, or it is relevant to your personal/professional goals. There are other activities that fall into these categories that are worth listing too, such as commitments to family and after school jobs. If you just come to an hour-long meeting for a leadership club every week without showing any other commitment to the club, then that’s probably a sign that it’s a mediocre activity. Cliché things like internships at state capitals are impressive, especially if you're planning on majoring in a relevant field, but you need to be able to explain what you did, how you did it, and why it's important to you.
If you can't answer those three questions then you're probably only doing it to look good for a fancy college. You should be focusing on things you actually enjoy doing and things that apply to your major, and ideally that can be one activity that checks both boxes.
Activities List Example
I’m a pretty visual person, so I created a chart to get my point across. Today, we’re going to help a hypothetical student create their activities list. Amy, from a small town in Wisconsin, wants to study Veterinary Science. She grew up on a farm and helped take care of the animals. Here’s her list of potential activities:
Amy has quite a few activities, and needs to get rid of at least 3. Here’s how I would restructure her list:
I didn’t have her fill out the last activity slot because I believe these are the best activities to present herself as a responsible person who is interested in Veterinary Science. Everything involving animals is fairly high on the list, and the long-term commitments she's made, like working at Target, show dedication. I dropped some of the activities that she didn’t spend as much time on and lowered the rankings of the activities that are very common. The goal is to show your unique self, and this is a much better reflection of who Amy is and who she wants to become.
I hope this blog post helps you with your college journey! Wherever you end up is where you were meant to be, and try to have a little fun with the application process. If you're interested in learning more about how to fill out the Common App activities section, check out this blogpost on 3 Questions for The Perfect Common App Activities Section.
Spread your paper wings,
C.I.A. (Creative Intern Assistant)
NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study
Class of 2025