How to Stand Out on the Common App Activities Section With Example

June 18, 2024
5 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 6/18/24

If you’re applying to college, you’re likely familiar with the Common App activities section. But do you know how to fill it out and make it stand out? Read on to learn the ins and outs of this section. 

The Common App can be a bit of a puzzle for students and parents. It's the go-to application for over 1,000 colleges and universities in the US. And in 2023, it handled a staggering 7 million applications from 1.25 million students worldwide. Every answer you give in this application can make or break your chances of getting into your dream school.

In this blog, we'll focus on one crucial part of the Common App—the activities section—by going over some examples and smart strategies. So, let's get started on making your activities section stand out and boost your chances of getting into your dream college. 

Overview of the Common App Activities Section

The activities section on the Common App is where you can highlight your extracurricular involvement to make your college application stand out. We'll explain what qualifies as an activity, how to describe them effectively, and answer common questions. Let's take a look at the fundamentals of the activities section.

What Qualifies as an Activity?

Any non-academic pursuits or extracurricular activities you've been involved in can be included. This may include clubs, sports, volunteer work, part-time jobs, hobbies, and more. 

If you don’t have any extracurriculars, you can still mention personal projects, hobbies, or things you've done outside of school that reflect your interests and commitment. Admissions officers want to see a complete picture of who you are, so share what sets you apart, even if it's not a typical activity.

Can Informal Activities Be Included in My Child’s List?

Yes, informal activities can be included if they hold significance. The Common App values activities that demonstrate self-directed passions and interests, so even if it's not a formal club or organization, it can still be included.

How Many Activities Can One List?

You can list up to ten activities on the Common App. However, the focus should be on quality rather than quantity. It's better to have a few meaningful activities with detailed descriptions than to list many without providing substantial information. So, if you’re wondering how many extracurriculars to have for college, remember that quality trumps quantity. 

What Are the Character or Word Limits for Each Activity Description?

Each activity description has character limits:

  • Position/Leadership description: 50 characters
  • Organization name: 100 characters
  • Activity details, honors won, and accomplishments: 150 characters

These character limits are relatively short, so it's important to be concise and use precise language.

What Additional Details Does the Common App Request for Each Activity?

For each activity, you'll need to provide:

  • Your position or leadership role within the activity.
  • The name of the organization or club.
  • A brief description of the activity, including any honors or accomplishments related to it.
  • The number of hours per week and weeks per year you spent on the activity.

Make sure to provide accurate and detailed information while staying within the character limits.

Writing Strategies

Now that you have some insight into how many activities on Common App, what details to include, and the word limits, let’s discuss some strategies to make your writing stand out. 

Strong Verbs

To make your activities section stand out, it's important to use strong and specific verbs. Avoid using vague and generic verbs like "did," "attended," or "participated." Instead, choose verbs that clearly convey your level of involvement and the impact you had in each activity.

For instance, think about the difference between these two descriptions:

1. "I did volunteer work at a local food bank."

2. "I organized and led volunteer shifts at a local food bank, ensuring the efficient distribution of food to the community."

In the first example, the use of the vague verb "did" doesn't provide much detail about the applicant's role or the significance of their contribution. 

In contrast, the second example uses strong verbs like "organized" and "led" to show that the applicant took charge and played a vital role in the volunteer work. It paints a clearer and more compelling picture of their dedication and impact.

By using powerful verbs in your activity descriptions, you can capture the attention of admissions officers and demonstrate your ability to take initiative and make a meaningful difference in your chosen pursuits. This helps showcase your strengths and qualities effectively, making a strong case for your admission to the college or university of your choice.

Avoid Redundancy

Be concise and avoid repeating information already mentioned in other sections, such as your position or leadership role. Focus on providing unique and relevant details in the activity description.

Quantify Your Achievements

Whenever possible, include quantitative information to highlight the scope and impact of your activities. Use numbers to specify how many events you organized, how many people you helped, or how many projects you completed. This adds depth and credibility to your descriptions.

Be Specific and Detailed

When you're completing your Common App extracurriculars, remember to do more than just list your duties. Share specific accomplishments and stories that make your application memorable. For example, if you volunteered at a shelter, talk about serving meals to over 100 homeless individuals and raising $2,000 for improvements. 

Mention any challenges you faced, like a tough sports season, and how they helped you grow. Also, explain why each activity was important to you and how it relates to your passions and goals. This approach will make your application compelling and show your determination and growth, improving your chances of admission.

Avoid "Corporate" Verbs

Steer clear of overly formal or generic verbs that might make your descriptions sound impersonal. While some of these words can be used sparingly, try to infuse your writing with your unique voice and style. Let’s take a look at how to do this:

  • Corporate Verb Version: "I supervised a team of volunteers for a local charity organization."
  • Infused with Unique Voice and Style: "I led a fantastic group of volunteers at our neighborhood charity. Together, we made a meaningful impact on our community."

In the first version, the use of the corporate verb "supervised" makes the description sound formal and detached. It lacks the personal touch needed to convey the applicant's enthusiasm and dedication.

In the second version, the applicant's unique voice and style come through. They use words like "led," "fantastic group," and "meaningful impact" to add a personal and engaging tone to the description.

This version not only provides a clearer picture of the applicant's role but also reflects their passion and commitment to the activity. It's more likely to resonate with admissions officers and leave a memorable impression.

Think Cohesively

Organize your activities section in a logical order that tells a cohesive story about your high school experiences. Start with your most significant and impactful activities to grab the reader's attention, then follow a chronological or thematic order to showcase your growth and development.

For example, if you were deeply involved in volunteering and leadership roles throughout high school, you might begin by highlighting your role as the president of a community service club, which had a substantial impact on your personal growth. 

Then, you can follow with other volunteer experiences and leadership roles in chronological order to demonstrate how your dedication and responsibilities evolved over time, creating a coherent narrative of your development and commitment to community service. 

This approach allows the reader to understand your journey and the growth you've experienced throughout your high school years.

Use Present Tense for Current Activities

When you talk about what you're currently doing in the activities section, use the present tense. This means you describe your ongoing activities as if they are happening right now. 

For instance, instead of saying something like, "I was the captain of the debate team and won many tournaments," you should say, "I am currently the captain of the debate team and consistently win tournaments."

This choice of tense helps you convey that these activities are happening in the present, and it shows that you're actively involved in them right now. It makes your descriptions more engaging and relevant.

Be Concise and Clear

Given the character limit for each activity description, prioritize clarity and relevance. Eliminate unnecessary words or phrases and focus on delivering essential information that showcases your achievements and contributions.

By following these writing strategies, you can create a compelling activities section that effectively communicates your passion, dedication, and impact in extracurriculars. This section provides a valuable opportunity to enhance your overall college application.

Advanced Strategies

Let's explore some advanced strategies to boost your activities section and give your application that extra edge.

How to Complete Common App Fields

  • Activity Type: Choose the appropriate category for each activity. This categorization helps admissions officers understand the nature of your involvement. For example, if you were part of a debate club, select "Debate/Speech" to define the activity clearly.
  • Position/Leadership Description: Use descriptive terms to elaborate on your role. Mention any changes in your position over time, if applicable. For example, instead of simply listing "Intern," you can write "Gallery Assistant (9th, 10th), Curatorial Intern (11th)" to showcase advancement.
  • Organization Name: Clearly state the organization's name, and if necessary, provide additional context. For example, rather than just "School Newspaper," use "The Falcon, Average High School’s Student Newspaper" to provide clarity.
  • Activity Description: Use this space to explain your specific impact or contribution. Use strong action verbs and quantify your achievements. For instance, instead of saying, "Worked with a professor on a research project," say, "Conducted university-level research," which highlights your active role.
  • Participation Grade Levels: Indicate the grade levels during which you actively participated, even if it extended into the summer. For example, if you attended a summer course between freshman and sophomore years, select "9th" to clarify the timeline.
  • Timing of Participation: Specify when you were involved, whether it was during the school year, breaks, or year-round. For example: If you participated in an activity year-round, select "All year" to provide a comprehensive picture.
  • Hours Spent Per Week: Estimate the average weekly hours you devoted to each activity. For instance, let's say you're involved in an activity that demands different time commitments, like sports with tournament seasons. In this case, calculate an average that really shows how committed you are.
  • Weeks Spent Per Year: Calculate the weeks of participation, considering breaks and variations in activity seasons. For example, when filling out your activity details, make sure you include not only the regular season but also the preseason, tryouts, and any other relevant periods to provide a complete picture of your involvement.
  • College Participation: If you intend to keep doing a similar activity in college, simply mark "yes." This signals your commitment to a specific interest or cause. It shows that you're dedicated to continuing your involvement beyond high school.

By applying these strategies, you'll make the most of the activities section. Best of luck! 

Reflect on Personal Growth

When filling out the activities section, don't just list your high school extracurriculars. Use this opportunity to showcase how they've shaped your growth and future aspirations.

Start by reflecting on each activity's impact, emphasizing lessons learned, values nurtured, and skills honed. Share a specific anecdote that highlights personal transformation, adding authenticity to your application.

Connect your experiences to future goals, explaining how these insights will contribute to your college and career success. This shows a clear sense of direction.

Above all, be authentic. Avoid generic statements and clichés. Admissions officers appreciate self-awareness and a genuine understanding of personal growth. Reflecting on your development within your activities adds depth to your application and underscores qualities highly regarded by colleges.

Choose Activities Strategically

When you're choosing the ten activities to include in your Common App, it's essential to think strategically. Consider what makes you unique and sets you apart from other applicants—your "hook." 

For instance, if you're passionate about environmental conservation, focus on activities related to this cause. Look for experiences like leading a school recycling program or participating in a local tree-planting initiative that directly aligns with your passion. 

By doing this, you're not just listing activities; you're crafting a story that showcases your dedication and commitment to something meaningful. This approach helps admissions officers see your genuine interests and sets you apart as a unique applicant.

Prioritize Activities Thoughtfully

When organizing your activities on the Common App, prioritize based on personal importance, not just time spent. This helps showcase your values.

Let's say you're part of a school debate club and a local community service group. Although you invest more time in the debate club, you find greater meaning and satisfaction in your community service work.

In this situation, it's a good idea to prioritize the community service organization on your list. This decision highlights your dedication to making a positive impact on your community and demonstrates your commitment to service and community involvement.

Order for Listing Activities on the Common App

The sequence of activities does have an impact. You should lead with the most important ones because they'll be better remembered by admissions committees.

When deciding on which activities to include, focus on those that truly reflect who you are and what you want for your future. Skip activities that don't contribute to this story. The goal is to create a clear picture of your identity.

If you love science, here's a smart move for your college application: put all your science-related activities in one place. This shows your strong dedication to your passion and makes a more interesting story than mixing them with unrelated stuff. Making your application tell a clear story can really help you catch the eye of college admissions.

Simply put, when filling out the Common App, the order of your activities is crucial. Make sure to highlight the experiences that define who you are and what you aspire to achieve. If you have related activities, consider grouping them together to create a memorable story for the admissions committees. This approach can significantly impact how your application is viewed.

Sample Common App Activities Section

Take a look at these Common App activities examples to gain insights into how to present your own extracurricular involvements on your application.

Example 1

  • Activity Title: Community Garden Volunteer
  • Time Commitment: 2 hours per week, 16 weeks per year
  • Description: Assisted in maintaining a local community garden, planting vegetables, and organizing gardening workshops for neighbors. Witnessed the joy on kids' faces as they harvested their first homegrown tomatoes.

Example 2

  • Activity Title: Debate Club Captain
  • Time Commitment: 3 hours per week, 36 weeks per year
  • Description: Led the debate club, organizing weekly meetings and coaching members for regional competitions. Proudly watched our team take home first place at the State Debate Championship.

Example 3

  • Activity Title: Animal Shelter Volunteer
  • Time Commitment: 2.5 hours per week, 48 weeks per year
  • Description: Dedicated time at the animal shelter, walking dogs, cleaning cages, and helping with adoption events. Successfully found forever homes for over 20 dogs during my volunteer tenure.

Example 4

  • Activity Title: Robotics Team Member
  • Time Commitment: 4 hours per week, 32 weeks per year
  • Description: Collaborated with a team to design, build, and program robots for local and national competitions. Earned the "Best Design" award at the Regional Robotics Challenge.

Example 5

  • Activity Title: Art Club President
  • Time Commitment: 2 hours per week, 28 weeks per year
  • Description: Served as the President of the Art Club, organizing art exhibitions, workshops, and community mural projects. Led the club to win the "Community Engagement Award" for our mural in the town square.

Example 6

  • Activity Title: Hospital Volunteer
  • Time Commitment: 3 hours per week, 24 weeks per year
  • Description: Volunteered at a local hospital, assisting patients, delivering supplies, and providing comfort to those in need. Witnessed the resilience of patients and learned the importance of empathy in healthcare.

Example 7

  • Activity Title: Jazz Band Pianist
  • Time Commitment: 4 hours per week, 40 weeks per year
  • Description: Played piano in the school jazz band, performing at various school events and jazz festivals. Contributed to the band's success in winning first place at the Regional Jazz Festival.

Example 8

  • Activity Title: Environmental Club Founder
  • Time Commitment: 2 hours per week, 48 weeks per year
  • Description: Initiated the school's Environmental Club, organizing clean-up events, raising awareness about eco-friendly practices, and leading a successful campaign to reduce plastic waste in the cafeteria.

Example 9

  • Activity Title: Math Tutor
  • Time Commitment: 2 hours per week, 32 weeks per year
  • Description: Tutored fellow students in math, helping them improve their understanding and grades. Witnessed students' confidence and grades improve over time, fostering a passion for teaching.

Example 10

  • Activity Title: Track and Field Athlete
  • Time Commitment: 6 hours per week, 16 weeks per year
  • Description: Competed in track and field, specializing in the 400m sprint. Achieved personal bests and contributed to the team's victories in several regional meets, promoting teamwork and dedication.


Let's take a closer look at the Common App activities section through our comprehensive FAQ guide.

1. What Are Real Examples of Activities on the Common App?

Students can list a range of activities on the Common App, including sports, clubs, music groups, volunteer work, academic organizations, part-time jobs, and family caregiving. These activities reflect their interests, commitments, and personal values, offering a comprehensive view of their experiences and achievements.

2. How Do You Describe Extracurricular Activities?

To describe extracurricular activities on the Common App, begin by selecting the appropriate activity type from the dropdown menu, or choose "other club/activity" if needed. Then, briefly outline the activity's nature, goals, and significance. If you held a leadership position, specify it, along with any notable responsibilities or achievements related to your role.

3. How Do You Describe Model Un on the Common App?

Model United Nations (Model UN) should be categorized as "Debate/Speech" on the Common App. If you held a position on the executive board, you can select the "other" option and specify your leadership role.


To sum it up, acing the Common App activities section is a key part of your college application. With the tips we've discussed, you have the tools to make your extracurriculars stand out. Use strong words, be specific, and show how you've grown. Choose your activities wisely, prioritize them based on what matters most to you, and organize them in a way that tells a great story about who you are and where you're headed.

The activities section is where you can show your passion, dedication, and impact outside the classroom. Follow these tips and examples, and you'll create a strong activities section that boosts your chances of getting into your dream college. Best of luck with your college applications!

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