Mastering the Common App Activities Section: A Comprehensive Guide (With Examples)

Female student tutoring female peer
April 10, 2024
7 min read


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 3/8/24

Understanding how to write a standout Common App activities section is crucial for college applicants. 

This section isn't just about jotting down your extracurriculars—it's your chance to shine a spotlight on your interests, passions, and achievements outside of class. 

This guide will walk you through the process of crafting an activities section that stands out. With practical tips and clear advice, you'll learn how to present your activities and accomplishments in a concise yet compelling way. So, let's dive in and make your activities section pop.

What Is Common App Activities Section

The activities section on the Common App allows applicants to showcase their involvement outside of the classroom. It's an opportunity for students to provide insight into their interests, passions, and commitments beyond academics. Through this section, applicants can share experiences such as internships, family responsibilities, jobs, volunteer work, hobbies, and sports.

Colleges value this section because it offers a glimpse into an applicant's personality and contributions to their community. By highlighting activities that have been meaningful to them, students can demonstrate their interests and how they may contribute to the college's student body.

Applicants can list up to ten activities but are not required to fill all slots. On average, students include around six activities. Rather than focusing on the quantity, it's essential to concentrate on the quality of activities that best represent the applicant's unique story.

When describing each activity, applicants should be concise due to character limitations. They should briefly outline their position or leadership role, the organization's name, and provide a succinct description of the activity and any accomplishments or honors. Applicants also need to specify the hours per week and weeks per year dedicated to each activity.

Overall, the activities section serves as a platform for applicants to highlight their extracurricular involvement and demonstrate their potential contributions to the college community.

Writing Strategies for Common App Activities Section

Crafting an effective Common App activities section is more than just jotting down a list of what you've done. It's about giving admissions officers a clear picture of who you are beyond your grades. Here's how to how to write the activities section on the Common App that stand out:

  • Provide Context: Instead of just listing activities, give a brief background for each one. Explain why you got involved and what attracted you to it. This helps admissions officers understand your interests.
  • Highlight Impact: Talk about the difference you've made in each activity. Describe any projects you led, events you organized, or changes you brought about. Try to quantify your contributions if you can.
  • Demonstrate Growth: Show how each activity has helped you grow. Talk about the challenges you faced, the skills you gained, and what you learned along the way. Admissions officers want to see how you've developed over time.
  • Connect to Future Goals: Explain how your activities relate to your future plans. Show how they've influenced your career aspirations or prepared you for college. This shows that you're focused and driven.
  • Showcase Diversity: Include a variety of activities to highlight different sides of yourself. Choose activities that demonstrate your leadership, creativity, teamwork, and community involvement. This gives a more complete picture of who you are.
  • Tell Compelling Stories: Share specific examples or anecdotes to make your activities come alive. Talk about memorable moments or challenges you've overcome. Engaging storytelling makes your application more interesting.
  • Tailor to Each School: Customize your list of activities for each college you're applying to. Consider what each school values and choose activities that reflect those values. This shows that you've done your research.
  • Seek Feedback: Get input from teachers or mentors who know you well. They can help you identify strengths and weaknesses in your activities section. Take their advice into consideration.
  • Edit and Refine: Review your descriptions carefully to ensure they're clear and concise. Remove any unnecessary details and ensure everything flows smoothly. This will strengthen your application.
  • Stay Authentic: Be honest about your experiences and accomplishments. Admissions officers can tell when you're not being genuine. Be yourself and let your true passions shine through.

Following these writing strategies will help you create a strong activities section that effectively showcases who you are and what you've accomplished.

Common Mistakes

When you're tackling the Common App’s activities section, it's more than just a list. It's your chance to paint a vivid picture of who you are outside of the classroom. Here's a deeper dive into those 15 common mistakes and how to navigate them effectively:

1. Stressing About Calculating Exact Weeks and Hours

While the application asks for specifics, don't get hung up on exact numbers. Instead, focus on conveying the level of commitment and impact each activity had on you.

2. Forgetting to Mention Awards or Positions Held

These details add depth to your accomplishments. Take pride in sharing any accolades or leadership roles you've earned, as they speak volumes about your dedication and achievements.

3. Repeating Verbs

Variety is key here. Instead of using the same verbs repeatedly, explore synonyms to keep your descriptions engaging and dynamic.

4. Leaving out Significant Activities

Don't overlook the everyday moments that have shaped you. Whether it's a part-time job, caring for a sibling, or participating in community events, include activities that have left a lasting impression on you.

5. Listing Your Activities in the Wrong Order

Prioritize your activities based on their impact and significance to you. By arranging them from most to least important, you provide admissions officers with insight into your priorities and passions.

6. Using Bland Verbs

Choose action words that pack a punch. By opting for strong verbs, you breathe life into your descriptions and showcase your active involvement in each endeavor.

7. Failing to Include Highlights of Your Involvement

Don't be shy about sharing your successes. Highlight specific contributions, achievements, or milestones within each activity to give admissions officers a deeper understanding of your role and impact.

8. Using Inconsistent Formatting and Punctuation

Consistency is key to maintaining a polished appearance. Stick to a uniform format and punctuation style throughout your descriptions to ensure clarity and professionalism.

9. Not Using Numbers

Numbers can add depth and context to your achievements. Whether it's fundraising totals, volunteer hours, or event attendance, quantify your impact whenever possible to underscore your contributions.

10. Including Too Few Activities

If you've been involved in a wide range of activities, don't sell yourself short. Use the "Additional Information" section to provide a comprehensive overview of your extracurricular involvement and showcase the breadth of your interests.

11. Not Proofreading Your Activities Before Submitting

Take the time to review your descriptions carefully. Typos and errors can detract from your application's overall impact, so be sure to proofread thoroughly before hitting submit.

12. Including Too Many Activities

Quality over quantity is key. Instead of listing every activity you've participated in, focus on those that have had the greatest impact on your personal growth and development.

13. Using Complete Sentences

Keep your descriptions concise and to the point. Instead of full sentences, opt for clear and succinct phrases that capture the essence of your involvement in each activity.

14. Using Abbreviations No One Understands

When in doubt, spell it out. Avoid confusing abbreviations and acronyms, and opt for clarity and understanding in your descriptions.

15. Not Splitting Certain Activities Into Two Entries

If an activity involves multiple facets or roles, consider breaking it down into separate entries. This allows you to provide a more detailed and nuanced portrayal of your involvement.

By navigating these common pitfalls thoughtfully and effectively, you can make the most of the activities section and showcase your unique strengths, passions, and contributions to admissions officers.

Common App Activities Section Examples

Check out these Common App activities examples, showing what students do outside of school to shine. 

  • Hospital Volunteer: Dedicated time to volunteering at a local hospital, providing assistance to patients, visitors, and hospital staff. Tasks included escorting patients, delivering flowers, and assisting with administrative duties.
  • Chess Club President: Led the school's chess club, organizing regular meetings, tournaments, and chess strategy workshops. Focused on promoting critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and camaraderie among club members.
  • Community Cleanup Organizer: Initiated and organized community cleanup events to improve local parks, streets, and public spaces. Coordinated volunteers, supplies, and logistics to make a positive impact on the environment and community aesthetics.
  • Photography Club Member: Participated in a photography club, exploring various photographic techniques, themes, and styles. Organized photo walks, exhibitions, and photo editing workshops to enhance skills and creativity.
  • Debate Team Captain: Served as captain of the school's debate team, leading team meetings, strategizing debate topics, and coaching team members. Competed in local and regional debate competitions, honing argumentation and public speaking skills.
  • Youth Choir Ensemble Member: Sang in a youth choir ensemble, rehearsing and performing choral music at school concerts, community events, and religious services. Collaborated with fellow singers to achieve harmonious performances and musical expression.
  • Mathematics Club Tutor: Offered tutoring services through the school's mathematics club, assisting peers with math homework, test preparation, and conceptual understanding. Provided one-on-one guidance and explanations to help students improve their math skills.
  • Dance Team Choreographer: Took on the role of choreographer for the school's dance team, creating original dance routines and coordinating group performances for school assemblies, talent shows, and dance competitions.
  • Hospitality Club Member: Joined a hospitality club focused on event planning, culinary arts, and hospitality management. Participated in organizing school events, fundraisers, and themed parties to foster community engagement and appreciation for hospitality industry skills.
  • Science Olympiad Competitor: Competed as part of the school's Science Olympiad team, participating in hands-on science and engineering challenges in various disciplines such as biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering.
  • Student Ambassador: Represented the school as a student ambassador, welcoming visitors, giving tours, and assisting with admissions events and orientation programs. Served as a positive representative of the school community to prospective students and families.
  • Environmental Club Member: Engaged in environmental advocacy and conservation efforts through participation in the school's environmental club. Organized awareness campaigns, recycling initiatives, and outdoor conservation projects to promote sustainability and environmental stewardship.
  • Theater Production Crew Member: Contributed to school theater productions as a member of the production crew, assisting with set construction, lighting, sound, props, costumes, and backstage operations during rehearsals and performances.

Hopefully, these examples have offered some insight into Common App activity samples that stand out on a college application. Just make sure to tailor the section to yourself. Whether you’re shooting for the Ivy League or just aiming for a good-fit college, showing off your unique experiences and passions is key. 


Do you have questions about the activities section? We've got you covered with answers to frequently asked questions. 

1. How Should One Calculate the Time Spent on an Activity?

When calculating the time spent on an activity for the Common App, simply estimate the number of hours you dedicate to it each week and the number of weeks you engage in it per year. If you can't recall the exact details, it's perfectly fine to provide your best estimate.

2. What Should Be Done If the Activity Type Is Not Listed in the Dropdown Menu?

If you don't find your activity type listed in the dropdown menu, simply select "other club/activity." Then, provide additional details in the position/leadership and activity description fields. Briefly describe the activity and your role within it.

3. Is It a Concern If There Are Fewer Than 10 Activities to List?

Having fewer than 10 activities to list on the Common App isn't necessarily a problem. Admissions committees prioritize long-term commitments and significant involvement over the sheer number of activities. It's better to showcase a few meaningful engagements than to list numerous activities with minimal dedication.

4. What If the Exact Dates for an Activity Cannot Be Recalled?

If you're unable to recall the exact dates for an activity, don't worry. When filling out the Common App, you'll still need to provide the hours spent per week and the weeks spent per year on each activity. If you can't remember the specifics, it's perfectly acceptable to provide your best estimate. The focus is on conveying your level of involvement rather than providing precise dates.

5. What Are the Character Limits for Each Segment of an Activity Description?

Here are the character limits for each segment of an activity description on the Common App:

  • Position/Leadership description: Up to 50 characters.
  • Organization name: Up to 100 characters.
  • Activity description, including achievements and recognition received: Up to 150 characters.

Keep these limits in mind when describing activities on the application.

Final Thoughts

Mastering the Common App activities section is essential for your college application. It's your opportunity to show who you are beyond your academic achievements. By following the tips outlined in this guide, you can create a standout activities section that resonates with admissions officers. Best of luck!

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