Filling out the Common App Activities Section

You’ve uploaded a resume. You’ve submitted a transcript. Why on earth do you need to fill out the Common App activity section as well?

The activity section is a chance for you to display your interests, commitments, and accomplishments throughout high school. Colleges and universities will look at this section to understand how you spend your time outside of the classroom. Are you involved in your community? Have you shown leadership or taken initiative? This is your opportunity to define your passions clearly and concisely, and we’re going to show you how to stand out. 

Step 1: Choosing a category

With each extracurricular you upload, you’ll have to select one of the following categories:

  • Academic
  • Art
  • Athletics: Club
  • Athletics: JV/Varsity
  • Career-Oriented
  • Community Service (Volunteer)
  • Computer/Technology
  • Cultural
  • Dance
  • Debate/Speech
  • Environmental
  • Family Responsibilities
  • Foreign Exchange
  • Journalism/Publication

  • Junior R.O.T.C.
  • LGBT
  • Music: Instrumental
  • Music: Vocal
  • Religious
  • Research
  • Robotics
  • School Spirit
  • Science/Math
  • Student Gov.t./Politics
  • Theater/Drama
  • Work (paid)
  • Other Club/Activity

As you can tell, there are a lot of options, and it can be pretty confusing, especially since you can only choose one category per activity. Make sure to choose the category that’s most relevant (i.e. for Robotics Club, choose “Robotics” instead of “Science/Math.” 

Pro tip: it helps to diversify your categories so colleges can see that you have multiple interests. For example, if you are in a math club, academic decathlon, and tutoring, don’t list all three as “Academic.” Choose “Science/Math,” “Academic,” and “Community Service” respectively to show your different passions. 

Step 2: Position and description

Now that you’ve chosen a category, you need to say what you actually do. First, you have 50 characters to list your title and the name of the organization. Try to avoid just calling yourself a “member” – you do so much more than that! If you work at a food bank, you’re a volunteer. If you’re on an athletic team, list your position. 

For the description, you have 150 characters to explain what you’ve done with that organization. Because of the limited space, you don’t have to write in complete sentences, but be sure to keep it professional. It’s also easier to include numbers so that admissions officers can understand the scope of your work. Instead of saying “I wrote for the school newspaper,” you can say “Researched, wrote, and edited two 500-word articles per week.”

This is also the space to share your accomplishments. Be proud (without bragging)! Let colleges know how you’ve succeeded, whether in competitions, awards, or recognition from your peers or coaches. 

Step 3: Time commitment

There are four last questions to answer for each activity you list.

  1. Years active. You can list either school years or school breaks when you were involved. Make sure to include activities you did for multiple years if possible, as this shows your dedication.
  2. Hours per week. This doesn’t mean how many hours did you spend in meetings. If you’re in the band, did you practice each week? If you’re on the debate team, did you go to competitions? Think about how much time you commit to each activity, even if it’s not a formal meeting. This is a great way to show colleges how much you care about each activity. (Side note: Don’t lie! Admissions officers can count, so if you say you do 10 activities each for 10 hours every week, they might smell something fishy. There’s no need to overexaggerate, but be realistic about how you spend your time!)
  3. Weeks per year. This one is pretty simple – if you do it during the school year only, that’s about 40 weeks. If you participate in a seasonal sport, it’ll be around 15 to 20. 
  4. Continuing in college. No pressure! Colleges won’t reject you because you want to leave your oboe at home after high school. They just want to know what your true passions are… like the passion section of your CollegeFindMe account!

Last-minute tips

A few more things to remember:

  • You can only list 10 activities. This can include clubs, jobs, community service, or just about anything else that takes up your time outside of school. However, there’s no need to fill the list. Focus on the activities that you think best define you. This should probably include groups you’ve been with for longer, or organizations where you hold leadership positions. 
  • Make sure to list what your organization does. If they use an acronym (like YES, FFA, NHS, etc.) explain it in the description.
  • When organizing your 10 activities, put them in order of importance. Groups you’ve been with longer, groups you hold leadership positions in, and groups you’ve won awards in should go to the top.
  • If you’re still part of the organization, write the description in present tense. Grammar is important!

This may seem like a lot. But don’t worry. Think about who you are and what matters to you. That’s what you should convey in the activities section of the Common App. To get a head start, try organizing your passion in the CollegeFindMe app. We’ll help you work on personal statements, keep track of achievements, and build a portfolio. When applications are due, you’ll be ready to go!