Common App

How to act on the Activities List


In the Activities List section of the Common Application, we are told: “Reporting activities can help a college better understand your life outside of the classroom. Your activities may include arts, athletics, clubs, employment, personal commitments, and other pursuits. Do you have any activities that you wish to report?”

The answer is yes: you wish to report all your activities.

The Activities List is one of the most important components of a US college application. Firstly, it gives colleges an idea of an applicant’s interests and achievements; secondly, it communicates an applicant’s more subtle – but important – skills like time management, multi-taking, and work ethic.

There is space for ten activities on the Activity List, which apply to any and all pursuits you have taken part in between Grades 9 and 12. School clubs? Music? Volunteering? Internships? Language-learning? All good. On the Activities List, itself, you’ll have the option to rank your activities and to list the number of years pursued, number of weeks per year practiced, and number of hours per week engaged. Always be as accurate as you can with these time-estimates, and don’t feel intimidated just because you haven’t been able to devote as much time to your less important activities: it is often these small peripheral engagements that result in the most interesting supplemental essays.

There is a common misconception that a ‘good’ activity will involve something high-level or prestigious. In fact, a ‘good’ activity is simply something an applicant has engaged in meaningfully over the course of years. An extended engagement such as this will, of course, result in increased opportunities to participate, which may lead to more selective experiences (such as a committed musician being invited to join a jazz band or a chess player gradually working her way through the ranks to compete at the State Championships), but these end-products are the result of continued extra-curricular engagement, not the goal.

A warning about the “shotgun approach”: more activities does not necessarily lead to a better or more compelling profile. There is very little value in engaging in extracurricular pursuits just to fill the Activities List; in truth, colleges are very good at seeing through this well-meaning deception. It’s important to follow a simple rule of thumb: never try to impress colleges. Don’t do things that ‘sound good’. Pursue your goals and hobbies with all your passion and resources, and you will ‘sound good’ – whether your passion is research, music, sports, or tiddlywinks.


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