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What is the Activities List?

The activities list is the part of the college application—either on the Common Application, Coalition Application or the UC system application—where you can list and describe your extracurricular activities. Extracurricular activities encompass a broad range of activities. Commonly listed activities include participating in school clubs, playing an instrument, playing a sport, attending pre-college summer programs, volunteering, and many others. Activities like working a part-time job, or caring for a family member also count. The activities list is an excellent opportunity to brag about your accomplishments, as well as the talents and skills that you have developed outside of the classroom along the way.

KEY TIP

Most importantly, the activities list is one of the best places to showcase the various ways in which you have developed your hook!

How can the Activities List be used to demonstrate a hook?

At Command Education, we often emphasize the importance of establishing your “hook”— otherwise known as a passion and skill set that sets you apart. A hook is typically thought of as a well-developed record of distinctive achievements, activities, and service in one or two specific areas of interest. Instead of dabbling in a little bit of everything, we encourage our students to delve deep into activities they are particularly passionate about.

Your activities list is the key place you can demonstrate your hook to admissions officers. For example, if you are interested in the biomolecular sciences and cancer research and decide this will be your hook, you should be able to demonstrate that interest through activities like working as a professor’s research assistant at a medical school, taking related classes at a college or university, or writing about cancer research-related topics in your school newspaper.

It’s important to craft your activities list descriptions in such a way that they relate to your hook, as well as to your academic and career goals. Say you are applying to gain admission to an undergraduate business program. You could relate your experience as a tour guide and representative at your high school to marketing, or your experience working as a sales associate at a clothing store to client relationship skills! The key is to clearly demonstrate a connection between each activity and your hook.

We’ll give you more tips and tricks about crafting your activities list below, but let’s start by discussing…

Is the Activities List important for college admissions?

Yes! While your grades and standardized test scores make up the foundation of your college application, your activities will allow you to stand out amongst the sea of applicants and could tip an application in your favor. Thus, demonstrating a strong hook through your Activities List is very important. Additionally, college admissions officers will view your extracurricular involvement as a good indicator of how well you might function as a member of your future college community, and afterwards, how you might perform in the real world, since commitment to your activities will allow you to demonstrate time management skills, drive and commitment, and a genuine interest in the world around you.

Quality vs. Quantity

Quality is always more important than quantity when it comes to the activities you choose to add to your Activities List. Juniors and seniors can often fall into the trap of signing up for many clubs at their school—but this strategy could end up backfiring by making an application seem disingenuous. Having two to three meaningful extracurricular involvements is always better than ten activities that have no meaning to you at all. Admissions officers see thousands of applications every season, and they can easily identify resume fillers. This is not to say that you can’t join a new club as a junior or senior, you definitely can! The club should just serve to complement the hook you have been working to develop throughout your high school career.

Common App Activities List vs. UC Activities List

While the Common Application Activities List and UC Activities List serve similar purposes for admissions committees, there are differences in the ways they are completed. The Common Application allows students to list 10 activities and 5 honors and awards separately, while the UC application allows students 20 spaces in total for both activities and awards.

Common Application

 

✔️ 10 Activities
✔️ 5 Honors and Awards

UC Application

 

✔️ 20 Activities, Honors and Awards

Beyond the number of slots for activities and awards, there are also differences in the corresponding information students must provide for each activity and award.

Before Filling Out the Activities List

You’ll want to begin this process by compiling a list of all the activities that you have been involved in throughout high school. You will also want to jot down the years you’ve been involved in the activity in terms of grade levels. For example, you’ll want to write down “12th” as opposed to 2020-2021, if that’s the year you were in the 12th grade. Activities that you can include on this list are: sports, community service, employment, religious activities (such as teaching Sunday school), internships (paid or unpaid), arts, hobbies (for example, biking or stacking competitions), school clubs, academic competitions, and basically anything else that you spend time doing outside of school. Remember to include non-formalized activities if they have been meaningful to you, such as small projects you’ve been working on to improve your programming abilities, the hours you’ve poured into learning a new language on Duolingo, or the works of art you might be painting for your own enjoyment. If you spend a lot of time with your family, perhaps you take care of an ailing member, that absolutely counts as well and shows a great deal of responsibility.

How to Fill Out the Common App Activities List

Once you have an initial list of schools to research, you can begin researching each school on your list in more depth, with the aim of both narrowing down your initial list and potentially discovering additional factors that can help you identify more schools for your list.

1. Choose the ten activities you plan to include:

You should strategically choose the ten activities you want to include in a way that highlights your hook! Below, we’ve included an example activities list, paired with an explanation of how it demonstrates a hook!

2. Determine the order in which you plan to list your activities:

You should order your activities in order of personal importance to you! This will allow you to demonstrate your values to the admission officers who review your application.

KEY TIP

Be sure to prioritize personal importance over quantity of time.

For example, you may spend 14 hours of your week attending tennis practice and taking tennis lessons, and two hours hosting a tennis clinic for elementary school students through the organization you founded. Though you devote much more time to your own practice, you may find the clinics to be much more rewarding and place this higher up on your activities list than your practices.

Let’s take it one step further. Maybe you run the camp for 35 weeks of the year, but you ran a tennis racket drive for five days in the late spring of your junior year that ended up being particularly rewarding. Even though you spend much more time running the clinics than you spent hosting the equipment drive, you place the drive further up on your activities list because it was more meaningful to you.

3. Fill Out the Common Application Activities List Fields:

The Common Application will ask you to fill out 9 fields for each activity you choose to list. You do not have much space to do so, so read this guide to learn how to make the most of the characters you are allotted.

Hover over each hot spot to learn more about each field. Below, you’ll find more examples about how to make the most of each field to highlight your potential!

 

The 9 Fields are:

1
Activity Type
2
Position/ Leadership Description
3
Organization Name
4
Activity Description
5
Participation Grade Levels
6
Timing of Participation
7
Hours Spent Per Week
8
Weeks Spent Per Year
9
College Participation
Activity Type

Activity Type

Begin by selecting the category the activity falls under. For any activities that fall outside the predefined categories, which are listed below, just select Other Club/Activity.

Position/ Leadership Description

Describe your title to the best of your ability here - this can be as simple as “Volunteer” or “Club Member.” However, try to get specific when you can!

Organization Name

Be as descriptive as possible within the confines of the character limit, and avoid acronyms or abbreviations if possible.

Activity Description

Make it clear what your responsibilities were and highlight your key accomplishments.

Participation Grade Levels

Check off the grades during which you were involved with the activity. If you graduated from high school and continued to participate in that activity, mark “post-graduate.”

Timing of Participation

Check off the time periods during which you participated in the activity.

Hours Spent Per Week

Roughly estimate the number of hours you devoted to an activity.

Weeks Spent Per Year

Roughly estimate the number of weeks you devoted to an activity.

I intend to participate in a similar activity in college.

Check yes or no.

3. Fill Out the Common Application Activities List Fields:

The Common Application will ask you to fill out 9 fields for each activity you choose to list. You do not have much space to do so, so read this guide to learn how to make the most of the characters you are allotted.

Hover over each hot spot to learn more about each field. Below, you’ll find more examples about how to make the most of each field to highlight your potential!

 

The 9 Fields are:

1
Activity Type
2
Position/ Leadership Description
3
Organization Name
4
Activity Description
5
Participation Grade Levels
6
Timing of Participation
7
Hours Spent Per Week
8
Weeks Spent Per Year
9
College Participation
Activity Type

Activity Type

Begin by selecting the category the activity falls under. For any activities that fall outside the predefined categories, which are listed below, just select Other Club/Activity.

Position/ Leadership Description

Describe your title to the best of your ability here - this can be as simple as “Volunteer” or “Club Member.” However, try to get specific when you can!

Organization Name

Be as descriptive as possible within the confines of the character limit, and avoid acronyms or abbreviations if possible.

Activity Description

Make it clear what your responsibilities were and highlight your key accomplishments.

Participation Grade Levels

Check off the grades during which you were involved with the activity. If you graduated from high school and continued to participate in that activity, mark “post-graduate.”

Timing of Participation

Check off the time periods during which you participated in the activity.

Hours Spent Per Week

Roughly estimate the number of hours you devoted to an activity.

Weeks Spent Per Year

Roughly estimate the number of weeks you devoted to an activity.

I intend to participate in a similar activity in college.

Check yes or no.

Field 1: Activity Type

Here is the list of predefined categories provided by the Common App:

Academic
Art
Athletics: Club
Athletics: JV or Varsity
Career-oriented
Community Service (Volunteer)
Computer/Technology
Cultural
Dance
Debate/Speech
Environmental
Family Responsibilities
Foreign Exchange
Internship
Journalism/Publication
Junior R.O.T.C.
LGBT
Musical: Instrumental
Musical: Vocal
Religious
Research
Robotics
School Spirit
Science/Math
Social Justice
Student Govt./Politics
Theater/Drama
Work (Paid)
Other Club/Activity

Field 2: Position/Leadership Description (Max characters: 50)

If possible, add a descriptive term in front of your position. Be sure to specify whether or not your position changed over time by notating the grade levels next to the position name in parenthesis, like so: Member (9th, 10th), Vice President (11th, 12th)

Weak Example

 

Intern

Strong Example

 

Gallery Assistant (9th, 10th), Curatorial Intern (11th)

Field 3: Organization Name (Max characters: 100)

It is possible that your organization’s name takes up all of the allotted characters, but if it doesn’t, take advantage of the extra space to include relevant information. Make sure you make it clear when clubs are in association with your school when applicable. A volunteering club at Average High School simply called “Hilltop” is better referred to as “Average High School Hilltop Volunteers” or “Hilltop Volunteering Club of Average High School.” If you’re including an independent activity such as painting for local arts competitions, your title and position could read: “Artist, Self-Directed Oil Painting”

You can use acronyms and abbreviations when referring to well-known organizations like the NAACP, or if you use the same abbreviation throughout, like “LA” for “Las Angeles.” However, if it’s not obvious what the organization does from its name or abbreviation, add a little context.

Weak Example

 

School Newspaper

Strong Example

 

The Falcon, Average High School’s Student Newspaper

Field 4: Activity Description (Max characters: 150)

It is very important that your description should make clear what your specific impact or contribution is or was, as opposed to what the organization’s members did as a group. Write in present tense only if you are still involved, and past tense if your involvement in the activity has come to an end.

Use verbs that show action and ownership over an activity

Weak Example

 

Worked with a professor on a research project

Strong Example

 

Conducted university-level research

Include numbers and percentages to quantify your impact

Weak Examples

 

Fundraised a few thousand dollars for…

 

Recruited a handful of new club members

Strong Examples

 

Fundraised over $5,000…

 

Increased membership by 25% in…

Avoid redundancy. If you say you were the Editor of your school paper in your title, you won’t need to repeat that in the description. Rather, describe your impact as an editor.

Weak Example

 

Edited the environmental column

Strong Example

 

Proofread and fact-checked over 30 pieces about environmental issues annually

You’ll have a chance to include five formal awards you received in the “honors” section of the Common App, but the activity descriptions are the perfect place to include achievements for which you did not receive awards. You will want to provide context for awards or opportunities that are selective.

Weak Example

 

Selected to be student representative

Good Example

 

1 of 3 student representatives selected in our class of 200 to interview and select the next head of upper school

Field 5: Participation Grade Levels

A commonly asked question regarding this field is how to label the activities that took place in the summer. We recommend selecting the grade level preceding the summer in question. For example, if you completed a summer course the summer between freshman and sophomore years of high school, you would select 9th. If you completed an internship the summer between sophomore and junior years of high school, you would check off 10th, and so on and so forth.

Field 6: Timing of Participation

If you participated during the school year and during school breaks, check off both “During school year” and “During school break.” If you participated in the activity during the school year, during the school breaks, and during the summer, check off “All year.”

Field 7: Hours Spent Per Week

It might be easier to estimate the number of hours you devote to scheduled activities like sports than activities you complete at your own leisure. For activities that are less structured, estimate the average time you devote per week. For example, you might spend 20 weeks during the school year attending your robotics club. If you usually spend 2 hours a week with this club, but have 3 weeks during the height of tournament season during which you spend 15 hours with the club, you can list your hours per week as 4 since your weekly average comes out to 3.95 hours.

Field 8: Weeks Spent Per Year

The easiest way to calculate this is to first look at your school’s calendar and count the number of weeks between the first week of school and the last week of school. Then, you will want to subtract weeks during which the club didn’t meet. This usually includes holiday breaks, study and finals weeks, and sometimes, the first few weeks of the semester when clubs do not yet meet. From there, you can calculate how many weeks you participated in a sport or school-affiliated extracurricular activity.

Alternatively, some activities like sports or school plays are seasonal. If that is the case, refer to your practice or game schedule or estimate based on the semester schedule. Be sure to include weeks for preseason or tryouts and auditions in your final number!

KEY TIP

The average school year is 36 weeks, give or take a few weeks depending on your school’s break schedule. Sports seasons can be divided into fall (September-November), Winter (November/December-February), and Spring (March-June). Remember to account for spring/winter breaks as you calculate weeks you participated.

Field 9: I intend to participate in a similar activity in college.

Since your list of activities should relate to the hook you are crafting throughout your application, it probably makes sense that many of the activities you currently participate in will be activities you want to participate in while you’re in college. Unless the activity was high school-specific or if there is a good reason you wouldn’t participate in it later on, we recommend that you mark “yes.”

 

No one will hold you to this when you get to college 😉

Strong vs. Weak

Here are two examples of what an activity can look like once you have filled out each of the 9 fields!

Weak Example

Art

11, 12
Year
10 hr/wk, 45 wk/yr

 

Intern, Art Gallery

Worked in the gallery’s archive and supervised visits

Strong Example

Art

11, 12
Year
10 hr/wk, 45 wk/yr
Continue

Archival Intern, Jane Doe’s Fine Art Gallery

Selected, cataloged, and digitized materials from 2011 to 2018 to be housed in the contemporary art archive.

Weak Example

Journalism/Publication

11, 12
Year
10 hr/wk, 45 wk/yr

 

Head, School Newspaper

Reviewed and edited submissions for my school’s newspaper

Strong Example

Journalism/Publication

10, 11, 12
School
5 hr/wk, 35 wk/yr
Continue

Staff Writer (10, 11), Editor-in-Chief (12), The Average Herald, Average High School

Final review of 20 articles published and distributed bi-weekly. Spearheaded creating a digital paper. Increased readership by 20.

How to Fill Out the Common Application Honors List

The Common Application Honors List is separate from the Activities List—it can be found under the Education Section of the Common Application. The Honors section allows you to show a snapshot of how you excelled on a local, national, or international level. Honors and awards students commonly list include: Dean’s List, Language Honors Society, National Merit, Congressional Award, Valedictorian, etc. Be sure to list the most impressive/selective honors first, followed by less selective ones.

This section allows students to enter a maximum of 5 Honors and Awards and 100 characters to describe the honor. The Honors Section will prompt you to fill out 3 fields.

Activity Type

Honors Title

Write the title of the award and add details when possible!

Grade Level

Check off the grade you were in when you received the award.

Level(s) of Recognition

Select the award’s level of recognition.

The Common Application Honors List is separate from the Activities List—it can be found under the Education Section of the Common Application. The Honors section allows you to show a snapshot of how you excelled on a local, national, or international level. Honors and awards students commonly list include: Dean’s List, Language Honors Society, National Merit, Congressional Award, Valedictorian, etc. Be sure to list the most impressive/selective honors first, followed by less selective ones.

This section allows students to enter a maximum of 5 Honors and Awards and 100 characters to describe the honor. The Honors Section will prompt you to fill out 3 fields.

Activity Type

Honors Title

Write the title of the award and add details when possible!

Grade Level

Check off the grade you were in when you received the award.

Level(s) of Recognition

Select the award’s level of recognition.

Field 1: Honors Title

In 100 characters or less, you will need to describe the honors you received. With so little space, you will not be able to write in full sentences. Therefore, it will be necessary to abbreviate when possible and include only the most illuminating information. Be sure to include the following information: the name of the award, what the award was for (community service, for example), and if applicable, what place you received (1st, Bronze, etc).

Weak Example

 

In tenth grade, I received an award from the President’s Foundation for my work volunteering at an animal shelter.

Strong Example

 

Gold Medal from the President’s Foundation for volunteering 200+ hrs at animal shelters.

Field 2: Grade Level

Select the grade level in which you won the award. Follow the same guidelines as suggested for the activities list for awards you received during the summer, selecting the year that preceded the summer!

Field 3: Levels of Recognition

If you are unsure which level of recognition to select, you can often determine information about the scope of the award on the award organization’s affiliate website! The larger and more diverse, the more prestigious the award; international recognition is the most prestigious type of recognition.

KEY TIP

Be sure to list your Honors and Awards in descending order of recognition, listing your international awards first, followed by national, state/regional and school.

In our example Honors section, the student has listed five awards in descending order of importance (i.e. listing awards issued by national organizations above her school-level recognitions). As with the Activities List, this student is able to use the content in this section, even within limited space, to successfully convey her academic potential, community contributions, and artistic ability.

Example Common Application Activities List and Hook Explanation

Below, you’ll find an Example Common Application Activities List! This fictional student demonstrates a strong hook in environmental science and art. Her hook is conveyed through an impressive mix of in-school extracurriculars, out-of-school activities, summer activities, and hobbies. Not only has she pursued multiple activities in both environmental science and art, but she has also found and studied creative intersections between these fields, through painting murals at local gardens, featuring and selling her nature photography on her personal social media, and studying environmental art at a summer program. By reading her Activities List, admissions officers would be able to envision her continuing to explore these intersections as an undergraduate, as well as contributing to sustainability initiatives and artistic projects and clubs on campus.

Through this highly descriptive and well-crafted Activities List, admissions officers can glean this prospective student’s important priorities and some of her salient characteristics. This student is creatively-minded, self-driven, capable of leading groups and teams, and interested in community-building. It is clear that as a student in NYC, she has taken advantage of the extensive resources at her disposal–universities, museums, nonprofits, and even her own apartment complex–in order to contribute to her community and explore her passions from multiple angles. Lastly, the fact that this student is an accomplished student-athlete speaks to her ability to manage her time effectively and develop an impressive and diverse variety of skills.

Admissions officers always look to see whether a student’s selections for their intended majors align with their hook and Activities List, and in this case, this Activities List would best complement an intended double-major in Environmental Science and Studio Art. Because this student also has an entrepreneurial streak, she could optionally indicate a secondary interest in business if a school offers dual degrees, majors, or minors in business administration for undergraduates. It is helpful to be aware that consistency across every part of the application, from coursework and letters of recommendation to the Activities List, intended majors, and essays, is necessary for building a cohesive narrative.

Activities

Environmental

10, 11, 12
Year
4 hr/wk, 52 wk/yr
Continue

 

Founder, The Cactus Swap Project NYC

Build community with over 1,000 cactus-lovers in NYC. Share info about plant sales, swaps, and propagation. Hosted planting workshops at 8 schools.

Environmental

10, 11, 12
School
8 hr/wk, 25 wk/yr
Continue

 

President, Average HS Green Club

Organized inaugural Green Week with themed activities and prizes. Convinced school admin to implement meatless Mondays. Host weekly meetings, trips.

Research

11
Break
35 hr/wk, 8 wk/yr
Continue

 

Research Intern, Local University

Collected data on health and resilience of trees in NYC saltwater marshes after flooding events. Recommended species and locations for replanting.

Athletics: JV or Varsity

9, 10, 11, 12
School
16 hr/wk, 18 wk/yr
Continue

 

Co-Captain and Setter, Average HS Girls’ Varsity Volleyball

Individually nominated for AVCA All-American Awards and won Average HS’s Spirit Award. Team placed 1st in division and advanced to state semifinals.

Community Service (Volunteer)

9, 10, 11, 12
Year
1 hr/wk, 26 wk/yr
Continue

 

Volunteer and Muralist, Beautiful Gardens Nonprofit

Create public art installations including murals and sculptures in community gardens. Designed rooftop herb garden installation for restaurant.

Community Service (Volunteer)

10
Break
6 hr/wk, 8 wk/yr
Continue

 

Volunteer, Major Urban Art Museum

Greet and direct visitors at information desk and coat check. Work shifts at gift shop and assist customers with check out and locating merchandise.

Art

9, 10, 11, 12
Year
1 hr/wk, 52 wk/yr
Continue

 

Painter and Photographer, @StudentName on Instagram and Etsy

Create art (paintings, portrait photography, nature photography) and exhibit on personal Instagram. Sell prints and stickers with $500+ in profits.

Art

10
Break
35 hr/wk, 3 wk/yr
Continue

 

Participant, State University’s Summer Environmental Art Institute

Studied intersections of art and environmental activism. Created multimedia portfolio of 5 works under guidance of professional artist First Last.

Work (Paid)

9, 10, 11, 12
Year
4 hr/wk, 45 wk/yr
Continue

 

Owner, Dog-Walking Business

Run dog-walking service with my siblings for neighbors in apartment complex.

Student Govt./Politics

11, 12
Year
1 hr/wk, 36 wk/yr
Continue

 

Class Representative, Average HS Student Government

Elected by peers as 1 of 4 class reps. Create and print posters to promote events, design and order class spiritwear, manage social media.

Honors

National Merit Semifinalist

National

11

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Gold Keys x4 (Painting x2, Photography, Journalism)

National

11

Congressional Award (Bronze and Silver Medals)

National

10, 11

Average HS Community Excellence Award (2 students recognized per year)

School

10

Honor Roll

School

 

9, 10, 11

 

Although students can often overlook or rush the Activities List, taking time to write an accurate, thoughtful, and well-ordered Activities List is essential for strategically framing your application and communicating your personal story. An outstanding Activities List should invariably help admissions officers grasp who you are, what is important to you, and how you have spent your time learning and serving others in your community during high school. Investing time and effort into this important component of the Common App will truly increase the quality of your college applications, while also being a satisfying exercise in looking back at your accomplishments and growth over the past three years!