Mastering the Common App: A Guide to Filling Out Your Activities List


Getting involved in extracurricular activities is an important part of your personal and professional development. Along with preparing you for future job and internship opportunities, extracurricular activities help you narrow down what you’re interested in, improve your academic performance, and learn more about yourself.  

Additionally, extracurricular activities are an essential piece of the college application. Most US colleges use a holistic approach to their college admissions process. Using your activities, Admissions will have a better idea of what you’re going to be bringing to the classroom and the campus community. 

Overview: Common App Activities Section

The Common App provides space for 10 activities to list out through their application. There are three pieces of information to include for each activity: 

  1. Activity type (academic, community service, foreign language, etc.)

  2. Position/Leadership Description and Organization Name, if applicable 

  3. Describing the activity, what you accomplished, etc. 

If you’ve been involved throughout high school, narrowing down your activities can be a challenge. Do you list the clubs you quit halfway through high school? Do you include that one weekend you spent volunteering in junior year? 

The activities section is a chance to give Admissions a fuller picture of who you are as a student and what your interests are. Instead of trying to impress Admissions, make sure your focus is on reflecting the real you. 

How to fill out your Common App activities section: 

1. In a separate document, list out all of your activities. 

Don’t stress about where this is headed or which ones you’ll select. Just list everything out, stream-of-consciousness. What community service activities have you participated in? What clubs or organizations at your high school are you a part of? Sports? Intramurals? Brainstorm what activities you have participated in. 

2. Select your top 3-5 activities

Now that you have every activity, ask yourself these questions:

  • Which activities are you most excited about? Which mean the most to you? 

  • Which activities could you talk about most if someone asked you to explain them? 

  • Are there activities you want to continue in college? 

Once you have an idea of the answers to these questions, narrow down your top activities. These are the activities that you’ll want to make sure are included as your first 1-5 activities. In other words, if you haven’t gone to French Club since sophomore year, but you volunteer at your local community center every Saturday, place those activities in the list accordingly. 

3. Use the description space wisely 

When you’re describing your accomplishments and/or contribution for each activity, be sure to be brief, clear, and specific. You have a limited amount of space, and you want to entice Admissions officers to want to know more. The more you can quantify - include numbers, results - the better picture you’ll provide Admissions. If you need more guidance, take a look at some of our sample resume bullet points; you’ll want to follow a similar formula. 

You don’t have to fill out every activity

When it comes to your activities section, quality is most important. Focus more on reflecting who you are than on filling out every single activities box.  

If you’re struggling to juggle your activities and the college application process, here are 3 tips for balancing your extracurriculars