By Eric Lynne – Assistant Director
On the Common App—the most widely used portal for applying to college—applicants are given space to report their extracurricular involvement. This list of activities very much resembles a résumé in both style and content: it is an organized and concise document that reports how students have productively used their time outside of class through school clubs, community organizations, part-time jobs, and other extracurricular activities. Students are allowed to include up to ten activities in this section of the Common Application.
At Galin Education, completing this activities list is one of the first tasks we tackle with our college-bound students. It is, therefore, also the first document in the college application process that can cause both students and their parents stress.
Do students need to have ten activities? How many activities is too many? How few is too few? What activities look best on a college application? What activities are overdone or outdated? How can we pick activities that stand out?
Instead of answering those questions, I’d rather just give a single piece of advice to students, particularly juniors who will be compiling activity lists soon: do more of what you love.
Each college application season, I help students tackle this section of the Common App. Without fail, the most successful activity lists are produced by the students who have pursued their interests in depth. If they are interested in engineering, they join robotics clubs—and lead them; if they love collaborating creatively with others, they audition for the fall musical—and raise money for the following spring’s production; if they enjoy the great outdoors, they plan backpacking trips—and join community clean air initiatives; if they love learning about the past, they take AP US History—and volunteer at the local historical society. The more deeply they pursue their passions, the more their activity descriptions jump off the page, regardless of whether they fill up all ten activity slots or not.
On the flip side, activity lists that are full (bursting at the seams even) can fall flat if involvement is minimal. It’s not that these students are lazy—far from it! Often they are the most overworked, overcommitted students I meet. When it comes to describing their involvement, however, these students have very little to write about: they show up for events, they attend meetings, they perform the perfunctory tasks, but there is little substance to report.
The advantages of in-depth involvement extend far beyond the activity sheet, too. Each application season, I help student prepare and edit all sorts of different essays; some students this year are writing upwards of 30 essays for their list of schools. The students with the most writing fodder are not the students who do the most activities; instead, they are the students who have really followed their passions and have taken on more responsibilities in the pursuits they enjoy. Their stories are more compelling because they can speak in depth about the things they love and have the experience to back it up.
So instead of worrying about what activities look best to colleges or making sure you fill up all ten activity slots on the Common App, I would implore sophomores and juniors who are looking forward to their college applications to increase involvement in the activities that they care about.
Do more of what you love—and the activity list will essentially take care of itself.