The Activities section of a college application is an opportunity to showcase your extracurricular involvement and leadership experiences both in and outside of high school. This section plays a crucial role in the admissions process as it provides the admissions committee with insight into who you are beyond the classroom, your interests, and your character. Unfortunately, many students tend to prioritize their essays while neglecting to give the Activities section the attention it deserves. This is a significant mistake, as the Activities section is a critical component of your application that requires careful preparation and thorough editing.
In this article, we first provide tips on how to write an effective Activities section. We then offer examples of different types of activities, including school clubs, student government, sports, business startups, social media, part-time jobs, volunteering, and independent research projects, and analyze why these examples are well written. Lastly, we present a list of action-oriented verbs you can use to make your description effective and powerful.
Tips on Writing the Activities Section
Focus on quality over quantity. The Activities section is not intended to be a comprehensive list of everything you have done in high school. Instead, you should focus on the most important and relevant activities. The Common Application allows you to share up to 10 activities, while the University of California (UC) application allows you to share up to 20. If you have 10 or 20 significant activities that have shaped your character and contributed to your growth in high school, feel free to share all of them. However, there is no requirement to fill up either form. It is better to showcase a few meaningful activities in which you have been heavily involved, rather than a long list of activities with limited involvement.
Be concise. On the Common Application, you can share a description of up to 150 characters for each activity, while on the UC application, you can share up to 350 characters. Therefore, it is essential to carefully consider the key descriptors of your experiences, highlighting the most important and relevant information using verbs and phrases that showcase your involvement, impact, and growth.
Be specific. You should provide enough detail to give the admissions committee a sense of your involvement and accomplishments. Along with listing the name of your position, you should describe your role, what motivated you to get involved, what you accomplished, how long you were involved, and what you learned from your experiences. This information will provide a more comprehensive understanding of your contributions and help the admissions committee appreciate the impact you made in your activities.
Show leadership. If you have held any leadership positions in your activities, be sure to highlight them. This will show the admissions committee that you have the ability to take initiative and lead others.
Be honest. It is important to avoid exaggerating your involvement or leadership in any activity or role you have played. Likewise, never make up an activity you have not done. Exaggeration or false claims can significantly damage your credibility and negatively impact your chances of being accepted. Therefore, always be honest and straightforward in your descriptions, and let your genuine experiences and accomplishments speak for themselves.
Consider personal interests. If you pursued interests or hobbies without participating in any organized activities listed above, you can still include these personal experiences, particularly those that have had a significant impact on your growth. For instance, if you spent a lot of time doing something that you are passionate about, such as a student who created thousands of origami pieces in her free time as a way to relax and recharge, you should include this personal activity in your application. This student regularly donates her origami to local organizations, including libraries, senior homes, and daycares, despite not doing it through an organization or club.
Proofread. Finally, proofread your Activities section carefully to make sure there are no errors or typos. A well-written and error-free section will help make a positive impression on the admissions committee.
Examples and Analysis
Let us examine some examples that effectively describe an applicant's skills, achievements, and impact. You can use a similar format to describe your own activities and tailor it to your specific experiences and accomplishments. Some examples fit the Common Application character limit, while longer examples fit the UC application. When preparing the activity description, consider having two versions: a shorter version and a longer version if necessary. You may need to use commonly understood abbreviations (such as "intl" for "international," "VP" for "Vice President," or "govt" for "government") to fit more words into your description.
“Volunteered at the Local Food Bank - (2 years) Assisted with sorting and distributing food donations, led a team of 7 volunteers in a successful food drive, and developed a new system to track food inventory and distribution.”
In this example, the verb “led” highlights the applicant’s leadership skills, the inclusion of the number of volunteers shows experience managing a team, and the mention of the successful food drive shows the applicant’s impact and results. Additionally, the mention of the new system shows the applicant’s initiative and problem-solving skills.
Here is another example about volunteer work. "Volunteer at Local Homeless Shelter - (4 years) Assisted with meal preparation and served meals to residents, organized and led recreational activities, and provided emotional support to individuals in need."
“Varsity Basketball Team - (4 years) Named Most Valuable Player (MVP) in senior year, led team to three consecutive league championships, and received All-State honors; assisted with recruiting new members and revising team by-laws and policies.”
In this example, the mention of the MVP award and All-State honors demonstrate the applicant’s athletic ability and achievements. The mention of leading the team to three consecutive league championships highlights the applicant’s leadership and team-oriented qualities. Additionally, the mention of recruiting new members and revising team by-laws and policies shows the willingness and contribution to team development beyond playing games.
Here is another example about sports. “Varsity Soccer Team - (4 years) Played as a midfielder, serving as team captain in senior year. Led team to three consecutive league championships and earned All-State honors. Demonstrated leadership by mentoring younger players and organizing team practices and workouts during off-seasons.”
“Model United Nations Club - (3 years) Represented the school at regional and national conferences, proposed and debated resolutions on global issues; served as club treasurer to manage budget and process bills and invoices.”
In this example, the mention of representing the school at regional and national conferences shows the applicant’s commitment and passion for the club. The mention of proposing and debating resolutions highlights the applicant’s critical thinking and communication skills, and the role as club treasurer shows the applicant’s leadership as well as skills in finance and accounting.
Here is another example about club involvement. "Environmental Club - (3 years) Participated in monthly meetings, organized community clean-up events, and advocated for environmental sustainability on campus."
"Student Government Association - (2 years) Served as Class Representative (1 year) and Vice President (1 year), planned and executed dozens of school and class events, and represented the student body in meetings with school administration."
In this example, the mention of planning and executing events shows leadership skills. The mention of representing the student body shows skills in negotiation and communication. The length of time (3 years total) also demonstrates the applicant’s dedication to service and leadership.
Here is another example about student government. “Student Union - Served as Vice President (1 year) and Advisor (1 year), organized academic and social events, revamped student union mission statements and policies, and oversaw a team of 30+ student leaders.”
“Independent Research Project in Psychology - (2 years) Conducted a study on the effects of meditation on stress and anxiety in high school students. Designed and implemented research methods, including survey development and data analysis. Presented findings at a regional conference and received recognition from peers and professors.”
In this example, the applicant provides relevant information about their independent research project in psychology, including the duration of the project and the specific focus of the study. They also highlight their research skills by mentioning their involvement in designing and implementing research methods and analyzing the collected data. The mention of presenting their findings at a regional conference and receiving recognition demonstrates the applicant's impact and success in their research project.
Here is another example. "Independent Research Project in Biochemistry - (1 year) Conducted experiments to study the effect of different pH levels on enzyme activity, presented findings at the state science fair and received 3rd place award."
“Co-Founder, Online Marketplace Startup - (2 years) Developed and launched an e-commerce platform to connect local artisans with global consumers. Led product development and marketing efforts, resulting in over 1,000 registered users and partnerships with 50+ artisans. Managed a team of 4 employees and oversaw financial operations, including budgeting and fundraising. Presented the startup at several pitch competitions and secured over $50,000 in funding.”
In this example, the applicant provides relevant information about their involvement in a startup, including their role as a co-founder and the duration of the project. They also highlight their leadership and entrepreneurial skills by mentioning their product development and marketing efforts, as well as their success in securing funding and managing a team. The mention of partnerships with artisans and the number of registered users demonstrates the startup's impact and success.
Here is another example of business startups. “Etsy Bookmark Business - (2 years) Started and managed an Etsy business focused on handmade bookmarks. Designed and produced bookmarks using a variety of materials, including recycled materials and unique fabrics. Promoted the business on social media and through partnerships with local bookstores and libraries. Sold 5,600 bookmarks to customers around the world, generating over $28,000 in gross revenue.”
“YouTube Gaming Channel - (3 years) Created and managed a YouTube channel focused on video game reviews and tutorials. Produced and edited over 200 videos, resulting in over 30,000 subscribers and more than 1 million views. Collaborated with other gaming channels to create joint content and expand the audience. Managed social media accounts to promote the channel and engage with followers.”
In this example, the applicant provides relevant information about their involvement in building and managing a YouTube channel focused on video games, including the duration of the project and the channel's success in gaining subscribers and views. They also highlight their creativity and collaboration skills by mentioning their efforts to collaborate with other gaming channels and expand the audience. The mention of managing social media accounts to promote the channel and engage with followers demonstrates the applicant's marketing and communication skills.
Here is another example of managing a social media account. “Cooking Instagram Account - (2 years) Founded and managed an Instagram account focused on cooking and food photography. Developed and posted original recipes and photos, resulting in over 20,000 followers and high levels of engagement. Collaborated with other food bloggers and chefs to create joint content and expand the audience. Used analytics and insights to optimize content and increase engagement.”
"Part-time Barista at Coffee Shop - (1 year) Provided exceptional customer service, trained new employees, and implemented a new inventory management system, resulting in a 15% increase in sales."
In this example, the use of the phrase “exceptional customer service” highlights the applicant’s customer-oriented skills, while the mention of training new employees shows the applicant’s leadership and mentorship abilities. The mention of the new inventory management system shows the applicant’s problem-solving skills and the impact they had on the business.
Here is another example about part-time jobs. "Part-time Sales Associate at Retail Store - (1 year) Assisted customers with purchases, maintained store displays, and provided exceptional customer service, resulting in a 20% increase in customer satisfaction."
“Photography Club - (2 years) Participated in monthly photo challenges, organized and curated a school photography exhibit, and won 1st place in a regional photography competition.”
In this example, the mention of participating in monthly photo challenges highlights the applicant’s dedication and passion for photography. The mention of organizing and curating a school photography exhibit shows the applicant's leadership and organizational skills, and the 1st place win in a regional competition demonstrates the applicant’s talent and achievement in the field.
Here is another example about creative pursuits. "Theater Production - (2 years) Cast member in the school musicals, designed and created costumes for the shows, and participated in community theater productions."
We provide a list of action-oriented verbs commonly used in the Activities section, which was primarily taken from a broader list compiled by the Graduate School of Business Alumni Career Services at Stanford University. These verbs can effectively convey your level of involvement and the impact you had in each activity. By incorporating these verbs into your descriptions, you can create more powerful and engaging narratives about your experiences.