How to Make Your Activities Shine on the Common App


Let’s admit it. Unless you have a one of a kind achievement like winning first prize at the Intel Competition, it will be difficult to make your activities stand out among the rest of the thousands of applicants. There are over 10,000 high schools in the United States, which means there will be tens of thousands of debate club presidents, class presidents, editor in chiefs of school newspapers, and other equally impressive achievements. However, this does not mean you cannot shine.

Instead of only knowing what titles and awards you have achieved, Colleges more importantly also want to know the impact you have created. Yes, showing an impressive title will certainly help you, but what will carry you even farther is highlighting your influence with that activity.


Let’s take a look at a couple examples on how to improve your activities section:

  • Instead of: Debate Club Captain, 11, 12

  • Alternative Phrasing: Debate Club Captain (11, 12). State tournament qualifier placing 6th out of 344 in region. Drafted team materials and memos. Mentored junior members and increased membership from 22 to 65 students in two years.

  • Instead of: School Newspaper Business Manager, 11, 12

  • Alternative Phrasing: School Newspaper Business Manager (11, 12). Increased advertisement sales by 24% in two years. Worked with partners in designing ad campaigns. Led weekly executive board meetings.

  • Instead of: Varsity Swim Team, all 4 years

  • Alternative Phrasing: Varsity Swim Team (9, 10, 11, 12). Voted two time captain (11, 12). Qualified for state meet (11). Spearheaded weekly team lifts.

Generally, good guidelines to follow for filling out your activities section:

  1. Use concrete numbers when applicable. Numbers attract the eyes and officers are speed reading through everything.

  2. Use action verbs. Action verbs, such as “led” or “spearheaded”, make a deeper positive impression.

  3. List your title first and the achievements in order of significance.

  4. Use consistent formatting


It is also important to note not to go overboard by exaggerating what you have done. There are limited amount of hours per week and it is very easy to tell which students did not achieve what they said they achieved.


To help you better understand the importance of formatting and phrasing your activities in this type of way, it is helpful to keep in mind the perspective of admissions officers. When you arrive on campus, colleges do not care what you have achieved in high school. Instead, what they care about is what you will achieve in the communities around you during your time at college. Therefore, there is significantly more insight to be gained from the impact you have done in your activities in high school compared to the title you have gotten. Both aspects are factors that can boost your application, but prospective students often overlook the importance of highlighting their meaningful impact.