How to Fill Out the CommonApp Activities Section

Chase Yano
December 28, 2023

With college application deadlines creeping up, many are going through the process of filling out the dreaded CommonApp. Much of the form is pretty straightforward– what’s your name, test scores, grades, etc. But, there is one part of the CommonApp that is inevitably confusing: the activities section. Let’s talk about what you should list in the CommonApp activities section and how you should write it to make yourself shine.

This blog is a small look into the advice that I give in sessions to my students as a tutor here at Dewey Smart. Want to work with me? Set up an appointment here.

The Format of the Common App

The activity section allows you to list up to 10 activities and asks for specific information about each one, like the organization, position, timeframe, and weekly hours. However, the description requires special attention. Your answer here is limited to only 150 characters, which sounds measly but actually is more than enough in most cases.

The biggest advice here is to focus on actions that you took throughout your participation in this activity. For instance, if you were including the National Honors Society as one of your activities, don’t focus on the weekly meetings. Instead, focus on the time that you volunteered at the animal shelter and include specific examples if possible to make the most of the space.

As far as how to format your description, there’s no rules. Just be consistent and concise. My personal preference is to list actions separated by semicolons. To make all this clearer, let’s take a look at an example of a solid CommonApp activities description.

Student Council
Take minutes for weekly council meetings; handle applications for incoming members; assisted in organizing fundraiser which raised over $500.
(141 characters)

This same general format and idea applies to all of your extracurriculars, like band, music, sports, and so on. Now that we know how to write the activities, let’s look at a couple examples of great extracurriculars that are often overlooked.

Still finding it difficult to put your CommonApp activities into words? We can help! Set up an appointment here. 

Jobs and the Common App

Many employed students don’t see their job as something that is useful while filling out the CommonApp, but they couldn’t be more wrong. A job demonstrates many qualities that will make you stand out from your peers. 

The ability to manage a job alongside your full time studies shows admissions officers that you have responsibility and work ethic. Additionally, if you work to help out your family, not just to earn for yourself, that is definitely something that you should share in this section.

Let’s look at how you could list a job on the CommonApp activities section.

Team Member
Handle hundreds of cash and card transactions a day; take and input orders; contribute earnings towards family funds to help with bills.
(136 characters)

Take note here of how we highlighted very specific actions that one does as well as including a detail about why you work. 

Personal Projects and the Common App

Another area students tend to ignore are activities that they do outside of an organizational setting. Think personal coding projects, short stories, or even practicing for Rubik’s cube tournaments. 

As long as the activity involves active improvement of a skill or the production of a tangible product, it is definitely worth listing. However, only mention it if the activity went on for at least a few weeks if not months.

Let’s look at an example of a personal project activity.

Game Developer
Independent Project
Develop games with Unity and C#; distribute to peers; examples: BallHog (3D infinite platformer), Five Nights at Foods (fan-inspired strategy game)
(147 characters)

Notice how we included specific examples of game titles to add a bit of personality and memorability.

How Many CommonApp Activities Do I List?

The answer to this question is as many as you can without making any major stretches. List the obvious ones, including jobs and personal projects. The reality is that it is more about your total time done, rather than the number of total activities.

For example, someone who spent 20 hours a week in band for four years is going to be seen as more qualified than a student who attended monthly meetings for four different clubs during their junior year. That said, if you finish your list and feel as though you don’t have enough activities, it’s never too late to start a personal project of some kind to supplement your resume. 

Above all, remember that college admissions is a holistic process, and even if you feel like your CommonApp activities list is lacking, there are chances to make it up elsewhere!

To get help applying these ideas, book a free consultation to work with an admissions counselor at Dewey Smart!

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