6 Activity Lists

Ms. Cameron Hu


Presentation Materials

Guide to the Common App Activities Section

Common App Activity List Template

The activity list is an important part of the college application. This page will provide information about the importance of an activity list, the platform-specific parameters for an activity list, and advice about writing the items contained in an activity list.

6.1 Importance of an Activity List

While essays are about what you tell (story, reflection, experience, insights), the activity list is about what you do. That is, an activity list is factual and provable. Essays can be subjective, emotional, and personal. An activity list is an expression of your genuine passion, detailing the things you love and are therefore motivated to do.

6.2 Types of Activities

Here is a list of the many, many categories of activities that may be found in an activity list.

  1. Academic
  1. Junior R.O.T.C.
  1. Art
  1. LGBT
  1. Athletics (club)
  1. Music (instrumental)
  1. Athletics (JV, varsity)
  1. Music (vocal)
  1. Career-oriented
  1. Religious
  1. Community service (volunteer)
  1. Research
  1. Computer/technology
  1. Robotics
  1. Cultural
  1. School spirit
  1. Dance
  1. Science/math
  1. Debate/speech
  1. Student government/politics
  1. Environmental
  1. Theater/drama
  1. Family Responsibilities
  1. Work (paid)
  1. Foreign exchange
  1. Other clubs/activities
  1. Journalism/publication

It is not realistic nor expected for you to have engagement in each, or even in the majority, of the activity categories listed here.

6.3 Parameters of an Activity List

There are primarily two formats for an activity list: one for the Common App and one for the UC application.

We suggest starting with the Common App template, then recycling, extending, and modifying.

  • Common App
    • 5 awards, 10 activities from 27 categories
    • 150 characters (max.) for each activity description
  • Univ. of California application
    • Up to 5 activities in each category (total 20)
    • Community service, work experience, awards and honors, extracurricular activities, educational preparation programs, other coursework
    • 350 characters (max.) for each activity description

6.4 Common Questions

What if I don’t have enough space?

  • In a description
    • Use well-known abbreviations (like “w/” for “with”, “K” for thousand/000)
    • Eliminate unnecessary words (like articles “the,” “a,” and “an”)
    • Use well-known acronyms (like “UN” for “United Nations”)
  • For all of my activities
    • Prioritize academic activities and achievements (e.g., research/summer school/internship).
    • Make a draft activity list in order of the value you place on activities.
    • Discuss strategy with your counselor.

What if I have too few activities to fill the activity list?

  • That’s okay. The Common App reports that an average list has 6 activities out of 10.
  • You might be able to expand on an activity.
    • e.g. NHS and peer tutoring
  • Remember that not every school places huge importance on activities.
    • …mostly just the really selective ones.

How do I write an activity list?

  • Refer to the provided template.
  • Quantify involvement, where possible.
  • Include specific details.
  • Maintain verb tense and choose verbs carefully.
  • Discuss tangible accomplishments, not feelings.

6.5 Advice

  • Use detail, try to write up to all 150 characters
  • Number/figure, provide this information to add authenticity
  • The use of verbs, there are a lot of verbs other than “do”…

100 Résumé Action Words
Achieved Accelerated Administered Advocated Amplified
Awarded Built Capitalized Centralized Chaired
Championed Coached Collaborated Competent Completed
Composed Conceived Conceptualized Controlled Counseled
Created Critiqued Cultivated Curated Delivered
Demonstrated Devised Diagnosed Directed Drove
Eliminated Enabled Engineered Enhanced Exceeded
Expanded Expedited Facilitated Forecasted Forged
Formalized Formulated Fostered Founded Gained
Generated Grew Guided Headed Implemented
Improved Increased Influenced Initiated Inspired
Instituted Introduced Invented Investigated Launched
Led Maintained Maximized Mentored Minimized
Mobilized Motivated Negotiated Networked Optimized
Orchestrated Organized Originated Outpaced Outperformed
Overhauled Oversaw Partnered Performed Pioneered
Planned Prepared Produced Publicized Recognized
Reduced Researched Saved Simplified Spearheaded
Steered Stimulated Strategized Streamlined Supervised
Surpassed Teamed (up) Transformed United Upgraded

Expand your activity descriptions to include details about exactly what you did in your role.


Mental Health Club

  • Met every week → Prepared, organized, lectured, and led weekly meetings to discuss topics of teen mental health and pressure relief methods to (#) of members

Soccer Team

  • Led soccer practice → Scheduled weekly soccer practice; researched, designed, led, and supervised exercise routines, discussed and set expectation for each member