How should I list my high school activities on the Common Application?

I’ve included the basic guidelines and limitations for the activities section at the end of this article, but before we get to those, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind. Your goal is to present a picture of your most important activities and to document the impact you had in each club or organization. This is actually harder than it sounds and most students need assistance with this part of their Common Application.

If you’ve been following my advice on the planning calendars, you’ve been keeping a record of your activities throughout your high school years. If you haven’t, then make that list today! Don’t try to create the list from scratch within the Common Application itself. Write the first draft in an offline document, following the guidelines below.

Now the real work begins. While you are very familiar with the clubs and organizations you were involved in, admissions officers reading your application won’t be. Most students I work with assume too much in their activities list. This is where you really need assistance from a parent, counselor, or someone completely unconnected with your school. They can give you valuable feedback about how understandable the names of the organizations are and whether or not your descriptions of your contributions to them are thorough enough. If the reader doesn’t understand the name or acronym for an activity, it will be meaningless to them. Likewise, your participation must be clear. If, for example, you say you were the head of Project Action, but you just say you did a lot of volunteer work, the reader will skip over that activity. Be sure to allow sufficient time to rework and polish your activities list. It is a more important component of your application than many students realize—especially for applicants to competitive schools.

Keep in mind:

  • Ten activities is a limit, not a goal.
  • Maximum number of characters with spaces:
    • Position or leadership description: required, 50 characters with spaces max
    • Organization name, if applicable: optional, 100 characters with spaces max
    • Description: required, 150 characters with spaces max
  • Order of activities:
    • List activities in rank order from highest to lowest importance to you.
    • List activities in backwards chronological order—most to least recent.
    • Put activities in which you have held leadership positions toward the top of the list.
  • Do not list the years you participated in an activity, as they will appear in the participation grades section.
  • However, do note the year(s) you held leadership positions and/or received an award—ex., Captain (10, 11); Sportsmanship Award (10)
  • Space-saving tips:
    • Use 1st and 2nd instead of the words first and second.
    • Don’t use etc.
    • Don’t use the word “I”, as this is understood.
    • Remember the ampersand “&” is your friend. Use it to save spaces instead of the word and.

Make sure your activities list is clear and informative so admissions officers get an accurate picture of the scope and depth of your student activities.


Wow! You have been such an enormous help! Your professional expertise and perseverance have been wonderful! There were many moments over the past few months that I never thought those applications would meet the deadlines. You spared me from having to nag and inquire (I did a little). I am terribly grateful!