The University Network

How To Fill Out Common App Activities Section — Interview With Sylvia Vukosavljevic, College Admissions Consultant With Veritas Prep

TUN sits down with Sylvia Vukosavljevic, a college admissions consultant with Veritas Prep, to discuss how students should fill out the Common App activities section.

TUN: Sylvia, thanks so much for joining us. 

VUKOSAVLJEVIC: My pleasure, Jackson. 

To start off, can you explain what the activities section of the Common App is? What qualifies as an activity? 

An activity is anything that you’re currently working on inside of school, outside of school or at any point in your life. 

A lot of students will assume it’s only school activities. But, you can post information about anything. You can post up to 10 extracurricular activities that you’re working on. It could be captain of the varsity soccer team at your school or it can be for an outside team. Maybe you’re playing on a club team. You could indicate that. 

You can indicate any activity that you’ve fully immersed yourself in. I have a student who is constantly creating videos. I have another student who likes to read math books for fun. You can indicate that as self-study. 

Research can also go under activity. So, if you do any kind of independent research or research through your school, you definitely want to indicate that in the Common App activity section.

Try to think of it like a narrative where you’re sharing who you truly are rather than what schools want to hear. 

Why do colleges and universities care about the activities that students do outside of the classroom? 

It’s really interesting. Colleges and universities today are more interested than ever in students who can bring a lot to the university and who are really immersed in the things that they’re doing. 

So, the activities section is really an opportunity for students to show who they are and what they’re going to be able to contribute. 

Schools are really interested in seeing what you’re most involved in. They really do consider whether or not you’re going to bring everything that you’re doing in high school to college. 

As you said, the Common App only allows for 10 entries. For some students, that means they’ve got to leave some of their activities off of the list. So, my questions are, what should students consider when deciding which activities to include, and are some activities viewed higher than others?

Some activities are viewed more highly than others. Schools are also looking for the length of your engagements. 

For students who are doing activities from, for example, third grade all the way to 12th grade, they want to share that. Schools like to see that kind of consistency. They like to see that students are not only total leaders and A star players but that they’re also pretty consistent and good B players too. That way, when they come to the school, they’re also going to continue to be involved and continue those long-term involvements. 

Students should really think about what narrative they are presenting to the school. So, if you have a hodgepodge of activities, you want to also present your activities in a consistent way. For example, if you have five service activities and you really did a lot in them, you want to think about how you can actually show the most meaningful impact. You want to group those activities almost as if you’re advertising your service. 

The same thing goes for sports. You want to think about how to group the activities that are most important to you. 

Schools are also looking for awards. A lot of activities don’t mean much to schools, and schools will ignore them or not really take them seriously. 

Different universities are looking for different things to mark on students’ reader sheets. If you have a major leadership position or a regional, state, national or international award, this is the place to indicate that. 

If you have any kind of leadership role, you always want to mark that in the activities section so that schools can quickly access that information and mark it on the notes that they take into committee about you. 

The Common App only gives you about 150 characters to describe each activity. Do you have any additional tips on how students can use that space wisely? 

I think that space is really more about listing than anything. First, students should think about numbers and achievements if possible. The level at which a student has performed in an activity is super important. 

If students have a high level of involvement or meaningful impact, the numbers are important. So, if you say, “I fundraise,” how much did you fundraise? If you’re talking about helping people, how many people did you help? 

It’s always good to highlight the numbers when you’re talking about service. It’s also good to highlight the leadership awards. If you were MVP on a team, you want to indicate that. If you got the most improved player (award), you want to indicate that. If you had any kind of award, you want to share that in that activities section. 

The Common App will allow you to talk about five academic awards also. But, if you have athletic awards or if you have awards that are outside of the sort of academic scope, the activity section is a really good place to talk about those things.

Thanks, Sylvia, for joining us today. 

Of course, Jackson.

This interview has been edited for clarity. Watch the full video here.