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Articles / Applying to College / Activity Marketing

Activity Marketing

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Oct. 15, 2013
High school seniors, let's talk about how to present your out-of-classroom activities to your prospective colleges in the most effective and convincing way. I'm talking about what I call your “annotated activities list." Some call is a resume; others call it a “brag sheet" (I never cared for that term, though). Anyway, the goal is to enhance your college applications with the best-possible presentation of all that you do and have done during your high school years.

You may have noticed the word “Marketing" in my title up above. That's really what you're doing by making the effort to present your extracurricular activities in the most appealing light possible. The material that follows may seem strange to you at first, especially if you have been told that a conventional approach to this task is the best, if not the most prudent way to do this. If that's the case, then be sure to read all of the instructions here carefully before you begin to create your annotated list. You may have done a resume that looks like the “Before" (UNannotated) activities list that I present below. Now, though, I suggest that you concentrate on the “After" list I'll show you. Also, please pay attention to the common mistakes I call out.

You can actually think of your activities list as a kind of resume. Your prospective colleges are the same as an employer with whom you're trying to secure a job. Instead of saying, “Hire me!" you're really saying, “Admit me!" The parallels are the same. So, let's take a look at the rationale behind the annotated activities list.

Why should you do an “annotated" Activities List?

As you may already know, college application forms don't offer active students enough space to list and explain their extracurricular endeavors, jobs, honors, etc. A few colleges (Columbia, Stanford, for example) state in their application instructions that separate resumes and other attachments are not permissible, but for the vast majority of schools, it is quite acceptable to submit an annotated list in addition to the information that you put on the application form itself. Note that if you are applying online but plan to send a separate activities list, you can either email it or snail-mail it separately.

Below are two sample activity lists. Both list the achievements and activities of the same student, but one is labeled “Before" and the other “After." The “Before" sample is the kind of standard stuff that admission officials see all the time. It gives a sense of what the applicant does but offers limited information about the real person behind the prose.


“Before" (UNannotated) Activities List

List of Activities and Awards

Phoebe Cadbury

Neely High School

School Leadership

Student Government Treasurer 12

Student Council Homeroom Representative 9, 10, 11

Backpack Regulatory Task Force 11

Community Service

Koats for Kids, Founder, Chapter President 10, 11, 12

Habitat for Humanity, 10, 11, (summers)

Key Club 9, 10, 11, secretary, 12

Head Start Daycare Center Volunteer 9, 10, 11


Flute lessons grades 4-9

Piccolo lessons 10, 11

Neely High School Orchestra (flute, piccolo) 9-12

Cape Ann Regional Orchestra (piccolo) 11

Neely High School Choir, 9, 10


Soccer 9, 10 (junior varsity), 11, 12 (varsity) MIP, 11; Coaches Cup, 12

Work/Summer Experience

Petal Pushers Florists, 1998-present; sales, arrangements, deliveries

Good News Travels Fast, 12 (Singing telegram service

Smith College Summer Science and Engineering Program, 11 (summer)

Habitat for Humanity (See Community Service, above)

Additional Research Experience

Simmons College Department of Psychology Outreach to Youth Program, 12


– Outstanding student in the biological sciences, 10

– The Mirror (Neely H.S. Literary Magazine) Award for Poetry, 10

– National Honor Society Junior Inductee, 11

– WGBY-TV “Community All-Star," 11 (for Koats for Kids; See clipping)

– Boston Globe Top 25 High School Students, 11 (See clipping attached)

– Brown Book Award, 11

– National Merit Semi-Finalist, 11

– First honor roll, all terms 9-present


The “After" list, on the other hand, helps admission folks see a lot more about the applicant's passions and personality (and keeps their attention with a bit of humor). You can use the “After" list as a model for your own activities list that you will send to colleges.

Annotated “After" Activities List

List of Activities and Awards

Phoebe Cadbury

Neely High School

The list below does not include all of my high school activities and achievements—only those that have been most meaningful to me.

* Those marked with asterisks are the ones I hope to continue in college.

School Leadership

Student Government Treasurer* 12 (~3 hrs/wk during school year)

Elected by student body. First official act: purchasing 400 hamburgers for New Student Welcome Barbeque (no sacred cows for this vegetarian!)

Student Council Homeroom Representative 9, 10, 11 (~2 hrs/wk during school year)

Elected by classmates. Hot issues: off-campus privileges; backpack inspection (see below)

Backpack Regulatory Task Force 11 (~2 hrs/wk for three months)

Appointed by administration to this student/staff committee to evaluate guidelines for backpack inspection to insure school safety. A sign of the times, I'm afraid.

Community Service

Koats for Kids, Founder, Chapter President* 10, 11, 12 (c. 1-5 hrs/wk, all year)

This is the extracurricular activity of which I'm most proud. When I was volunteering at Head Start (see below), I noticed that several children did not have warm outerwear during an especially bad New England winter. I contacted several area supermarkets and asked if I could put receptacles in the store entries for customers to deposit unneeded coats and snowsuits for children. The program succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. There are now 12 drop-off points in four towns, and three area high schools sponsor chapters. I still oversee the entire program. Last year we donated over 1,100 coats and other warm garments to disadvantaged children. (See attached news clips.)

Habitat for Humanity, 10, 11* (summers)

For the past two summers I have spent three weeks working on Habitat projects in my community. (Most students stay on a project for one week.) I learned to pour a foundation (well, sort of—you probably wouldn't want me doing yours) and to do some basic carpentry. I am also a painter extraordinaire. This summer I will attend a weeklong Habitat program in Georgia.

Key Club 9, 10, 11, secretary, 12 12 (c. 1-4 hrs/wk, school year)

Typical Key Club activities include organizing lame, one-time fundraising events that always seem to be scheduled opposite more popular ones. In the past two years, however, our progress (and prognosis) has improved.

Head Start Daycare Center Volunteer 9, 10, 11 (~4 hrs/wk, school year)

This seemed like a good opportunity for me during my “I Want to Teach Preschool" period. I've since put that career choice on the back burner (along with ballerina and firefighter), but I still value the three years I spent at the center. One highlight was practicing Spanish with the bilingual children who enjoyed my struggles with their native tongue. I did not return to the Center this year because my AP Studio Art class meets in the afternoons and created a schedule conflict I couldn't resolve, but I still stop by and visit whenever I can.


Flute lessons/practice grades 4-9 (~4 hrs/wk, year round)

When my sister began to learn piano, I chose the flute. I thought it was more portable and I could play at parties. (Perish the thought!)

Piccolo lessons/practice 10, 11 (~4 hrs/wk, year round)

With a glut of flutists trying for the area orchestras, my teacher suggested I might have more luck with the piccolo. The outcome? See below.

Neely High School Orchestra (flute, piccolo) 9-12* (~2 hrs/wk, school year)

As bad as our Key Club can be, the orchestra is worse. Due to school budget uncertainties, we have had five directors in four years (and six months with a well-meaning mother, who had no experience). We do, however, have fun, and I have made several close friends through orchestra who are in very different levels of classes that I am.

Cape Ann Regional Orchestra (piccolo) 11 (~2 hrs/wk, school year)

I thought my teacher was a genius because at the end of my sophomore year, I auditioned for (and made) this orchestra, which draws students from several high schools that (unlike ours) have outstanding music programs. At the end of junior year I had to try out again, and got beaten out by a younger (and newer) piccolo player from one of those snazzy music programs. Oh, the shame of it! (I actually was pretty upset, until …)

Neely High School Choir, 9, 10 (~2 hrs/wk, school year)

I enjoyed my involvement, but—like the orchestra—the program was limited by budget cuts.


Soccer 9, 10 (junior varsity), 11, 12 (varsity) MIP, 11; Coaches Cup, 12 (~8 hrs/wk, September-November)

Mia Hamm is not looking over her shoulder, but I am proud of my NHS soccer career. I never played in any of the youth leagues (I think my mother despaired of being labeled a “soccer mom," and we did not own a minivan, which she must have felt was a prerequisite.) I only learned the game in gym in 8th grade but made the J.V. team for two years and was then promoted to varsity. I am a utility player who can handle every position. I was even asked to play goalie in a crisis. (We won, too). Although never a star, I was named Most Improved Player after my first varsity season, and received the Coaches Cup (for sportsmanship) this fall. I will probably only play at the intramural level in college.

Work/Summer Experience

Petal Pushers Florists, 1998-present; sales, arrangements, deliveries; c. 15 hours/week (school year); 35 hours/week (summer, vacations),

As you can see elsewhere in my application, my mother owns this business, so I did not have to beat out a host of competitors for the job. I also don't ever get to call in sick when I'm not.

Good News Travels Fast, 12 (Singing telegram service; 4-hour shift weekly on Saturday evenings)

This is more like fun than work. I am the only high school student on a 4-member team. We sing special- occasion greetings to amused (or downright astounded) celebrants at their homes. One time we got to do “I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair," for a woman who'd recently had her engagement broken. (Usually, however, it's “Happy Birthday.")

Smith College Summer Science and Engineering Program, 11 (summer)

Month-long intensive residential experience, with concentrations in genetics and botany. I was one of two students selected to assist on faculty research program examining links between gene mutations in fruit flies and tumors in human children.

Habitat for Humanity (See Community Service, above)

Additional Research Experience

Simmons College Department of Psychology Outreach to Youth Program, 12 (2-5 hours/week)

Selected through application process to work with Donna Blaylock, professor of physiological psychology, on study of effects of low-dose caffeine products on preschool children. Research to be published Spring 2004.


– Outstanding student in the biological sciences, 10

– The Mirror (Neely H.S. Literary Magazine) Award for Poetry, 10

– National Honor Society Junior Inductee, 11

– WGBY-TV “Community All-Star," 11 (for Koats for Kids; See clipping attached)

– Boston Globe Top 25 High School Students, 11 (for Koats for Kids; See clipping


– Brown Book Award, 11

– National Merit Semi-Finalist, 11

– First honor roll, all terms 9-present (no big deal at NHS, I admit!)

– Princeton University Summa Cum Laude (pending)

Additional Interests*

Poetry (writing); contemporary American women novelists (reading); snowboarding; Beverly Hills 90210 (I'm a closet recovering 90210 addict, I confess); musical theatre; vegetarian cooking; Spanish language


Important note: This “After" list sample is way too long. It was designed as an over-the-top example of how a resume can be annotated so that admission staff can see what is really going on in an applicant's life. You don't need to comment on all of your activities. In other words, resist the urge to make comments about every endeavor on your résumé. A few well-placed sentences will pack more punch than a constant stream of verbiage. The sample list is nearly four pages. Try to limit yours to two, if at all possible.

Note also how the resume is organized by topic, not by year (“School Leadership," Community Service," etc.). That's designed to avoid repetition, because many students do the same activities every year. You don't want to list your activities by year (9th grade, 10th grade, etc.) because that would be too redundant. However, feel free to make up whatever categories work for you. You certainly don't have to use the same ones that are on the sample.

This “After" List also includes information that is important to most admission officials.

– The approximate amount of time you've spent pursing an activity, and

– Whether or not you think you'll continue it in college.

You will put some of this same information on the application itself, so make sure you're consistent! The application probably won't allow space for all your activities, though, so the annotated list will allow you to include some endeavors that the application won't.

The most common mistakes I have seen over the years when students send completed Activities Lists to me for review are:

– No humor whatsoever or very little “personality." (Did they even read the sample?) or

– Too much humor. It sounds forced. Don't do a Jay Leno routine!

– Too much information. A sport that you played for one season in 9th grade or the MS Walk that you did on a Saturday afternoon as a sophomore do not need to be on this list. Be selective!

– No spell-checking. No excuse for this.

– No amount of time spent is listed after activities (hours/week and weeks/year).

– No “additional interests" section at the end. This is a good way to show admission folks some of the things you enjoy doing that don't fit anywhere else in your application, so don't omit it

Also note that your list should not include:

– Senior courses. These will be on your transcript and do not belong on an Activities List. Same goes for your test scores.

– Who's Who Among American High School Students (this is a money-making outfit, not an honor!) or similar “recognition" (National Honor Roll, etc.). When college admission folks see this on a resume, they just think it makes you look naive, not special.

– Invitation to join the National Youth Leadership Forum. If you actually attended such a program, it's fine to include it under Summer Activities. But merely being “invited" is not an honor, even though the program organizers want you to believe that it is.


There you have it: How to “market" all that you have done outside of the classroom over your high school years. A little humor certainly can go a long way to make your presentation an enjoyable read. Don't be afraid to inject a little of your personality into your list. The person you impress may be a key admissions reader who likes what (and who) you're selling!


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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