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Articles / Applying to College / How Do I List My Activities on the Common Application?

Oct. 4, 2020

How Do I List My Activities on the Common Application?

How Do I List My Activities on the Common Application?
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I am filling out my Common App and I don't know which order to list my activities. Do I place them in terms of leadership experience, or do I list them with the ones most closely related to my major first? For instance, I am the president of the film club at my school, but I did an economics internship and I plan to be an economics major in college, so I'm not sure whether the leadership (film club) should go first or the econ internship should.

College admission officials typically expect activities to be presented on the Common Application in the order of importance to you and not necessarily according to leadership roles or relevance to your future major. While this may seem fairly straightforward, there's still often a bit of gamesmanship involved when students decide how to showcase their extracurricular undertakings. For instance, if Snapchat is by far your favorite pastime, you probably don't want it at the top of the list ... or even on the list at all. And if you're convinced that “Students for Safer Straws" will come across as the most worthwhile of all your high school endeavors but the initiative fizzled halfway through sophomore year, that's probably not high-end fodder either. When admission committees spot an activity near the start of the list that seems more like an occasional (or long-ago) pursuit, then its position may strike them as disingenuous.

If you don't have a single most-important activity (at least not one that you want the college staff to see!), you should begin your list with the activity to which you've devoted the most time, especially if you're still involved. In your case, the film club (where you are a leader) and the economics internship (with ties to your academic goals) each deserve a prominent spot on your Common App. But it really doesn't matter if one of these is first on the list ... or second, third or fourth. So don't stress over positioning, and note that the Common App allows you to easily move entries up and down until you hit the “Submit" button.

However, keep in mind that admission officials are always looking for activity entries that are unusual and intriguing, and also that they may skim the lists quickly. Thus, when all 10 available spots are filled (which is certainly not imperative) — readers are more likely to focus on the first five items than on the second. So make your selections accordingly.

Another consideration that many seniors overlook is that an “Activity" doesn't have to be connected to a school club or sports team, to a community organization or to anything that's organized at all. Personal interests and hobbies (poetry writing, fly fishing, food blogging) should be included on the Common App, along with family responsibilities if they're regular and demanding (e.g., babysitting siblings daily would count; feeding Fluffy wouldn't). You've already realized that an internship qualifies, and of course, so does paid employment. (College folks like to see teenagers with real-world jobs and, often, the crummier the job, the more respect it garners in admission offices!)

Bottom Line: The college admission process produces plenty of anxiety. While the ordering of Common App Activities does require some attention, it causes far more worry than it should. So go with your gut when you make your initial list, and try not to rearrange it more than once!

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at editorial@collegeconfidential.com.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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