Oct. 4, 2020
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!
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 email@example.com.
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