by Susan Antlitz

Completing your activities list on your college application seems like a pretty straightforward task, right? While it certainly isn’t complicated, there are some common mistakes that I often see students make while filling out this section. Here are a few:

1) Being Too Generic

One of phrases that I routinely say to students after reading their activities is: “Can you be more specific?” Students have a tendency to write in broad and generic terms about their activities. But remember just how many other students are applying to college with similar activities to yours. There are thousands upon thousands of students who served on student government, played in marching band, played basketball, and volunteered in their community. You need to get specific about what your role looked like in each activity and how you made a meaningful contribution. Can you spot the difference between these two examples?

Example 1:

Title: Varsity Basketball Team

Description: Position – Guard. Named Captain senior year.

Example 2:

Title: JV and Varsity Basketball/Captain Sr Yr

Description: Won MVP Junior Year. Lead team to regionals twice. Avg 20 PPG. Led warm up drills, planned team dinners, and organized summer training schedule.

Getting specific means including honors and awards, leadership roles and responsibilities, and quantifying accomplishments if possible.

2) Forgetting Key Accomplishments or Activities

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read over a student’s list and asked them something like, “But aren’t you also involved in X activity?” or “Didn’t I hear that you won X award?” For some reason, students either forget what they are involved in, or just don’t think a particular extracurricular is worth including in their activities.

While I generally dissuade parents from becoming overly involved in helping students complete their applications, the activities list is one area that I recommend all students have their parents read over. Remember, if anyone is going to remember every single award you’ve received since Kindergarten, it’s your parents! So, have them take a look to make sure you haven’t left out any meaningful activities. You can also ask your friends who know you well and have seen what you’ve been doing with your time throughout high school.

And don’t forget that your activities don’t all have to be school-related. Activities means ANYTHING you do outside of class related work. This includes paid work, volunteering, hobbies, sports, additional academic pursuits, etc. As long as you contribute a meaningful amount of time and energy toward something, it is game for your list.

3) Disregarding the Order of Their Activities

I’ll get to the point. Put your activities in order of importance. The things you care about most or those you have put in the most time/energy/leadership should be near the top.

4) Leaving it to the Last Minute

Since the activities list can seem like an easy section to complete, students often wait until the last minute to fill it out. However, not only will your parents or counselor have little time to read it over, you are also not giving yourself any time to sit with your list. Ideally you will complete your list, read through it, put it aside and then revisit it a few more times. Inevitably, you will remember a key event, activity, or leadership role you forgot to add. I see it happen all the time. So, do yourself a favor and complete your list early on in the application process. Need a break from essay writing, but want to work on your applications? Get going on your activities list! It is an easy section to do little by little. Don’t wait until the day before you submit!

5) Adding Fluff Activities 

Finally, don’t feel obligated to add the maximum number of activities allowed on the application. If you signed up for a club on campus and only attended one meeting, don’t add that to your list. Be honest. Remember that admissions committees want to see depth of activities over breadth. So, don’t try to fill out the list with a bunch of fluff – an admissions reader will see right through that.

To summarize: get specific, make sure you don’t forget anything, order matters, don’t put this section off, and be honest!


Susan AntlitzSusan Antlitz spent four years as a high school college guidance counselor at a small private school where she helped build the college guidance program from scratch. After a move brought her to Washington, D.C., she started Antlitz Consulting, where she continues to advise students and families walking through the college selection and admissions process.