How to Write an Activities List for College Applications

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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Summer is a great time for you to catch up on your college prep, including pulling together some materials that will be helpful when it’s time to start the college application process. Compiling a list of your activities, awards, internships, and more is a great way to organize all the information you want colleges to know — and sets you up for a smoother college application experience. 

Should You Submit a Resume with Your College Application? 

It’s not necessary to submit a traditional resume with your college application. Most schools will want to know about your skills, extracurricular activities, any professional experience you may have, and what differentiates you from the other college applicants. You can accomplish this with a strong activities list, which you will need to keep updated throughout your high school years.

Many applications, including the Common Application, have an activities list section where you will enter all this information. You may also need this information for merit scholarships, summer programs, and internships. It’s also helpful to have an updated activities list to send to your college counselor or other teachers when you start gathering letters of recommendation. That way, they have additional context for their recommendation letters.

When to Start Building Your Activities List? 

At IvyWise, we recommend students begin building their list of activities in ninth grade and continue updating it throughout the next four years as activities and interests change and students gain more relevant experience like leadership roles, internships, part-time jobs, or summer programs.

What to Include in a College Application Activities List? 

While it’s tempting to want to include every activity you participate in during your high school years, it may do more harm than good. Colleges want to build a well-rounded class of specialists — students who demonstrate a deep interest in one or more areas through their extracurricular and school activities. A strong activities list will primarily focus on the areas you are most passionate about and hope to further explore in college.

Academic Information 

When building your activities list, start with information on your academic achievements — GPA, test scores, class rank, honor societies, and more. This will provide additional context for those writing recommendation letters and can help anyone else reviewing your application, like scholarship committees or summer program admissions officers, to see how your academic achievements and school activities fit in with their needs and goals.

Extracurricular Activities 

After you’ve listed all your academic information, define all your interests and extracurricular activities starting with ninth grade. Be as detailed as possible while also being mindful of your word count. Include information on how many years you have participated in that club or activity, any leadership positions you have held, what your responsibilities in that role were, and how you made an impact in that activity. Leadership roles demonstrate great interpersonal skills and community engagement, so highlight any relevant skills gained or events you may have helped organize.

Include any volunteer experience, too, like Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, or any other local community service projects that you have participated in. You can also stand out with impressive activities like summer experiences and what you’ve gained from them, like improved critical thinking, a sense of community, and communication skills.

Awards and Recognitions

Did you win the local science fair? Have you been recognized for your volunteer work in your community? After each activity, list any awards or recognition you have received while in high school. Explain why it was awarded, when you received it, and include any information that will provide additional context to those who might not be familiar with the award or organization. This is another way to demonstrate your skills and the impact you’ve made while providing additional information on your accomplishments to scholarship and college admissions committees.

Top 5 Tips for Writing an Activities List 

If you’re not sure how to get started, check out the five tips below, as well as this advice for building your activities list from Ivywise counselor Carolyn.

1. Keep It Concise

Conciseness is key since you will likely have a character limit on your application. On the Common App, for example, you must describe your position in 50 characters, organization name in 100 characters, and activity in 150. The Common App only allows you to list 10 activities maximum.

We advise starting this process by including every activity, award, and recognition from high school. Then, go back and edit down the list to only include activities valuable to colleges and that you have sustained, personal commitments to. For example, if you only did Model UN in ninth grade, don’t include it with your other activities that you participated in from ninth or 10th grade into senior year. One-off clubs and volunteer experience should be left off, too. If you only worked at the food bank one Saturday in 10th grade, that doesn’t add much to your college application. The same goes for service trips.

However, do feature activities that you picked up later in your high school career that you’re passionate about now. For example, if you discovered a love for robotics in 11th grade and want to continue your education with a STEM major in college, include your participation in robotics clubs and activities — even if you only participated in junior and senior year. This indicates a willingness to continue pursuing this activity in college.

2. Demonstrate Your Impact

Don’t undersell yourself! College admissions committees like to see the impact that you’ve made through your activities. Instead of writing, “Organized a used book sale to raise money for the local library,” be more specific — “Organized a used book sale, collecting over 1,000 books and raising $800 to fund children’s programs at the Beachwood Library.” Providing more details gives admissions committees a clearer picture of your community engagement and how you will foster a sense of community on campus.

3. Use Strong Action Verbs

Avoid using weak action words like “worked” or “made” when writing bullet points for your activities. They’re too vague and they won’t help you stand out from the crowd. Instead, pick strong action words like “directed,” “presented,” and “led.”

For example, if your job role was a barista, write down something like, “Led a team of three baristas.” If you presented at the Genius Olympiad, you could write something like, “Presented my project, ‘Aquaponics: Sustainable Agriculture for a Greener Future’ at the 2023 Genius Olympiad.”

Examples of other strong action verbs include:

  • Organized
  • Coordinated
  • Initiated
  • Collaborated
  • Achieved
  • Implemented
  • Demonstrated
  • Developed
  • Created
  • Improved
  • Managed

4. Be Honest and Don’t Exaggerate

This is the time to show off what you’ve accomplished; however, stay honest and be wary of exaggerating your achievements. The college admissions officers will likely check out your claims about yourself and your accomplishments — they may even look at your social media. If they find them false, it will raise a red flag. Hence, they might also question whether you’re being honest about other parts of your application. It’s important to be authentic and show the admissions committee the true you on your activities list and all parts of your application.

5. Update It Periodically

Your activities list should be a living document that’s always being revised and modified. After you create and edit your list, save it and back it up to your Google Drive or similar application so that you don’t lose it. Keep track of when you last updated it and continue to revise it a few times throughout the school year. Update it to include any new activities, clubs, volunteer opportunities, or awards. Also, update your GPA, class rank, test scores, and other academic information as needed.

Having a comprehensive and updated list is one way to stay organized throughout the college prep process and to have a better picture of your extracurricular and academic profile as you apply for summer programs and scholarships and continue to build your balanced college list.

Activities List Template and Example

We use this template with IvyWise students to help them prepare their activities list for the Common App, though it is also useful for other applications that require you to list your activities and honors.


The Common App’s Activities section provides space for 10 activities/experiences (e.g., school clubs, volunteer experiences, research, music/athletic/artistic commitments, academic experiences, jobs, internships, substantive personal pursuits).

These may be year-round or during the academic year or breaks. In the initial draft here, be comprehensive. Include everything from ninth grade, even those that you may have stopped already. For long-term commitments (e.g., soccer since age 6 or piano since age 7), you can include the overall number of years associated with the activity.

If you have more than 10 really substantive items, consider how the additional ones may be included in the Additional Information section of the Common App.

  • List activities in the order of importance to you; usually the ones with the most time commitments and significant accomplishments rise to the top.
  • Use active/descriptive verbs that pack in a lot of information/connotation.
  • Think about the scale/scope (try to quantify) your impact.
  • Describe your specific responsibilities and accomplishments.
  • Do not overwrite (i.e., stretching the descriptions).
  • Limit yourself to 150 characters including spaces and punctuation.
  • Be consistent with your formatting and punctuation.


ACTIVITY TYPE (choose from drop-down options in the Common App)


ORGANIZATION NAME — 100 characters max

DESCRIPTION — 150 characters max


  • Participating grade level:
  • Timing of participation (school year, school break, all year):
  • Hours per week
  • Weeks per year


ACTIVITY TYPE: “Journalism/Publication”


Editor-in-Chief (12), Editor (11), Writer (9-10)


Washingtonian (school newspaper)


Manage a staff of 40 writers and editors; select/edit headline stories; 2023 Scholastic Journalism Award


  • Participating grade level: 9-12
  • Timing of participation (school year, school break, all year): school year
  • Hours per week: 5
  • Weeks per year: 36


Additional Tips 

As you draft your activities list, use present tense for ongoing activities as in the above example. Use past tense for activities/roles that you are no longer doing. Also, be mindful of how you use scope and scale. In the above example, managing a staff of 40 writers and editors is impressive — a staff of five may be less so. If space permits, include the most high-achieving honors and awards. As you’ll see from the above example, the student mentions a 2023 Scholastic Journalism Award.

Need support when writing your college activities list? At IvyWise, we help school students develop, refine, and highlight their greatest achievements on the Common Application. Contact us today to learn more about how our team of expert counselors can help you gain admission into your top-choice programs.



Related Topics

College Application Tips, Extracurricular Activities
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