How to Make Your Common App Extracurriculars Shine (Without Showing Off)

woman playing electric flying on stage

If you’re like any of the thousands of high school student who are applying to college, you’re going to have extra-curricular activities.  You’re having a great day until you open up the extracurricular section of the Common App.  The club you worked on for 4 years and built from the ground up has to be reduced to 150 words in a text box.

How do you do it? How do you make it sound unique and eye-grabbing? How can you make your club stand out?

It’s always a good idea to take a look at the college admissions process from the eyes of a college admissions officer.  They are reading hundreds upon hundreds of applications, scanning down the list of the ten extra-curricular activity section that all the applicants completed.  It’s definitely hard for them to get a true sense for the amount of work and effort that you put into your club – no perfectly crafted sentence is going to get that across.

But you aren’t out of luck!

What will communicate commitment, effort, perseverance, and passion are quantifiable metrics that speak to what you’ve achieved. Bottom line   That sounds like a very loose and vague definition, so I’ll give an example.

Let’s say we have a high school senior named Robert, who’s completing his college applications and wants to fill out the extracurricular portion of his common application. Which description of his chess club sounds better:

“Founded and organized a chess club in my freshman year for students at my school, created a travel team for local tournaments and participated in local competitions, and hosted a chess community day for middle school students in my area.”


“Founded a chess club in freshman year, that grew to 100 members over 4 years, created and managed travel team of 10 students and participated in 5 different regional tournaments per year, and hosted a chess community day for 60 middle school students annually.

The second not only is more comprehensive, but actually stands to give you a better chance of getting in.  Admissions officers are reading thousands of applications day in and day out from the months of November to March.  They’re expecting people to beautify their extracurricular activities by adding flowery sentences and complicated language.  Numbers speak volumes.  They give the admissions officers a way to get a handle on the scope of what you did and the reach that you had.  It’s a cold, hard, fact that makes your achievement seem real and tangible. “I helped x number of kids” says much more about what you accomplished than “I was able to provide support and outreach for students in my community”.  The second sentence is more eloquently written, but doesn’t say anything about the kind of impact that you’ve had.

Admission officers to the top universities get students who do amazing things all the time.  They can spot people padding their extracurricular list from a mile away.  A surefire way to stand out from the crowd is to put some numbers on your activities, so that admission officers can see what kind of difference you really made.

Questions? Let us know!