Most colleges like to quantify every section of the application. Even though evaluating extracurricular activities can be very subjective, admissions officers like to put a value on certain things more than others when it comes to how students spend their free time.
THERE ARE FOUR MAJOR CRITERIA THAT COLLEGES USE TO EVALUATE A STUDENT'S EXTRACURRICULAR INVOLVEMENT:
1. Number of years of high school the student did the activity.
2. Hours per week during season (weeks per year as well).
3. Level of leadership role.
4. Measurable impact.
For students filling out the application, like the Common Application, they will have room to list 10 activities. The UC application has room for 20 activities. Before they start filling out this section on the application, they should make a list of all the things they do. Then assign points or tally marks to determine the order. Activities should be listed from most important to least important.
- State role and organization name in the top box.
- Emphasize tangible, measurable impact.
- Use active verbs!
- To save space, use lists and cut extra words. No need for complete sentences.
- Aim for variety.
- Avoid extreme language (for example...to help all those in need (or) to end poverty in the world)
Here are some examples:
State role, leadership description, and the organization name in the top two sections, so you don’t waste characters in the 150-character description section.
Position/Leadership description: Editor
Organization Name: School newspaper
Description: I am the editor for the school newspaper
...which wastes space
Position/Leadership Description: Editor of International Column
Organization Name: Daily Herald, Ridgewood High School
Description: Responsible for brainstorming and copy-editing articles by underclassmen; managed deadlines; offered layout & design input; liaised w/faculty sponsor.”
INSTEAD OF: I raised money to donate to a school in India by selling t-shirts and bracelets. YOU MIGHT END UP WITH: Arranged advertising events, organized fundraisers, and presented to student body at assemblies (400+ students).
Emphasize tangible, measurable impact. Notice for example the “400 students” inclusion above. This comes as a result of asking questions like “Whom did your activity help? How many people? How much money did you raise?” INSTEAD OF: Raised money for children in Africa. TRY: Raised $3,000 to provide three uniforms and scholarships for students attending the Joseph Waweru Home School in Kenya.
Describe selectivity. This is key if the reader might not understand the achievement your activity represents. EXAMPLE: 1 of 2 student leaders elected by my peers to represent our class of 450. ANOTHER EXAMPLE: Received 1st place out of 300 competing teams.
Include any responsibilities that demonstrate leadership skills. INSTEAD OF: I swim on the swim team. TRY: Responsible for leading swim practices, planning fundraising events, assisting in recruiting process.
What if there isn’t much to say or it was a one-time event? INSTEAD OF: Tutored students. TRY: Provided support to fourth graders with particularly difficult math concepts. (This works because you’ve explained the significance of the activity: why the event mattered and to whom).
Below is a link to an excel spreadsheet to help you organize your activities for university application activity lists.