We get it! The college admission process can appear pretty mysterious.

As your personal college admissions strategist, I spend tons of time talking to college admissions representatives and reading books to understand what it takes to add a student to the accepted pile when reviewing thousands of applicants. 

Jeff Schiffman’s Tulane University Admissions Blog is one of my favorite blogs to read. Although he shared that he would be leaving Tulane after years of working in admissions, I believe the content is gold for anyone seeking more clarity. 

Read on to learn what Jeff has to say on writing the perfect activities list. 

Today’s blog is going to address what makes a great (and not-so-great) extracurricular list. Here’s the best advice I can give you: you don’t need to be well rounded. Yes, I said it. As Director of Admission, it’s not my job to only find well-rounded students. It’s my job to build a well-rounded class of students. 

That means I need artists, musicians, soccer goalies, feminists, researchers, people passionate about community service, running backs, and baristas. You don’t have to be the Renaissance Man / Woman / Person; you just have to have a few things that you love to do and are good at doing. We’re looking for much more depth on your extracurriculars than we are breadth. 

In fact, we’re kinda turned off when the resume is ten pages long (or every single box on the activities section is filled out) and we struggle to really get a sense of where your strengths are and what you hope to be involved in when you arrive on our campus in the fall. Take a look at my previous blog about what your overall resume and experiences in high school should generally look like.

Now, let’s delve into my…

9 Tips for the Activities Section

1) Less is more:

This applies directly to what I said above. You don’t need to list every single time you walked around the park for a charity or the club you went to three times sophomore year. What we are looking for is the main points of passion. We don’t need a laundry list. Nearly every student we admit to Tulane is in their school’s National Honor Society, for example. It’s just not needed to list each of these things out. We want only the big picture stuff.

2) We expect a gap in your activities section during COVID:

Don’t stress about it. Don’t feel like we’re going to have any questions, concerns, or issues with you not doing anything at all the last few months. If you managed to find something to take up your time the last few months, let us know about it. If you got nothing- it’s all good. I have an entire blog dedicated to this very topic.

3) Avoid repetition of the same activity:

From an admission perspective, we don’t need to see soccer or trumpet written multiple times. While I know that club soccer outside of school is totally different from the varsity team at your school, my suggestion is to consolidate this into one, maybe two spots on the activity list. Use the description to share all of the various ways you’ve been involved in soccer rather than spreading each one out, especially if you are also talking about this in your short answer.

Yes, we get it. You are a soccer player.

4) Put things in the proper order:

The first activity should be your biggest, most passionate one that you committed the most effort to. Then, “deescalate” from there. Don’t hide the most important ones at the bottom and remember that when we’re flipping through tens of thousands of resumes and activities lists, you want to grab our attention from the start. You know how we want you want to hook us in with that first sentence of your essay? Same thing here.

Don’t wait until the end to tell me the stuff you are awesome at! No one gets admitted to college based on those first three.

5) Don’t overdo the service trips and travel:

We know there are some amazing service trips and programs all around the world, or at least there used to be in a pre-pandemic world. For a school ranked #1 for students most involved in community service, we absolutely value the time you’ve spent involved in service, but if we get a resume packed with only trips to Fiji and Costa Rica, it can come across as privileged. Again, I think there is value in these trips, but I also think there is value in a service project or job in your own backyard. If you have had the opportunity to take some of these service trips abroad, you are welcome to include them on your activities section, just be cognizant of how you present your overall activities list to the admission committee.

6) Get a job and tell us about it:

We think jobs teach time management, responsibility and great communication skills. It might even be at the top of your activities list if you’ve committed that much to it. When I was in high school I was a stock room boy at Pier One Imports. You want to talk about character building? Try working at Pier One over the holiday season. There are literally jobs everywhere right now and we think you should have one. 

7) Be specific:

This is a tip that you’ll get when you create an actual resume as you apply to jobs in the real world. Use data, numbers, and anything that I can cling on to and share with the admission committee when I go up to bat for you. It’s much easier for me to say “this student increased membership in his school’s Queer Student Alliance by 100 students” over “this student made the QSA more popular.”

8) Don’t overlook what you think might be mundane:

There are things you might not consider as traditional extracurricular activities that we on the admission committee might find quite interesting. I had a kid collect coins from around the world by scouring various antique shops with his grandfather. You might not think your quirky hobbies are activity-list-worthy, but sometimes it’s those things that make you stand out the most in this section. Read 15 books for pleasure this summer? I want to know about it. Have a penchant for yarn and knitting? That’s kinda neat to me too.

9) Avoid abbreviations:

 This one’s a quick one, but spell it out for us and assume that we know nothing about what goes on in high school clubs these days.

Let’s see some examples of this:

WHAT NOT TO DO: What is ACAM? What did you do at Meals on Wheels? And why downplay that awesome job?
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: Ah, good. No abbreviations. Specifics on the Meals on Wheels. And you didn’t sell yourself short on how important being a busboy is! 

There you have it! Now get to work on crafting that dynamite activities section. Happy applying!

Culled from (tuadmissionjeff)

Would you like us to share other blogs we’ve found helpful over time?
Feel free to drop a comment if you are interested.

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