College Application Advice: Selling Yourself and Your Activities

It's about much more than a compelling list of extracurriculars

By: Jason Robinovitz | Last Updated: August 27, 2020

Before we tell you what colleges are likely looking for in your list of activities, we’ll say this: their importance has not diminished in any way. In fact, it has probably increased in the face of so many colleges going test-optional because of COVID-19. Admissions officers will scrutinize your activities list and read between the lines to understand the true nature of your involvement to each activity. That brings us to activity “fundamentals” – what you must strive to include in your list.


While schools obviously differ in their programs, facilities, ranking in the eyes of applicants and the media, etc., there are common themes among them all when it comes to considering an applicant’s activities. Here are the most important ones:  

  • What was your involvement outside the classroom?
  • What was the impulse that led you to participate in a particular activity?
  • Is there evidence that you made a physical and emotional investment beyond simple involvementThat is – did your role reflect true commitment?
  • What sort of impact did you have as a result of your investment and involvement?
  • Did you describe how your impact actually influenced others? Or how it changed you?
  • Did you take initiative to start, lead, or coordinate some aspect of the activity, thus deepening your commitment?

College Application Advice

Fronting! Actually, Georgia Tech’s admission director, Rick Clark, thinks of selling yourself to admissions as a form of great retail marketing where “fronting” means placing the product (that’s you!) where it will be best noticed by shoppers (that’s them). Just as effective product placement in retailing inspires customers to make purchases, your placing the most important things about you first is more likely to inspire a college to admit you. Before applying to college, most teens will have been relatively uncomfortable marketing themselves, avoiding a conscious effort to make themselves “stand out” from their cohort. Applying to college may be one of the very first times that a student must absolutely stand in front and shine beneath the spotlight. From the standpoint of the activities page of the Common Application (and others), do the following:

  • List your most significant activities first
  • List the other activities in descending order of importance to you (time spent or significance of impact however you’d like to define it)
  • Use the 150-character activity-description text boxes to explain your role in each activity to reflect as many of the above is as possible involvement, initiative, impact, investment, and influence

Interestingly, our advice for the listing of activities also relates directly to the Personal Statement you’ll write as part of your applications. Your first paragraph has to hook the reader, so that he or she wants to finish reading your essay rather than just skimming through it, and so learn more about who you really are.

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To sum up, your best course of action with your activities list is to carefully think about your participation based upon the questions we’ve listed. Your weakest course of action would be to simply list activities without providing outcomes. Remember: you’re applying to college where you’ll live by demonstrating responsibility and accountability. Those qualities can shine through in your activities! That’s where we enter the picture.

With skills honed over decades of college advising, we know how to help you make the presentation of your activities on applications and your résumé stand out in a crowded field. Contact us. We can work in-person or virtually at any of our South Florida centers. 

Topics: College Application Essay College Admission Common Application College Application College Counseling College Tips


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