Activities List: Beyond 150 Characters


Illustration by Hannah Mittleman

Lucas Gelfond

“Reporting activities can help a college better understand your life outside of the classroom,” the Common Application reads. “Your activities may include arts, athletics, clubs, employment, personal commitments, and other pursuits. Do you have any activities that you wish to report?”

The dreaded “activities list” offers space for 10 activities an applicant deems important, asking the grades an applicant participated in the activity, hours spent per week, weeks spent per year, timing of participation, activity type, position and an 150 character description of the activity.

Filling out this section became increasingly frustrating. I wrote multiple short drafts, each with excessive use of abbreviations and significant amounts of research about funding and awards I initially had no idea about.

Save for some supplemental essays, these 1500 total characters would represent my high school extracurricular contributions completely. For schools without supplements, this would be all they read of my pursuits outside the classroom. The pressure was on for each individual character to be perfect. However, what bothered me most about this form was how reductive it felt to the extracurriculars I had come to love.

Such short character counts encourage students to pursue activities that have little actual resonance to them, pursuing positions for the sake of college, engaging the minimum amount to earn coveted leadership positions. In doing so, they disadvantage passionate and meaningful involvement in activities, offering little possibility for students to show their passion or dedication.

For the Chronicle, every article I’ve ever written, person I’ve helped with layout, update I’ve posted to the website and edit I’ve made is condensed down into a sentence about being a managing editor and JEA/NSPA Online Pacemaker finalist. Every call I’ve had at Teen Line or friend I’ve made in Peer Support is boiled down into a few words about confidentiality and crisis situations. How can four years of my time and heart be put into so little?

The short character count forces us to condense our unique and deeply meaningful experiences with our extracurriculars into our titles, bragging about awards and forcing us to explain our involvement mechanically. Although we have an additional information section, it is out of the way and not commonly taken advantage of. Colleges also may discard or not consider it heavily.

Instead, we should have the opportunity to elaborate on our extracurricular experiences, at least within a reasonable word count, expanding outside of numbers and awards. The Common App prioritizes numbers and time involvement over the things we get out of our activities. It becomes impossible to engage in less impressive activities that are more important to us and encourages students to hedge their bets for extracurricular titles. This is not what we should strive for.

If colleges want to encourage deep and meaningful engagement that goes past the pursuit of college admission, we should have more of a chance to elaborate on what we do outside of the classroom, and the way in which we apply should emphasize this.

So, please, consider me for more than my resume. At least more than 150 characters.