At first glance, the Activities List seems like a straightforward section of the Common Application; a simple place to list up to 10 extracurricular activities and describe your personal involvement and contributions. In reality, it is one of the unique opportunities for an admissions committee to gain an understanding of who you really are as a person and to see beyond your GPA and test scores. It is a glimpse into your interests, your passions, and your life outside of the classroom. It is your chance to set yourself apart.
This year, the restrictions of COVID-19 have posed new challenges to tackling the Activities List. At high schools across the country the Friday night lights are dim, and the stands are empty. Auditoriums that once echoed with the joyful hums of choral music, orchestra performances and theatre productions, are silent. Many students have not stepped through the doors to their school since March, and the traditional extracurricular opportunities are simply unavailable. As seniors wrap up their college applications, and juniors try to navigate getting involved while staying safe, how do we approach the Activities List when activities are cancelled?
Continue your activities virtually or on your own. Was your cross country season cancelled? Train for a half marathon and record how many miles you run each week. Is your drama club production postponed? Organize a table read of a classic play over Zoom and advertise it to the local community. Make sure to keep track of your efforts and quantify whenever possible.
Volunteer! Community engagement has always been an important part of the Activities List, and there are many opportunities to participate now. If you do not feel comfortable volunteering in-person, there are ways to do so virtually on sites such as Zooniverse and SciStarter. You can also create your own virtual opportunities, such as tutoring younger students via video conference in a subject in which you excel.
Include family responsibilities. Most of us are spending more time with our families now than ever before, and many teens are stepping up to help out. The Common App allows for you to include significant family contributions in which you meet an important need for your family and are engaged in this activity on a continuous basis. If you have been delivering groceries to your Grandma each week, overseeing your little brother’s virtual learning while your parents are at work, or even working yourself to help make ends meet, you can include these activities.
Think beyond titles when considering your leadership in organizations. Maybe your activity was cancelled before you had the chance to letter, to become an officer or to compete at state finals. Get creative when thinking about leadership. Did you organize an event? Lead group discussions? Delegate tasks to your peers? Even if your official position was “member”, highlight your leadership skills and the impact you made on the organization.
Finally, don’t panic! The current conditions do not allow for a typical high school experience for anyone, and you are not in this alone. On the other end of each application you submit is an admissions team who understands the limitations of COVID restrictions and is doing their best to gain an understanding of who you are and if you and the institution they represent are a good match. They will not punish you for not having access to traditional activities, but instead will look for what you did despite these challenges. Just take a look at what over 300 college admissions deans outlined in a statement this summer to the Class of 2021. Rest assured that your Activities List, along with the rest of your application, will be reviewed in the context of these unprecedented times.