Common application

Extracurricular Activities: A three-step guide to thinking and writing about everything you’ve done outside the classroom

Published on Oct 22, 2018

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Almost without exception, no matter what colleges you are applying to, you will need to write at least a few essays (usually supplements) about your extracurricular activities. These essays can come in all different shapes and sizes, from 100-word briefs about your favorite activity to 500-word explanations of how those activities helped you grow as a person and everything in between. During my own application process to Harvard University, I had to write no less than 5 supplemental essays about my extracurriculars. However, despite the differences in formatting, most of these essays end up fairly similarly in terms of the content and themes that you will want to include. What follows here are my tips on writing extracurricular activity supplements.

1: It doesn’t matter how academically “impressive” your activity sounds – how you describe it is what counts

This may seem like a somewhat counterintuitive piece of advice, but you want to prioritize the activities that will best represent you as a person rather than those that you think make you sound the most studious. Colleges already know everything that they care to know about you academically through your transcript and test scores. The idea behind asking you about your extracurricular activities is to find out more about your personality and your non-academic interests. When trying to choose which extracurricular you want to write about, think about which ones you care the most about rather than those that sound the most impressive on paper.

2: No matter how the question is phrased, your essay should be more about you than the activity itself.

As with most other parts of your college application, you have fairly limited space to work with for these essays, so you need to make it count. As one of your teachers has probably mentioned to you at one point or another, the best writing focuses less on content and more on theme. Unless the activity that you plan to write about is incredibly uncommon and fairly complicated, try to spend as little time as possible explaining the nuts and bolts of it. In my personal opinion, two sentences should be the absolute maximum, and if it’s a fairly well-known activity (i.e. playing tennis), consider not giving any description whatsoever. The bulk of your essay should be explaining what the activity means to you, how it has helped you mature, or what it has taught you. The best way to express those things in a meaningful way without coming off as blunt or trite is…

3: Include Anecdotes!

This is advice not just for writing about your extracurricular activities, but also for the rest of your supplementary essays. The teacher in high school who taught me the most about writing once said to me that if you can effectively “show” the reader your points instead of just telling them directly, it will greatly improve your writing. The best way to accomplish that is through anecdotes. For instance, short stories or snippets from your life that lead your reader indirectly to the conclusion you want. This is especially key when writing about something like an extracurricular activity, where most of your lasting impressions come from the sum total of your experiences doing the activity.

The admissions officer reading your supplement has not had any of those experiences, so in order to properly convey what you’re trying to say, you need to give them a moment they can latch onto – something that will let them into your mind a bit. This could be the first time you beat your rival in a sport or the time that you spilled water on a painting that you had been working on for months, but it has to be something that has meaning to you. For this reason, don’t worry that much about the word limit when you draft your supplement – getting the story across in a way that you feel brings out the actual depth and meaning of your moment is the most important part. Once you have a version that you like, you can edit it down to however many words it needs to be. This also means that, as with everything else you write during your college process…

4: Leave time to edit your essay.

It is boring, but you will definitely be glad you’ve done it once you read the final draft.    

Good luck!

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