Extracurricular descriptions for dummies

November 2, 2006 at 4:45 pm 2 comments

Posted by Dee

In sort of a Big Brother-esque fashion, here at AdmitSpit, we can indeed see what people are searching for through Yahoo! or Google or other search engines to get to our Web site!

A day or two ago, someone searched for “describing extracurriculars.” I was immediately reminded of my own frustration during the application filing period with trying to “describe” my activities with a limited amount of words or characters. Just as techniques can be applied for dealing with word or character limits (see the post titled, “Techniques for dealing with character limits“), I’ll outline below guidelines for describing your extracurricular activities in your application when you are given very limited space.

As an applicant, you want to highlight the best about yourself, right? This guiding philosophy should permeate every aspect of your application; just because you have a small amount of space for describing your extracurriculars doesn’t mean your descriptions should be sub-par.

Step 1: List out all the extracurricular activities you’ve participated in throughout high school. And when I say “all,” I mean ALL, no matter how petty — at this point we brainstorm all the extracurricular possibilities you can include; later, we eliminate.

Step 2: List out alongside each activity how much time you committed to it, any leadership positions you had, or any other information you deem necessary — maybe the club or team or publication you were involved with won an award? This sort of information should be included at this step.

Step 3: Now that you have all possibilities written down, count up the items on your list. Are there more than the number that fit on the application? If there are just enough or under the maximum amount, skip to Step 5. By the way, some applications allow you to add more lines, so be on the lookout for that. Remember, that it’s not necessary to fill up all the space; use as many lines as you need to present yourself in the best light, and no more! Too much can be overkill.

Step 4: If you have too many extracurriculars than the amount that fit, begin elimination. As a general rule, activities you participated in longer or devoted more time to are more important to an AdComm than activities you weren’t as committed to. Also, as a general guideline, AdComm’s care more about activities that are more recent. So, if you’re choosing between an activity you did only for freshman and sophomore year versus an activity you did during sophomore and junior year, probably go for the latter. Unless, of course, you have a leadership position — leadership in an activity always gets preference. BUT, remember that these are guidelines and that you’re going to need to use your best judgement of what will present you as a great candidate. You need to weigh all these variables — time, leadership, currency, etc. — to select the combination of extracurriculars that best present, and represent, you.

Step 5: Now, that you have your list, rank it. What I mean by this is that you need to have the order in which you are going to put these extracurricular activities. Obviously, the list should begin with the most important or impressive activities and end with the lesser ones. If you think all your activities are equally important, then just rank starting with the most recent until the most dated; this is conventional resume format.

Step 6: Depending on where you are applying, the school may ask you to tell them how many hours you devote to each activity. Fill this out now. (This is a damn annoying part of the application to deal with, I know! We’ll do a blog post in a day or two just about this, so stay tuned.) Also, they may ask you to check boxes saying if you had a leadership position or if the activity falls under a particular category, like sports or arts. Fill this out now too.

Step 7: Now, begin a “rough draft” of a description for each extracurricular.

As a guideline, don’t duplicate information! If it asks you to check a box saying you had a leadership position, don’t say in the description “I had a leadership position as Vice-President of the club.” I know it seems obvious not to repeat information, but you’d be surprised how many students feel the need to reiterate this info unnecessarily when they could’ve just written “As Vice-President, I…” Also, determine if the activity is a nationally-known entity. For example, FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) is an activity most, if not all, AdComm’s know about, so it’s not necessary to say that it’s a “national business non-profit organization for high school students.” This will save you words and characters. But, that said, don’t use lingo that is club-specific. For example, all four years of high school I was involved with a trivia competition that occurred over one weekend each year, but because the “Friends of Millard Fillmore Trivia Competition” is a very specific regional competition, it requires more explanation. Furthermore, do make sure to convey unique aspects of the activity or unique contributions you made to it.

I recommend you write these rough draft descriptions in a Word Processor for now! If you attempt to write the probably-too-long rough draft descriptions in an online application, it will stop you at the end of the text field and not allow you just to get all your ideas out.

Step 8: Edit! This is the hard part. There’s a lot of trial and error involved in terms of rewriting. I’m going to put in my best effort to get in contact with an admissions officer from a top school by the end of the weekend in order to write a post for AdmitSpit readers about abbreviations that admissions officers are usually okay with. Mess around with the order of words. As suggested in the post titled, “Techniques for dealing with character limits,” play around with different verb tenses and endings and grammer to see if it helps the description fit. More on this topic of extracurriculars on the application tomorrow!


Entry filed under: AdmitSpit, Application, Art, Award, Big Brother, Brainstorm, Business, Character limit, College trends, Common application, Community service, Competition, Description, Edit, Elimination, Extracurricular activities, FBLA, Flexibility, Freshman, Future Business Leaders of America, Google, Guideline, High school, Junior, Leadership, Millard Fillmore, Online application, Organization, Philosophy, Publication, Punctuation, Ranking, Resumes, School clubs, Search engine, Sophomore, Sports, Team, Technique, Timing, Tips/Tricks, Trivia, Verb, Website, Word limit, Word processor, Writing, Yahoo!.

How “x” does academics: x = Harvard Ooh, Dee lied… don’t assume they know

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. CollegeWannabe  |  November 14, 2006 at 6:25 am

    that’s pretty funny, i myself searched for almost exactly the same things today to get to this site

  • 2. SS  |  February 20, 2007 at 4:22 am

    I’ve moved schools twice in high school, so I’ve never been able to be involved in a club for more than a year. THat makes leadership positions somewhat hard to come by. Do you think colleges will understand this?


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