How to Write a Strong Common Application Activities Statement

Posted by: Website Administrator on 10/31/2012

“Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences in the space below.”

There’s a lot of talk about the Personal Statement for your college applications, but you don’t seem to hear as much about the Activities Statement.  After all, it’s only 1000 characters; how much of an impact can it really have?

The truth is that every piece of your application has the potential to make a difference, including the Activities Statement.  In order to make sure that yours stands out in a good way, take note of our suggestions.

Proofread!   It might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how often students think the Activities Statement matters less because it’s shorter.  They will spend hours proofreading their Personal Statement, and then just a few minutes on the Activities Statement.  Typos, grammatical mistakes, and spelling errors that appear anywhere in your application will stand out.  In addition, if the writing in your Activities Statement is noticeably weaker than in the Personal Statement (because you spent much more time on the Personal Statement), colleges will notice, and possibly wonder if the same person wrote both pieces.

Be specific.  1000 characters isn’t a lot of space.  In order to have the most impact with limited room, your best option is to focus on a specific idea.  For instance, if you’re editor of the yearbook, don’t try to convey the entire experience, but choose one aspect to elaborate on.  If you focus on a narrow topic, it will be easier for you to make a coherent, interesting point about it.

Show, don’t tell.  You’ve heard it before, and it applies just as well to the Activities Statement as it does to other writing.  If you can demonstrate a point with an anecdote or an example, it will almost always be more engaging than just telling it.  Instead of just saying that being editor of the yearbook is a challenge, you need to say what specifically makes it challenging.

Have some fun with it.  This should be about something that you enjoy doing.  Think about the activity that makes you happiest, and then write about the aspect of that activity that you like the best.  If you’re happy thinking about your topic, your positive attitude will come through in your writing. 

Focus on something different than your Personal Statement.  If your Personal Statement is about the challenges and rewards of being on the lacrosse team, then you should write about something completely different in the Activities Statement.  If all of your writing is about the same activity or topic, your application might come across a bit one-dimensional.  

The Activities Statement is short, so it should be a bit easier to write than the Personal Statement.  However, just because it’s short, doesn’t mean it isn’t important.  You want every piece of writing in your application to be a strong and positive representation of your personality and skills.  With that in mind, put some focused time into writing your Activities Statement, consider our guidelines, and ask someone you trust to read it over before submitting it.     

October Advice for Juniors

Posted by: Website Administrator on 10/23/2012

Juniors --  before this year gets too crazy, take some time to reflect on the year ahead, and what you can do now to prepare for the college application process.  Our October checklist for juniors will help you stay focused, and keep you on track to have a successful college application process.

Find out your Social Security Number.  Your parents should have this on file and you’ll be using it a lot come test registration and college application time.

Attend a local college fair.  Your school may sponsor a college fair, or go to to find a local fair sponsored by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).  Or you can check out our earlier blog post about finding a college fair near you.  Remember, in junior year college fairs are to give you a sense of what’s out there.  You should try to remain open-minded and flexible.

Don’t feel pressured to start thinking about specific colleges.  If there are specific colleges that appeal to you, or if you feel ready to start looking, go for it. But you don’t need to know the specific colleges that will be on your list, and you don’t need to have any favorites just yet.  Really take the time to get to know yourself and the schools you’re considering.  Over the next few months, a list will ideally be developing, and any visits you take in the spring or even in the winter will help clarify things that may seem confusing at first. 

Begin preparing for the SAT and ACT.  You may have recently taken the PSAT at your high school.  Or perhaps you’ve taken the PLAN test.  These are both excellent practice, but it’s time to start thinking about test prep for the SAT and ACT.  Many students take the SAT or ACT for the first time in the winter or spring of junior year.  Both the College Board and the ACT have test prep materials on their websites, including full-length practice tests.  Many students benefit from tutoring, either individual or group-based.  Whatever you decide to do, be sure to pick a tutoring option that suits your learning style and your personality.  Get a sense if a tutor’s approach is more conceptual or more strategy-oriented, and think about how you tend to think and what makes the most sense to you.    

Look into SAT Subject Tests.  When you’re applying to college next year, you may need to submit SAT Subject Test scores.  Subject Tests are designed to test your knowledge of particular subject areas; AP classes (and a limited number of honors courses) are the best preparation.  Take a look at the subject Test offerings and see if any of your courses this year match up.  If you’re in an AP class in a subject area that also is offered as a Subject Test, plan to take the Subject Test in May, to coincide with the studying you’ll be doing for your AP exam.  To know if Subject Tests are something you need to keep in mind, look at the standardized testing requirements for schools of interest to you.

Focus on your school work and activities!  At this stage, you should be focusing on keeping your grades up and pursuing your interests outside of school.  College applications may seem like they’re just around the corner, but what you do this year is the foundation of your applications next year.  So it’s important to stay grounded, and to be engaged in the present!  This is the year to really show that you can keep your grades strong, and that you can be an involved member of your school community.  

Categories: College Counseling

October Advice for Seniors

Posted by: Website Administrator on 10/12/2012

Senior year is moving fast!  Make sure you’re on track with the college application process by reviewing our October advice for seniors.

Request any outstanding recommendations.  If you’ve been on the fence about which teachers will recommend you, make a point of figuring it out soon!  Remember, you want to have 2 teachers from core academic subject areas (math, science, humanities, social science, foreign language) who can write you a positive and interesting recommendation.  If you’re having trouble deciding who to ask, talk to your college counselor about it, and s/he can help you.

Register for any remaining SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Tests (if needed).  At this point, you may be done with all of your standardized testing.  If so – great!  However, if you need to put some finishing touches on your testing, there’s still time to get in those final exams.  You can still register for the November and December SAT and SAT Subject Tests, and the December ACT.

Familiarize yourself with any early application deadlines.  Does your top choice school have an Early Action or Early Decision deadline?  Are you applying to any schools with Rolling Admission or any state schools with early deadlines?  Be sure to review the deadlines for all of the colleges on your list, particularly your top choices.  You don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to apply early because you weren’t thorough in your research.

Keep working on your personal statement and supplemental essays.  If you haven’t already finished your personal statement, make that a priority.  If you have finished your main application essay, it’s time to turn your attention to the supplemental essays and to make sure you move through those essays both thoughtfully and efficiently.  Map out how many you’ll need to write and try to set target dates for each essay’s completion – that way, you’re not racing against the clock at the last minute.

Keep working on your Common Application and other application forms.  The actual application forms themselves can be the least exciting part of the college application process.  However, the information on your application form is considered just as carefully as your essays, so it’s important to be thorough and accurate.  You don’t want to leave this to the last minute!

October is a busy time of year, with college application deadlines getting closer and schoolwork to juggle, as well.  The good news is that with a little foresight and planning, the next few months don’t have to be super stressful.

Categories: College Counseling

The Overflowing Mailbox

Posted by: Website Administrator on 10/10/2012

Some colleges are sending mail to prospective applicants as early as freshman and sophomore year of high school.  So…what to do when your inbox and mailbox start to overflow?    

You may be flattered that colleges are targeting you by sending posters, view books, e-mails, and letters.  But it’s important to remember that these seemingly personalized and sometimes even aggressive communications are marketing tools.  Receiving a letter that commends you on your superior academic performance, mentions your academic interests, and says that X College is "looking for students just like you!" sounds nice and convincing -- but it really is just a form letter.   

This is especially important if you’re a freshman or sophomore in high school.  It’s on the early side to start thinking about which colleges you’ll apply to, and college mail is in no way a reflection of how qualified you may be for particular schools.  If you’re getting letters from colleges you’ve never heard of, or from big name schools, you shouldn’t take it personally either way.

College mail can be useful, and sometimes even fun, when it’s a poster or a particularly funny letter, for instance.  However, college mail isn’t a predictor of where you are destined to go to college, nor is it an indicator of how likely you are to be admitted.  Colleges are just doing everything they can to get as many prospective applicants as possible to consider their school.

So look at these letters, e-mails, and brochures and review them objectively to see if the school may be a good fit for you (academically and socially). If you’re genuinely drawn to the school, feel free to respond or reach out to demonstrate your interest. But don't let the fact that you've received a letter sway whether or not you think a school should be added to your list.   On the other hand, if a school you like hasn’t sent you anything, don’t worry!  Just sign up for their mailing list to ensure that you receive communications from their office.

Categories: College Counseling

Making the Most of College Visits

Posted by: Website Administrator on 10/4/2012

You may be visiting a few colleges in the coming weeks and months. The college visit is an important way to decide how you feel about the schools you’re applying to, and to pick up information that will help make your applications stronger.

Follow our tips for more productive college visits.

1) Plan in advance. When scheduling your college visits, check out each college admissions website a couple of weeks in advance to find out what visit options they offer, and how to sign up for them. You might find out that you can have an interview, sit in on a class, or spend the night in a dormitory. Options vary, but you’ll never know if you don’t look on their website or give them a call. Besides, you want to be sure that there’ll be a tour and information session on the day you go. And if you’re planning to drive, make sure to look up about parking on campus!

2) Know where you’re going. Few things are more frustrating than getting lost. Make sure that you not only have printed directions to the college (your GPS won’t work everywhere), but that you also know exactly where to find the Admissions Office on campus. A little research can go a long way toward making your visit stress-free.

3) Be comfortable. On a college visit, you could end up doing a lot of walking. Wear comfortable clothes, and shoes that you won’t mind walking in for an hour or more. It’s also a good idea to check the weather report and be prepared for rain, cold, snow, or extreme heat. If your feet hurt after the tour, or your clothes are soaked from the rain, you’ll be less likely to enjoy your visit, which will affect how you feel about the school.

3) Go beyond the prescribed options. Most colleges will offer a college tour and information session. It’s important to take some time to wander around the campus on your own. Grab lunch in the dining hall or hang out in the student center. See if you can explore the library or athletic center (if those are of interest to you). Most important, don’t be afraid to ask random students how they feel about their school. They may provide a different perspective than your official tour guide.

4) Take notes (and pictures)! If you’re going on a whirlwind tour of 5 colleges in one week, you may have trouble remembering all of the details. Take notes at each college of things that stand out, and that you want to remember. Take a few pictures, as well. Visual aids can go a long way toward triggering your memory and helping you reflect on your visits.

Visiting colleges is an important part of the application process. Your perceptions will have a lot of impact on your applications, and your decisions to apply to certain colleges. Following our advice will not only help you collect the best information, but also get you through your visits with as little stress and hassle as possible.

Categories: College Counseling
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