Greetings Students and Parents,

In nearly all my blogs, client newsletters and social media posts I emphasize the importance of diving in – as described in detail here::  COLLEGE PLANNING–FINDING YOUR PASSION! WHO ARE YOU?   As an educator and college counselor with over 30+ years of experience guiding young adults, my message is straightforward- it’s about the importance of young adults finding the joy in all that they do both within and outside the classroom.  Young adults who spend their time engaging in the activities that they love are not only successful during the college admissions and college application process, but are more purposeful students and community members once arriving on their high school and college campuses.  Happiness can never be overrated!

Confidence, engagement and motivation result when our young adults are encouraged and supported to explore and find their unique and joyful path.  So you may be asking me what on earth does this have to do with success during the COLLEGE APPLICATION process– …let’s discuss just that!
College Application Help

Bonnie Rabin, PhD College Admissions Assistance

Today, I’d like to talk about one important section of the Common Application– the portal you’ll be using more many of your college applications.  Your “activities” are an important part of the Common Application- The Activities Section and your Activities Resume.

Whether you’re a parent of a middle school student  just beginning to hear about what’s ahead– or perhaps you’re a high school senior (still) preparing your college applications (need last minute help– click here for some last minute tips)  and perhaps even getting ready for a college admissions or university alumni interview, let’s talk about your activities resume and presentation of your unique self.   Seniors- keep in mind—that this time next year, you’ll perhaps be interviewing for a summer 2021 internship during your college’s fall career fair and potential employers also want to know who you are- because you’ll be working and solving problems within teams.

In COLLEGE ADMISSIONS- COMMON APP 2019-20 ESSAY PROMPTS & NEW INFORMATION I introduced readers to some of the most important sections of the Common Application and talked about the role of students’ activities in writing the two types of essays: Common Core and College Specific Supplements   


The activities section of the Common Application is another crucial element of your college application and it’s what students and parents should be thinking about as early as middle school – DISCOVERY !!

While there’s room for each student to add and report up to ten activities– being strategic and be clear – is more important than adding items for the sake of filling the space.

As a former admissions officer and current Cornell Alumni representative interviewing prospective students, I can assure you that college applicants aren’t evaluated by the number of activities.  College admissions officers want to know about the quality of your time beyond the classroom and the distractions if any that may have limited your participation in activities.  (There is a space within your college application to explain and many students have valid and relevant stories to share—please ask me!!)

Your activities are opportunities to discover and engage in three distinct ways:

Discover and deepen an academic area of interest- presumably your intended major.  In particular, not only will you be noting activities this abbreviated section of the Common Application, but you’ll also be writing responses to essay prompts that ask you how you’ve decided to pursue a particular major.
Interested in STEM? Some expected extracurricular activities include FIRST Robotics, HOSA, Volunteering at hospitals, science fairs, or math team.
Interested in Business/Economics? Students may have been inspired by DECA, FBLA, an internship and even working/shadowing at parents’ office in an informal way.  Students can also volunteer to work with younger students in all these areas.

If you need ideas on how to become engaged and involved to learn more about an area of interest beyond the clubs offered at your high school- let’s talk!

kids doing chemistry

“Passion”  – You’ll notice that many college essay prompts asks about a “typical” day or an activity that brings joy.  At least one or more of your listed activities should represent one way you spent your time that is for YOU!  Do you bake cakes, blog, write poems, teach Sunday school or dare I say it- play video games.  While parents often scoff when I suggest attending an amateur video tournament- the reality- it’s one way to validate what is otherwise viewed as a less favorably use of a teen’s time.  Everyone should have something they truly enjoy and look forward to doing during free time.  This passion can also be the motivation to develop better time management skills – “I need to finish my homework by 8 p.m. so I can have the evening to <Fill in the blank>?”

CORNELL UNIVERSITY ESSAY:  What is your “thing”? What energizes you or engages you so deeply that you lose track of time? Everyone has different passions, obsessions, quirks, inspirations. What are yours? (Please limit your response to 650 words.)

High School Students in Marching Band

College Applications and Extracurricular Activities – Boca Raton, FL College Consultant Bonnie Rabin

Community Service-  It’s truly important for our teens to recognize that they assume a role in their local and globally communities. How we engage and connect to others is a reflection of your family’s core values.  Not only are community service hours an important part of your application- but they allow students to put their soul behind a cause that is important to them- whether’s it’s assisting those in need, fighting for social justice, raising awareness on issues of human trafficking or global warming- goals don’t have to be lofty -but being a part of a community will undoubtedly exercise your compassion muscles and teach you to be a better listener and work within a group.
That aside, many college essays ask for replies to essay prompts addressing questions such as “what community are you a part of” or “share a time you’ve collaborated with others”.

Students should include those activities that capture your intended area of academic interest, activities that bring you joy and those that have shown how you engage with others in community endeavors that are a reflection of issues that matter most to you and the values of importance.  With only 150 characters (not words!—characters)—even the most masterful tweeter may be unclear on how to share yours strength in a noticeable manner. Above all, show how you have made an impact.

Within the Common App, the fifth section you’ll complete after reporting demographic information, coursework, and testing is the Activities section.

Within the-drop down window- there are an assortment of categories including:

Academic,  Art, Athletics (Club, Varsity), Career, Community Service, Cultural, Dance, Debate, Environmental, Family Responsibilities, Foreign Exchange, Foreign Language, Internship, Journalism, Junior ROTC, LGBT, Music, Religious, Research, Robotics, School Spirit, Science/Math, Social Justice, Student Govt, Theater, Work, Other

Are you working on your core essay or already gathering inputs for college-specific college essay prompts?  Unsure where you’ll apply?  Have a pre-paid state tuition plan and unsure about financial aid or scholarship availability at private universities?  Schedule your comprehensive Educational & College Admissions Planning Assessment with college advisor- Bonnie Rabin, PhD.

Please don’t wait until the end of your junior year to realize you have a 4.0 and a 1500 SAT but you have only the National Honors Society and 50 hours of assorted unspecific community service hours to note as the “activities” of your Common Application.   Take the time throughout high school to engage in the activities that bring you joy and allow you to share something about yourself your unique self!

I’m positive I can help you think of many ways to engage beyond the clubs at your high school – LET’S CHAT!


Bonnie R. Rabin, PhD
Professor Emeritus
Cornell University Florida Alumni Rep.
Educational & College Admissions Consultant
30+ Years Experience
College Admissions &
Academic Advising
Serving Clients In-Person in South Florida, Metro NYC, Denver and /Boulder, Colorado & Remotely Nationwide
561.509.0021  or 833.MY.ESSAY