How to Write the Harvard Extracurricular Activities Essay
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Elias Miller in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
Purpose of the Prompt
Harvard’s second supplemental essay prompt reads, “Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.”
This prompt enables you to focus deeply on one of your extracurriculars to showcase your involvement. With a 150-word limit, your response will be brief, but it should say something profound about you. Choose an activity that is important to you, but avoid discussing something that you’ve already talked about in detail elsewhere in your application. Try to weave in a personal anecdote, but avoid using gimmicks or unnecessary fluff in your response.
Let’s look at an example answer to this prompt.
As I crashed into the final chord, I broke into a satisfied grin. I had just played the epic third movement of the “Moonlight Sonata,” a longtime dream of mine. Only four months ago, I had considered this feat impossible. The movement is long and its tempo impossibly fast. It features the most fragile and intricate melodies I had ever encountered. With the end of the school year last June, I was free to determine my own musical path: either finally learn the piece or let it defeat me for the third consecutive summer. During the following months, I spent countless hours practicing until the notes burned a permanent place in my memory, creating a soundtrack for my dreams. Despite my success, I know I haven’t mastered the piece. I am now eager to take the next step and add in layers of nuance to make my performances even more expressive.
This response is incredibly well done. It’s well-written, not overly flowery, and free of grammatical errors, and it gets the point across. The writer leads us in with a bit of a hook, beginning their response in media res, in the heat of the action. We accompany the writer as they finish their performance of this difficult piece, then we go on a journey with the writer as they talk about their grit, determination, and perseverance to overcome struggles and learn this score.
Showing vs. Telling
Another positive aspect of this response is that the writer doesn’t declare that they’re now a piano genius. Instead, the applicant’s takeaway from this experience is that they have so much more to learn. Playing all the notes of a piece is just the first step in a long journey toward musical maturity and eventual mastery.
The writer doesn’t say, “I’m very determined,” or “I’m very mature,” or “I care a lot about piano.” They don’t have to because they’ve shown these things through writing about this experience. From their journey of learning this piece, we can glean for ourselves how committed, determined, and mature the applicant is. Showing rather than telling is critical in college essay writing.