One of the biggest frustrations students have with the Common Application is the limited space provided for students to expand on extracurricular activities, one of the most important subjective factors in a college application. We here at Admissions Hero sympathize with those constraints, which is why we suggest you also send in a professionally formatted resume separate from your application, or put a resume in the Additional Information section under the Writing tab of the new Common App.

Problems with the Activities tab

Now in the activities section of the Common App, there is space for you to describe 10 activities. You have enough space to give adequate information about the time commitment you put into your activity, but you only have 50 characters to describe positions and/or leadership roles. This brings up a couple of challenges. Firstly, one of the things colleges really like to see is progression within a club. For example, it is impressive to show that you made the JV Trivia Bowl team your freshman year, became a JV captain sophomore year, moved up to varsity your junior year, and became a varsity captain senior year. But with the Common App, you can only show one of these, or at best “JV Captain, Varsity Captain, JV/Varsity Player,” which does not fully convey the meaning of that experience. Speaking from personal experience last year, my official title at Bangalore Aviation was Editor – Analysis and Features. But because the Common App does not let you name the activity, instead forcing you to use pre-determined categories, I had to figure out some way to slip Bangalore Aviation into those 50 characters, which caused some problems from a spacing perspective (I eventually settled on Editor – Analysis/Features Bangalore Aviation). But on my resume, I was able to spread it out to the full title, and show the earlier positions I had held before rising to become an editor.

Which brings us to the second major problem with the Common App, context. The Common App form just does not lend itself to a student with unorthodox extracurricular activities. For example, it’s easy enough to understand what being an editor of say the school newspaper means, but harder to understand what being an editor at Bangalore Aviation means without knowing that Bangalore Aviation is in fact Asia’s largest aviation website that gets more than 1.2 million page views a year. The context makes the position sound a lot more impressive than it would be otherwise, and this is true for almost any extracurricular activity you have that isn’t part of the common lexicon. I also wrote an aviation book and got it published – how do I fit that in to one of the activities on the Common App?

Furthermore, the Common App only gives you 150 characters to write about the “details, honors, and accomplishments for an activity.” Just describing what Bangalore Aviation is alone, for example, would take up nearly all of those 150 characters, without leaving any space for me to list any awards that I on, my accomplishments, or what I do.

Utilizing the Resume

This is where a resume comes in. With a resume, you can give a brief title of the organization, whatever it may be. You have space to describe all of the positions you’ve held, as well as their progression. You can provide context to make sure that the activity and your role gets the respect it deserves. You have ample space to describe your accomplishments, responsibilities, and awards, as well as your day-to-day role. The resume is also really useful for providing the context that can make a job stand out. Traditionally, colleges do not allocate employment the same positive weight as extracurriculars, but with a resume, you can turn that job into an opportunity to highlight your unique skills and (potentially) leadership abilities. We advise most of our clients to send in a professionally-formatted resume to a college. The one caveat is that if most of your activities are relatively easy to understand through the Common App, sending in a resume can actually hurt you by unnecessarily annoying admissions committees with extraneous material.

Now to send the resume, there are a couple of options. First, you can always mail a paper resume to a college either standalone, or through a supplemental materials pathway. Doing so shows your commitment to and helps demonstrate interest in the college. Second, you can use the additional information space under the writing tab to put in a resume. While there is less scope for formatting, you have unlimited characters and this guarantees that colleges will not ignore your resume.

Zack Perkins

Zack Perkins

Zack was an economics major at Harvard before going on indefinite leave to pursue CollegeVine full-time as a founder. In his spare time, he enjoys closely following politics and binge-watching horror movies. To see Zack's full bio, visit the Team page.
Zack Perkins