Admissions Essays Applying to College

Making Your Activity Essay Come Alive

Written by CB Experts

The activity essay may be the most difficult essay you write. Although it is no longer required as part of the Common App, it still may appear as a college specific essay. It is usually short, so you must choose your points and budget your words carefully; it must engage the reader quickly; and it must tell a part of your “story” succinctly. Here are a few pointers to give life and uniqueness to this essay.

1. Topic

There was probably an “aha” moment in your life that led to your interest in this activity. Look back into your childhood for a significant event that led you to pursue it. A wonderfully descriptive narrative of the event that appeals to the reader’s senses should comprise your opening paragraph. Perhaps you encountered a homeless person as a child, and it led you to volunteering at a food pantry or shelter; perhaps you had a frightening experience in the water that led you to swimming lessons and, ultimately, competitive swimming; maybe you saw a movie or a television show that sparked your interest in a political or social movement. Telling this story in a short but vivid paragraph will immediately capture your “audience.”

2. Summary

Your second paragraph should provide a brief summary of your experiences while engaging in this activity, with an eye toward how they have impacted your development as a person. Merely describing your participation will be meaningless and boring. Perhaps working at a shelter or volunteering at a hospital has broadened your understanding of the suffering of others and made you far more grateful for your own circumstances; athletic competition has most certainly impacted your ability to set goals and commit to their accomplishment; maybe your volunteer work has cemented your selection of a major field of study and career path.

3. Future

The third, and probably final paragraph should look to the future. What extensions of this activity will be available to you as a college student and as an adult? What avenues will you have to pursue similar activity even though it may be totally unrelated to your career? How can you pass on to others the enthusiasm you have had for this endeavor so that they, too, may benefit as you have? On most college campuses, for example, there are numerous avenues for voluntarism and/or community service projects, sponsored by a variety of student organizations. State your intention to pursue affiliation with such organizations and to encourage others to do the same.

You want to leave your reader not just impressed with your accomplishments; you want to leave the reader impressed with your insight, with your growth, and with your ability to reveal this piece of you in a unique and captivating way.

Keep It Brief

The most pronounced issue applicants have as they attack this essay, is brevity. In most instances, you will be limited to 250 words – not a lot! In order to adhere to this word-count restriction, the following suggestions might help:

1. Write your three paragraphs without concern for word count first. Chances are the piece will be at least double the amount allowed.

2. Walk away from the essay for a while.

3. Return and read through the essay, highlighting those elements that you know you must keep and those phrases and sentences that you know are really engaging. Do not sacrifice impact.

4. Can you shorten the description of your experiences in your second paragraph? Perhaps focus in on only one significant experience that greatly impacted you.

5. Read again, two sentences at a time. Can you combine sentences into a shorter single sentence without sacrificing flow?

6. Give a copy of the essay to someone else for review. Chances are an “outsider” can see the “meat” and the “fluff” that you cannot. Obviously, keep the “meat” and dump the “fluff” as much as possible.

Remember, decision makers on admissions committees are reading hundreds of such essays every week. The vast majority of them will be lack-luster and very much the same, that is, boring. Your job is to make the reader remember you, to remember that great story you told in your opening paragraph, be it sad, humorous, or shocking. Your conclusion needs to demonstrate that you have found this activity so rewarding that you plan pursuing it during college and beyond. It has become a permanent part of who you are as a person and who you want to continue to be as you grow and mature!


Bio: Eileen Archer is currently a resident blogger and a chief writer at After obtaining a Masters in English language she decided to dedicate her time to creative writing as well as providing assistance to students. She spends her free time reading, writing poetry and studying for a PhD in an art-related field.

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CB Experts

Content created by retired College Admissions consultants.