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As students gearing up for the US college admissions cycle, you should be familiar with the term ‘holistic admissions.’ Holistic admissions mean that not only your academics, but other factors such as profile, essays, and standardized tests are crucial in your application.

American colleges want to see people who have amazing track records in their personal, non-academic profiles. Profile becomes even more important when applying to top universities, such as Ivy League schools or Stanford, because most students applying to such schools already have the best grades.

But many ask our college consultants: how do I show my profile to universities? 

Whether you are doing the Common Application, MIT or University of California applications, this oft-overlooked section can be deceptively important. Here, students can list out their activities – from volunteering to extracurriculars, internships and research – and highlight achievements they have gained in those activities.

So how does one go about filling in the activities section to maximise admission chances?

Tip 1: Show diversity in your profile!

Most activity lists will limit you to 10 or so entries. If you have more than 10 activities to show, you need to be clever about which ones you choose. Perhaps you’ve already filled in 2-3 sports options? Then maybe using the other slots for art, volunteering and science could be better than filling out even more sports slots, even if sports are your lifeblood.

Remember that colleges love seeing students who have a diverse profile and that have more than one talent. Do not put all your eggs in one basket!

Tip 2: Show depth and achievement!

Virtually all applications ask you to briefly explain each item in your activity list. It can also ask how many hours you spent on it and when, and whether you held a leadership role.

Be smart about these write ups! Colleges hate it when people do “activity shopping” – that is, when they sign up for extra-curriculars but remain passive in those activities. Prioritize the activities where you have achievements: certifications, leadership, event organization, accolades and so on.

Even if an activity seems very cool to you, it may be better to list something that appears less “exciting” if you have had a greater impact in that activity.

Tip 3: Be strategic – think about what’s in your essays

Remember that you have to write a LOT of college essays, many of which overlap with the activities list.

In fact, across all the Common App essays and supplemental write ups, you are bound to talk about one activity at least – perhaps multiple times. If there is a limit to how many activities you can include in the list, you may choose to include the ones that are not featured in your essays. That way, you can use the activities list to highlight things that are not emphasized elsewhere in the application.

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Tip 4: Attention to detail is your friend!

Whether it is an essay, activity description, CV or even an email, you want to pay attention not only to what you are describing, but how you word your description.

Each component of your application will be used to evaluate you. Making mistakes – even silly ones – in your activities list can be just as distracting and detrimental as making them in your main college essays. Before you submit, make sure you have your counsellor, parent or friend proofread it.

The activities should square up nicely with other parts of your profile. When describing them, ensure that what you put in your essays does not contradict those descriptions (e.g. mentioning a different leadership role or mixing up the number of years of your involvement). This can give the impression that you are not being fully honest.

In college admissions, there is a good rule: when in doubt, do not embellish too much. Honesty will get you farther than you think!

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