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How to Write a Great “Describe an Activity” Essay | Guide and Examples

School Supplements
Brad Schiller
Brad Schiller
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You’re going to enjoy writing this essay more than you might think. As college essay coaches, we’ve found students tend to like it. (Well. As much as you’re gonna “like” any of these.) 

Usually a short one, this supplemental essay is a chance to talk about something you already love and connect it to your dreamiest ideas of what you might be getting up to on the college’s campus in a few short months.

This post will take you through 5 easy steps for writing a killer “Describe an Activity” essay without wasting any time. 

(For tips on writing all college essays and supplements, check out our College Essay Help Center.)

Choose your second-best activity;Choosing your activity: 4 big things to look for;Write an essay that shows off what you might to do on campus;Writing Style: Clear and straightforward
Choose your second-best activity;Choosing your activity: 4 big things to look for;Write an essay that shows off what you might to do on campus;Writing Style: Clear and straightforward

    Choose your second-best activity 

    No, that’s a joke. Of course, choose your “best” activity. Except if you already used your “best” activity in your personal statement (which many people do - writing about activities in your essays is a great idea). In that case, let’s go with the second best. 

    The important thing here is to spend 15-30 minutes brainstorming all of your activities. Put down on paper the obvious ones; the ones you dropped; the unusual ones that aren’t really “Debate Club” stuff — maybe you make your own umbrellas; maybe you’ve read every Jane Austin biography known to man. Think carefully and get everything down so you can see your candidates clearly. 

    Next, assess which extracurricular is “best” using the 4 criteria below:

    Choosing your activity: 4 big things to look for

    1. Steady commitment — Choose an activity you’ve spent real time on. You need to talk about something that’s meaningful to you. 

    “Commitment” implies that you’ve kept up with the activity until relatively recently. That is, through most of high school. For example, if you were all-in on Debate from middle school through the first half of freshman year, that’s not the steady commitment colleges are looking for. 

    2. The 5 traits — there’s never a time admissions officers aren’t interested in the 5 traits. Bonus: activities are great at showing off the 5 traits. For example: 

    • Drive — you’ve never missed a soccer practice, you convinced the team to add another practice when the team hit a rough patch, you added weights to your fitness routine when you learned it might help your performance.
    • Intellectual curiosity — if you write for your high school fiction magazine, talk about the authors you’ve discovered in extra reading you’ve done in your own time; talk about a seminar you sought out on the basics of fiction writing.
    • Initiative — there was no band before you came to your high school. Or there was a band, but it had old, broken instruments, and you held a fundraiser to pay for upgrades, and advocated for a budget change, too. 
    • Contribution — you started volunteering more and more hours at a local food pantry and got involved with neighborhood groups publicizing free food pantries during the pandemic. You’ve learned how deep food insecurity goes in your own community, and you’ve recruited friends to help and to see that for themselves.
    • Diversity of experiences — Your love of band comes from growing up in jazz-soaked New Orleans, where you learned jazz trumpet. Your volunteer work gives you a perspective into your community that many others lack. (Activities are a great place to show off what gives you a unique perspective.)

    3. Awards, leadership - Awards and leadership experience are pretty irrefutable proof that you developed the interest fully and well. They’re not necessary (unlike commitment and the 5 traits, which are necessary), but they’re nice. 

    4. Unique, interesting - Something memorable and unusual can be more tantalizing to a college admissions officer than all the awards in the world. Not always — you’d generally want to talk about an interest for which you were a leader and won rewards (ex: Debate Club) over an unusual one (ex: making your own umbrellas), but if you didn’t really shine in Debate, go for the umbrellas every time. There’s a lot to be said for writing about something genuine that the admissions officer has never read before. 

    Write an essay that shows off what you might do on campus

    Think of this supplement as something of a “preview.” Colleges are wondering if you’re likely to fully develop an interesting extracurricular with them, on their campus. (And also, maybe later, once you graduate.) That’s hard to predict, of course. But the best evidence you have of your future success is to show you’ve done it before — with a really cool high school activity. 

    Paint a picture for your admissions reader of you doing this exciting activity on their campus. Making their campus better and more interesting because of your work. Make them salivate over the prospect of seeing you doing your thing. 

    They’ll be itching to get you admitted. 

    To do this, you do want to research that campus and what opportunities it offers to further your activity. This might mean what clubs and funding it has available, but it also could mean showing how the activity would influence or benefit from certain academics. 

    Structure: Use 1 of our 3 outlines to write a strong essay

    If your essay is short (under 150 words), you only need to keep in mind two things:

    • Cram the essay as full of how this activity helped you exemplify 1 or more of the 5 traits as you can, and 
    • Write clearly. 

    You want this short piece of writing to unambiguously portray you as someone with tremendous potential. 

    For medium to long essays (150 words or more), almost any activity essay (and many others) can benefit from one of these structures. Actually, the best way to access them is via the supplemental materials section of our Dashboard — it walks you through exactly what to write (and you end the process with an essay that’s mostly done). 

    The gist of them is this: 

    1. Initiative and Impact — for activities where you solved a problem, overcame a challenge, or had a concrete impact. 

    • Hook (1-2 sentences). Briefly describe your achievement. Aim to make the reader think, “Impressive! How did they do that?” 
    • Raise the stakes (1 paragraph). Add context and detail about the challenge/problem. Hint: The lower the starting point, the more meaningful your achievement will seem.
    • Your actions (1 paragraph). List the actions you took. Think: How would things have been different if I hadn’t been there?
    • The impact (1 paragraph). The most important part!! Using concrete language — quantify where you can — describe what you achieved. 
    • Optional - At the college (1-2 sentences). The last “impact” paragraph is the place to add a word or two on how you might carry on or further develop your activity on the college’s campus. 

    2. Personal Growth — for activities where you changed as a person, improved your skills, or learned to see yourself or others differently.

    • Hook (1-2 sentences). Briefly describe the activity and how you grew from it. Aim to make the reader think, “What a cool way to be. How did they get that way?” 
    • Raise the stakes (1 paragraph). Add detail about Before You’s problems. Show clearly, but briefly, how Before You thought or acted, so the reader can see how much you've grown.
    • Your actions (1 paragraph). List the actions you took. Think: How would things have been different if I hadn’t been there?
    • What you learned (1 paragraph). The most important part!! Describe what the experience taught you, and what New You does differently (better).
    • Optional - At the college (1-2 sentences). The last “What you learned” paragraph is the place to add a word or two on how you might carry on or further develop your activity on the college’s campus.

    3. Passions — for essays in which you pursue a meaningful activity in a deeply engaged way. 

    • Hook (1-2 sentences). Briefly describe your activity and how you pursue it. Aim to make the reader think, “What a fascinating interest. How do they pursue it?” 
    • Raise the stakes (1-2 paragraphs). Add detail on the actions you take to pursue this interest. Hint: You should show how you've gone above and beyond to engage in this activity outside of your teacher's or parent's instruction.
    • How it makes you feel (1 paragraph). The most important part!! Show why the interest is meaningful to you by describing what it brings out in you, or how it’s changed you.
    • Optional - At the college (1-2 sentences). The last “How it makes you feel” paragraph is the place to add a word or two on how you might carry on or further develop your activity on the college’s campus.

    Writing Style: Clear and straightforward

    College essays are the wrong place for “beautiful” writing. That’s particularly true here, where your space is more limited than in the personal statement. 

    Put all your energy into showing off 1 or more of the 5 traits via the activity you chose. Then invest the time to get feedback. Obviously, using a college essay coach, who knows what colleges are looking for, is best. 

    You can also ask someone you trust to read it through only for clarity. Ask your mom (let’s say) to circle places where she gets confused or has questions. Tell her not to focus on content. 

    (She’s apt to think your fascinating and unique umbrella-building activity is less good than your lackluster Debate Club performance that you only did to make her happy. You have to be firm on that.)  

    More articles on Prompt.com’s admissions-boosting methods:

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