While the activities section of the Common Application allows you to list up to ten activities, the awards section is much simpler. Here, you can list up to five honors and you will not be asked to describe them. Instead, the Common Application asks only for these factors:
- Title of award
- Grade level in which you received the award
- Level of recognition (school, state, national, or international).
When preparing to fill out this section, first consider which of your accomplishments will fit into the category of academic honors. Then prioritize your list, beginning with the most impressive and ending with the least selective awards. If your high school does not give out academic awards, you can note this in the honors section. If you are using a college-specific application you may also be able to include a brief description of your honors. If so, follow the steps below, and then read the “Describing your Awards” section.
Take a break every now and then to make sure you keep you mind fresh while writing. Play a game of solitaire or eat a healthy snack to help keep you the right frame of mind.
Step One: Making your list
The Common Application specifies that the awards you list should be “related to your academic achievements.” This means that if you received non-academic awards, they should be included in your activities section instead. For example, if you were named MVP of the soccer team, put that achievement under the description in the activities section. Here are more examples:
- National Merit Award, or National Merit Commended Scholar
- President’s Award
- National Honor Society or subject-based honor society.
- Note: Honor societies could be considered honors or If you held a leadership position and have room in your activities section, place it there. If you don’t have space in the activities section, it is also acceptable to include it with your honors.
- Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards
- Science Olympiad
- Winner of regional or national science fair or academic competition
- Recognition from national language exams (i.e. National German Exam)
- AP scholar
- Any subject-based award given by your school (i.e. Latin Award, Chemistry Award, etc.)
- Honor Roll
- Note: Honor Roll is a common award. If you’ve won any national or international awards, prioritize these first.
- Any award related to one of your extracurricular activities
- Athletic achievements (i.e. Varsity, MVP, championships etc.)
- Community awards (i.e. Eagle Scouts, Girl Scouts)
- Recognition for volunteering efforts
Many high schools offer limited academic awards, so do not worry if you have fewer than five awards to list. However, if you do have a range of honors, you should rank them from the most impressive to the least impressive. What does this mean? Read below to find out.
Step Two: Ranking your Awards
As you list your awards, consider the level of recognition of the award, as well as its selectivity.
Level of recognition
If you have any regional, national or international awards, list these accomplishments before honors granted on a local or school level. For example, a second place prize in a state science fair is more impressive than winning first place at your school science fair (though both could be included!). These accomplishments will show college admissions boards that you have distinguished yourself outside of school. Then, list any awards granted by your school.
Consider the selectivity of each award. For example, if you were one of thirty students to make Honor Roll, but the only student in your school named a National Merit Finalist, prioritize your National Merit award. Also, if your transcript already shows that you had consistently high grades, you might not even need to mention that you were on the honor roll. Instead, you could use that slot for a different award.
Step Three: Describing your Awards
If you are using a college-specific application, you may be allowed a brief space (typically under 150 characters) to describe your honors. If so, follow these tips:
- Be precise: Because you have a limited space, each word has to count. Focus on the selectivity of the award, and avoid unnecessary descriptions.
- Example: “Selected as one of ten recipients out of 1,000 applications.”
- Example: “Awarded first place in national competition with over 10,000 participants.”
- Choose impressive verbs: Focus on language that emphasizes selectivity and prestige.
- Examples: “Achieved recognition for...”, “Awarded...”; “Selected for/as...”, and “Recognized as...”
Do’s and Don’ts of Listing Awards
- List only academic awards and honors in this section
- Prioritize the most selective awards
- Prioritize any awards granted at the state, national, or international level
- Remember that if you have more than five awards, you could include your remaining accomplishments on the “Additional information” section of the “Writing” page.
- Include non-academic awards; instead, try to integrate these in your activities section.
- Eliminate less selective awards (i.e. honor roll) unless you have more impressive honors to put in their place.
The honors section is an opportunity to demonstrate that you have achieved recognition for your academic work. Again, do not worry if you are not able to fill all five slots; if you do not have many awards to name, there will be many other opportunities on your application to show admissions boards that you are a driven, passionate, and enthusiastic candidate. When you're ready, you can have one of Prompt's admissions experts review your honors section for free.