Can/Should I Add Reading To My College Application?

Yes, you can add reading (or any other activity) to your college application. However, like many things in college admissions and in life, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. But what if you are stuck staring at the 10 allowed spaces for the “Activities” section of the Common Application and only have 9 activities? Should you add reading to have a full set of entries or just leave the 10th space blank? This article will answer the should question definitively (yes add it) and provide detail on how to add reading and other activities to your Common Application. The focus of this article will be on non-standard activities which you may consider mundane or perhaps didn’t realize were “activities” at all. Our ultimate goal is to help you present your strongest self within your college applications.

Can/Should I Add Reading To My College Application? | Image

Filling the 10 Activity Spaces is Important, and Easier than it seems!

As mentioned previously, reading (or any other activity) can be added to your Common Application, as long as you don’t exceed the 10 activity spaces allowed for within the application. As admissions consultants, we recommend always completing all 10 activities, (so again, yes, you should add reading). In counseling thousands of students, we’ve seen it is easy for students to list about 5-7 activities and then stop. Often students will comment to their admissions consultant “but I haven’t done anything else!” 100% of the time, upon probing and further discussion, our consultants find that this is simply not true – you have done plenty of other things – but perhaps you are unaware that these things can and should be added to your college application as activities.

Example: Reading as a useful non-formal activity to add

Let’s consider the case of reading and a fictional applicant in her senior year. Sally is a nationally ranked debate champion and has previously added her roles in community service, debate, tennis team, and student council to her application. She initially filled out the activities section having entered “reading” as she read online that filling out all 10 spaces was best. Upon meeting with her admissions consultant, the consultant questioned Sally about the specific things she was intending to capture in her description of “reading”. As it turns out, two of the primary sources of Sally’s reading were Foreign Affairs, a hard copy magazine she has delivered to her home, and Politico, a media company dedicated to non-partisan journalism. Rather than just enter “reading” in her application, Sally worked with her consultant to craft a more cohesive entry that supported her overall application and allowed admissions officers to review the entry in a more positive, academic light than they might have if she had just entered “reading” as the activity.

Another Example: Family Responsibilities

Beyond reading, there are other categories of often overlooked activities that are not only perfectly appropriate for your college application, but beneficial for you to enter. As you may be aware if you’ve already begun your Common Application, for each of the 10 activities you enter, there is a drop-down to select the category of activity. 99% of the time, it’s pretty obvious which category to select: choose “athletics” for your tennis team entry and “journalism” for your role with the poetry journal at your high school. An under-used or less obvious category for many students is “Family Responsibilities”. This option is valuable to colleges as it signals to them you may not have time for more traditional activities due to your role within your particular family. For example, if both your parents work full-time and you pick up your younger brother after school every day and help him with homework, colleges want to know! This would be the perfect entry for the “family responsibilities” category with a title listing of “Homework Helper” and a description of what you actually do in this role. For example, you may write the description “Pick up 9-year-old brother 3 days a week, tutor on science and provide supervision and dinner. Report any school-related issues to parents”. Admissions officers are aware that not all families are alike, and as you probably have read, colleges value diversity highly. So often the term “diversity” is thought of as racial and ethnic diversity, and while that is indeed a critical and important component, colleges value diversity of lived experiences as this is what will enrich campus life.

In conclusion, yes – you can and should add reading and other non-formal activities to your application. You are also encouraged to consider your Common Application activities list as a whole. If you’ve held on to the idea that activities must be formal and structured, think outside of this box and consider non-formal and independent activities. In doing so you will present a stronger, more authentic version of yourself, and strengthen your college applications in the process.

If you need support on how to list your activities or other advice on your overall college application, please get in touch with a member of our team.

All of our blog posts are written by Former College Admission Officers who serve as members of our admission consultant team.

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