How do I emphasize the effort I put into my activities so that schools understand the level of achievement?

My writing generally falls flat because I tend to under-emphasize my activities and the effort I put into them. How do I convey the fact that I worked hard more efficiently and obviously?

One thing is to use proactive verbs.

  • I lead…
  • I coordinated…
  • Headed up…
  • Created…
  • Worked extensively/intensively on…
  • Managed…

And so forth.

When describing your activities you should just be factual. Flowery adjectives and fancy writing makes it seem you are exaggerating. The common app has a space for listing how much time you spend on each activity so the colleges will know how time intensive something is.

Just a comment on your question in the title - effort and achievement are not necessarily correlated. You could put in lots of effort but achieve nothing other than personal growth or enjoyment. On the other hand, some people, through talent or luck or both, put in very little effort but end up with big achievements. If you have achievements, you should mention them, but if you don’t, there is still value in describing what you did.


Ok, I’ll incorporate these types of phrases, thank you!

Thank you for these tips! I’m trying to be factual without understating what I achieved, if that makes sense. As for the title, yes- I meant I put in effort to achieve things that I will be mentioning :slight_smile:

@nikkub.b are you going to use the essay readers thread where people here on CC offer a review of essays?

In your personal statement, you want to avoid listing activities in an essay. They are listed with time commitments elsewhere in the application.

Highly selective college admissions can’t possibly be a function of just intelligence, ambition, and effort. They’d never narrow it down enough as far too many people could solve that equation.

The X factor is personal characteristics, things that make you stand out as particularly interesting, mature, caring, a leader, and so on. This finally works because they are asking a lot out of anxious HS kids with little life experience, and that is not an easy equation to solve.

Indeed, I think a lot kids and their families don’t really even understand the question. Which is pretty unfair from a certain perspective, but these schools do explain it on their admissions pages. And they have to cut the pool down somehow.

Anyway, my point is I would not worry about getting credit for effort. Because to be blunt, effort won’t make you stand out.

I would worry about sounding interesting, mature, caring, a leader, and so on. And doing that in a truly compelling way is pretty hard, which means doing that actually can make a difference.

I likely won’t use the essay readers thread. These are actually my UC PIQs, not my personal statement, and I’m writing about some self-started projects I worked on and showcased at competitions.

Thank you for this info! I will definitely try to include these characteristics in my application, but my main issue was also emphasizing challenges and how I overcame them (hence the effort I put in).

Think about the following.

  • What motivated or inspired you to get involved in the activities?
  • While involved, were there any problems or conflicts that you needed to resolve? If so, what did you do resolve them?
  • What did you gain (personally) from being involved?
  • What did you learn about your community and yourself?
  • Did this activity inspire or impact what you want to study in college or a potential future career?
  • Do you envision continuing this type of involvement in college?

Are you asking about the PIQ or about the Activities and Awards section?

Quantify where you can….

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Just wanted to say explicitly this is really good advice. Specific numbers (the more specific the better) attract mental attention and make things more memorable. 8.7 out of 10.35 CC posters agree!

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The UC application is different than other applications. They are looking for different styles of writing and are looking to pull different information from the PIQ and A&A sections. OP, do you want to share which UCs you are applying to?

You might check out the following UCSB videos.

The following video is for HS counselors. It is long, but can be helpful for applicants.

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You are still welcome to use the essay readers thread - some readers are familiar with UC PIQs :slight_smile:


Writing with facts: John is a boy.
writing with facts with some specifics: John is a tall boy.
writing with specific facts and supporting data: John is a tall boy at 6’1".
writing with specific facts, supporting data, and extra: John reached 6’4" right before he turned 17. His mom is 5’2" and his dad is 5’6". His older brother Joe is 5’7". Nobody is his family has ever reached 5’8". Genetically and statistically his chance of reaching 5’10" is near zero. But, John loves basketball. He fell in love with the challenge when he was six. (continue on what John did to grow taller.)
Of course it’s not practical that John would grow much taller because he puts in effort. This is just to outline the differences in how the message is delivered. If the English teacher is approachable and available, they can be of great help.

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