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How to Fill Out the Honors List on Common App

Over the past few weeks, I have edited over 100 honors lists for my Application Nation - Class of 2022 students.

My approach in what to list, how to do it, and what order to put honors in is very similar to the way I compile an activities list: lead with your most meaningful, distinctive (to you!), and relevant honors first. I could write an entire chapter in a new book devoted to the honors list.

There is so much advice and nuance I could share, but here are the most important tips to keep in mind as you decide how to fill in this section of your application:

1. You actually don't need any honors to get into college.

There are plenty of students who get admitted to selective colleges with zero or just a few common honors listed.

2. Underclassmen, start an honors list now!

You often forget awards or accomplishments from earlier years of high school.

3. Don't overlook the more common honors that many students achieve.

Accolades like honor societies, honor roll (or the equivalent at your school), or "student of the month" absolutely have a place on the honors list.

4. Honor societies can be listed individually if you have room or bundled together in one line.

If you have limited space, list your honor societies like this: "Honor Societies: National Honor Society, English, Italian, and Math."

5. Many strong test-takers will list National Merit Semifinalist or National Merit Commended Scholar.

These are perfectly appropriate to list, but within a highly competitive applicant pool these are more common. So if you are running out of room and you have other awards that are less common, you can remove the National Merit awards. If you are submitting high test scores, you have already proven you can test well!

6. AP scores are tricky to list!

If you are not reporting all of your AP scores, yet you want to list an AP award, you are often revealing to the colleges how many exams you took, a general sense of your scores, and that you are intentionally not listing all of them either.

7. Avoid abbreviations if you can.

While you may know what "NSTI" is, admissions officers might not. By the way, I learned that NSTI stands for National Summer Transportation Institute this week from one of my students who attended its program! I encouraged this student to spell it out so that admissions officers would know what it is as well.

8. National or international awards are not always better than school or state/regional awards.

In fact, when a student gets recognized within their grade level or school for academic achievements voted on by the faculty, I take note. These are the most respected students at the school! Book awards, school scholarship recipients, or any end-of-year awards are just as important and possibly a lot more unusual within the school environment than being a National Merit Semifinalist or AP Scholar.

9. Honors that provide evidence to back up what you want to study should be front and center.

So be sure to consider your major choice when filling out this section. 

10. You only have five lines, each totaling 100 characters each, for the honors section on the Common Application.

Be thoughtful about what you include. The college application is never about shoving as much information in a section as possible. It is about telling your story—your Soundbite—in the most straightforward way.

Read More: 5 Secrets for Making Your College Applications Stand Out

The honors list is a small section of the application, however, it can be mighty. Believe it or not, it can hint at your major choice, Soundbite, and values. Make sure you don't sell yourself short. Celebrate those academic achievements in a clear way because admissions officers aren't mind readers. They "read" this section of the application in a matter of seconds, so you want it to be as powerful as it can be.