The Hidden Truth: Why Students Underreport Their Activities on College Applications

In the high-stakes journey from high school to college, students are often told that their college applications should reflect their true selves. They're advised to showcase their achievements, extracurricular activities, and personal growth. However, a puzzling phenomenon persists; students underreport their activities on college applications. Today, we'll delve into the reasons behind this practice and share a personal story that sheds light on why even the most accomplished students might hesitate to reveal their full potential.

The Pressure to Be Perfect

In the increasingly competitive landscape of college admissions, the pressure on students to appear perfect has never been higher. The fear of not measuring up to their peers often drives students to underreport their activities, fearing that they might be seen as less impressive compared to others. This can lead to a distorted view of their accomplishments and potential.

What the Research Says

In a recent research summary conducted by The Common Application, eye-opening trends and disparities in the reporting of extracurricular activities have come to light. These findings shed significant light on the practice of underreporting activities on college applications, which we discussed in our blog earlier. Let's dive into the results of this research and how they relate to the phenomenon of students holding back on their achievements. Report here. The results showed that across racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups, in particular, White applicants report an average of 46.5% more activities (7.43 activities) than Black applicants (5.07). Similar disparities were also found between continuing-generation (parents went to college) students (7.45) and first-generation (parents did not go to college) students (5.44). Most of the disparities were in the overall number of activities in athletics, academics, arts, and service activities. Their research also pointed out that there are also disparities in leadership positions and excellence (honors) awards among student groups.

Remember- this report is only what is being reported. As a college admissions expert, I am often shocked by what students don’t report!

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Storytime: My Daughter's Internship

Let's dive into a personal story to illustrate this point. My daughter, an exceptional student, had been dedicating six hours a week to a valuable internship at her local college providing support to workforce program. This internship involved meaningful work that showcased her skills and dedication, but when it came time to fill out her college resume, she hesitated to include it.

"Why not?" I asked her.

She explained that she feared it might not be impressive enough compared to her peers' internships at prestigious companies. She worried that the admissions officers might not see the value in her experience. It was a classic case of underreporting driven by the fear of not measuring up to perceived standards of excellence.

It's a poignant example of how even exceptional students can feel the need to downplay their accomplishments due to the fear of coming across as boastful.

The Importance of Authenticity

As experts in the high school to college transition, it's crucial that we guide students toward authenticity in their applications. They should understand that admissions officers value diverse experiences and the dedication students bring to their passions, regardless of where they stand in relation to their peers.

Encourage students to be true to themselves and to fully represent their achievements and experiences. Remind them that the college application process is about finding the right fit, not about outdoing everyone else.


In the high-pressure world of college applications, it's not uncommon for students to underreport their activities. Fear of not measuring up, the pressure to appear perfect, and the competitiveness of certain experiences can drive this behavior. As experts, our role is to guide students toward authenticity, helping them understand that their unique journey and achievements are what truly matter in the college admissions process. We encourage them to tell their full story, without fear or hesitation, so that they can find a college that appreciates them for who they are.

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