If it wasn’t obvious from the title, this is the place on your application where you list awards you’ve won and honors you’ve received.
Here’s what Common App says:
Do you wish to report any honors related to your academic achievements?
So while the focus of this section will be on academic honors and awards, based on a few conversations with folks who work in admission, it’s OK to list other significant awards and honors that you’d like to highlight here.
What if I haven’t won any awards?
Don’t worry. Many schools don’t offer academic awards, many activities are not competitive, and some students don’t have the time, money, or resources to compete. Admission officers understand this based on the context of the applicant (what’s shared in your school report or what you’ve shared in the Additional Information) and won’t use it against you.
If you do have awards to list, here are…
Seven Tips for the Honors and Awards Section
1. List your awards in order of importance.
Start with those that mean the most to you. If you’re unclear on your awards’ personal meaning, start with international. Work down from there to national, state, regional, school-wide, club, then team-wide.
2. Specify what the award means.
Congrats on winning the “Beacon Award”… but I have no idea what that means. Did you win a beacon? Were you the beacon? Say so! Similarly, an “academic excellence” award could mean so many things. Define the bar of excellence in the context of the award.
3. Emphasize selectivity
Were you the best team out of four teams, or 400? We won’t know unless you tell us.
4. Explain acronyms.
Speaking of things we won’t know unless you tell us. Some acronyms (like TEDx and AP) will be familiar to readers, while others (like Future Business Leaders of America or regional designations like California Scholarship Federation) may be less familiar. When in doubt, spell it out. (Totally didn’t mean to rhyme there.)
5. Want to pack multiple awards into one slot?
Go for it. Just make sure they’re somehow connected. Example: SkillsUSA, Best of Show (1st) Interior Design; (1st) Employment Portfolio; (2nd) Web Design Technical
6. Did your honor/award include money?
Throw it in there! Example: TEDx NYC Student Startup Competition Winner: granted $1,500 in seed funding
7. Did they fly you out?
Mention that too! Example:
Google “Young Changemaker” Winner: all-expenses-paid trip + mentoring @ Google HQ
10 Examples of Honors and Awards That Could Have
Been Improved—And Then Were!
The examples below were revised to add context and specifics.
1. “FBLA Award”
Revised version: “Won 3rd in nation, Desktop Application Programming (Future Business Leaders of America)”
2. “Congressional Award”
Revised version: “Gold Medalist, The Congressional Award, for 400+ hours public volunteer service”
3. “Student of the Month”
Revised version: Student of the Month (1 of 350 students chosen) for “positive impact on school culture.” Won twice.
4. “Journalism Award”
Revised version: “Silver Knight Award, Journalism. Given to 1 in entire county, included $2,000 prize.”
5. “Science Olympiad”
Revised version: “1st in state, Analytical Lab, PA Chemistry Olympics”
6. “Debate Awards”
Revised version: “Debate: (4) 1st place finishes, Dade County Forensic League, 19-3 career policy debate record”
7. “Boy Scouts: Various Awards”
Revised version: “Boy Scouts: 36 merit badges, Silver Buffalo Award (10th) & Distinguished Service Award (11th)”
8. “DECA Champion”
Revised version: “DECA 2x Regional & State Champion and Int’l Finalist out of over 200K members worldwide”
9. “Chess Champion”
Revised version: “1st place @ Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship”
10. “Dog Breeding Award”
Revised version: “4-H Best in Show Project on Dog Breeding”
What to see more example activities list descriptions? Here’s 80+ more descriptions that might get you inspired.
Applying to the UC schools? You get a bit more space. Check out my How to Create the University of California (UC) Activities List guide here.