ECs is admission speak for extracurricular activities, and it’s a part of the application that deserves careful consideration. How you’ve involved yourself in our community will speak volumes to admission officers about how you will engage in theirs. Admission offices aren’t just looking for bodies to fill classroom seats. They are looking for dynamic, engaged, committed students who will impact their community both in and outside the classroom walls.
In the past few weeks, many of you have popped by the College Counseling offices to inquire about how to portray your extracurricular involvements through the application. That’s awesome. You’re asking a great question. Of course, each application will ask you to provide information on your activities in slightly different ways, but most will provide you a limited number of spaces or lines. They will ask you to state the activity itself, the years in which you participated, an approximated time commitment and a very brief description of your involvement within that activity (150 characters is the Common Application’s limit).
Our hope is that this blog will provide some helpful tips for crafting this part of the application. Remember, the message you want to send to admission officers is the level to which you are involved in extracurricular activities now. From that, they will project how you will engage in clubs and organizations in college. Remember, they are looking for quality, not quantity. If you have been eagerly and passionately involved in 10 extracurricular activities, then by all means fill in every line on the application. If you’ve only truly been engaged with five activities then only listing five activities is perfectly appropriate. Admission Offices aren’t looking to admit well-rounded students (although well-rounded students are great and are absolutely admitted); they are looking to build a well-rounded class. There is space in their incoming class for students who are jacks of all trades (who have played a sport, acted in a play, served their community and been on student government) and there are spaces in their class for students who do one thing but do that one thing really really well. For example, I remember admitting an acrobatic equestrian to W&M. It was just about her only extracurricular activity but she trained nearly 40 hours per week and was quite accomplished in the sport.
What Constitutes an Extracurricular Activity?
The following are considered extracurricular activities:
- Any of Norfolk Academy’s student clubs, boards, councils or publications
- Any junior varsity, varsity or club athletic team, any martial arts training
- Any theatrical group or production, any music lessons or instrumental ensembles, any dance company or troupe, any studio art training or engagement
- Any community organization you’ve been a part of (Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, religious groups, service initiatives, etc.)
- Formal summer activities like internships, exchange trips or summer educational programs
- Any part-time job or time-consuming family responsibility (such as caring for siblings or elderly relatives)
In essence, any club, sport or group that you have been a part of, that has a formalized component to it, is in fact an extracurricular activity.
So what’s not an extracurricular activity? Hobbies. Examples include free reading, travel with family, playing video games, weightlifting, personal fitness, household chores and fantasy football. Excluding them from your list does not diminish their value, but admission officers are most interested in how you engage with your community in more formal ways.
So now you know what an extracurricular activity is. How do you go about building a list of them within the application?
I would urge you to first craft a skeleton list in a Word Document. Start by listing your activities, in order of their importance to you. List those activities that hold the most meaning for you first, and those that hold less meaning last. Then, take a step back. How many activities are in front of you? If it’s the same as or less than the number of slots on the application, you’re in good starting shape. If it’s more, take a good long hard look at the list. Is there a club that you only joined sophomore year and didn’t continue afterwards? Consider excluding that activity from your list. Are there multiple instances of the same activity (for example do you have several plays each listed on its own line or did you list each exchange trip separately)? If so, think about grouping those activities together into one line or space. For example, the activity would be Theatre or Summer Exchange Programs. You can then, of course, check the boxes for each year you participated, and then in the information area provide qualifying information (for example if you held a lead role or were chief of the lighting crew or which trips you went on). Starting to make sense? Good.
Next, make note of each of the years beginning in 9th grade, that you participated in the activity. Also, try to estimate the average number of hours per week and the number of weeks per year you spent engaged in that particular activity. The numbers don’t have to be exact, but they should be reasonable estimations. For example, if when all is said and done, you add up the number of hours per week you list and it adds up to over 100…well there are only 168 hours per week so some recalculating might be in order.
Finally, think about what you want to highlight about that activity in the very limited number of characters you’re allotted in the application. Generally speaking, you should focus on special achievements (leadership positions or titles held, high honors achieved such as Eagle Scout or All-State) or to explain the activity if it’s unique to NA or to the area. For example, there’s no need to explain what Honor Council does. Admission officers will intuit that information from its name and their familiarity with Honor Councils generally. However, they may have no idea what Happy Club does or that Monogram club is a spirit organization or that Peer Counselors are voted on by students and faculty.
If at any point, you find yourself stuck, seek out any one of the College Counselors, and we can give you guidance. Bring in your skeleton outline and we can look over it with you. Know that if you feel a particular activity or your involvement therein warrants information beyond what the application allows, you can use the Additional Information section to elaborate a bit more fully.
I hope now the EC section of your application feels EZ-ier to approach. Don’t let it stress you out. You know what you’ve done, what’s been important to you and where you’ve made an impact. Use that information to guide you and to put your best foot forward as you showcase your extracurricular accomplishments to colleges.
Mrs. Wendy Livingston, Associate Director of College Counseling