Friday, August 24, 2012

Anatomy of an Application: ECs and Honors

This is the second in our Anatomy of an Application series. Last week we discussed how your application materials all come together. This week, ECs and honors. 

My colleague Melissa Kotacka wrote on the blog a couple years ago that your extracurriculars are like the sprinkles on the cake of your application. Through your ECs, we get to find out what you're interested in, how you've spent your time, and how you interact with your community. It also helps us imagine what kind of impact you could have if you joined the UNC community.

When you get to this section, you'll be asked to report how much time you've committed to each activity and which years you took part in each. You'll also be asked to briefly explain each activity, including any leadership positions held or honors won. You'll quickly realize there's not a lot of space for lengthy explanations, so your challenge is to be as concise as possible, while also giving us all the interesting details.

Your EC list is by necessity a quick snapshot of your extracurricular contributions, but that doesn't mean it can't still be a really colorful, interesting, and engaging snapshot. Focus on your primary activities and list the most important ones first. Think about what your specific contributions and achievements have been in the activity, and be sure you're communicating those things. For instance, don't just tell us you've played field hockey for 4 years. Instead, how about "Play defense on JV and Varsity field hockey teams. As unofficial spirit leader, I've raised awareness of the team's efforts within the school. Voted co-captain senior year."

So what kinds of activities are we looking for? There really isn't any formula. And we're not looking to see that every student is "well-rounded" either. We know that some students have a wide range of interests and do lots of different types of activities, while others are specialists who focus on one or two things. Most people fall somewhere in between these two. So we're not looking for well-rounded students, we're looking for a well-rounded class. And by enrolling all different kinds of students with all different kinds of interests, that's what we get.

You can include whatever activities are important to you in your list, whether it was something you did through your school, community, or church, or whether it was done independently or with friends or family. We just want to understand how you have spent your time, what you're passionate about, and how you've contributed to your community.

Keep in mind, though, that a longer list is not necessarily a better list. In fact, it's really hard to digest a long list that seems to include every imaginable activity. Think about the big picture and where your impact has been most significant. Consider grouping together similar activities. If you've gone on mission trips with your church each summer since freshman year, you can group these together as one item, then list out the specifics of where you went and what you did in the explanation field.

You'll also fill out a separate section for the honors you have won. It's really helpful if you include a short descriptor for the honor to help us understand what it is. The "Sarah Bigdeal Smith Award" might be a huge honor within your school, but we've never heard of it! So, you might list it as "Smith Service Award. One of two juniors selected by faculty based on my work with local homeless shelter."

And last piece of advice: This is not the time to be humble! Don't be shy about sharing what you've accomplished. If bragging doesn't come naturally to you, ask Mom, Dad or a caring friend for help. They'll be more than happy to point out all your stellar personal qualities and hard-earned honors.

Good luck! Please just let me know if you have any questions.