NCC, NSO, NSS or NCA – Making an Informed Decision

Talking to freshies, I am reminded of the same awe and bewilderment with which I navigated my first few weeks of insti life. And naturally, one of the biggest conundrums we faced back then was choosing one of NSO, NSS, NCC or NCA. This article hopes to throw some light on the specifics of each so as to aid freshies in their decision-making process.

NCC (National Cadet Corps)

This is the most underrated of the available options owing to the various myths that cast it in a strict, cruel and monotonous light. No surprise there, since NCC is known for its parade drills and working hours that will make you wake up at dawn-break. But the battalion in insti happens to be an air force tech squadron, which means that there is less focus on drill and more on other technical and practical aspects of flying. In fact, drill practices are held only for stretches of about a week right before the Independence and Republic Day celebrations. In the rest of the meetings that are held every week, the cadets are given fitness training and might indulge in a spectrum of activities from learning to fly drones to even watching movies about flying. These sessions usually last a couple of hours starting at 6 in the morning.

Occasionally, the cadets also visit the Air Force base in Tambaram. Here, the cadets learn firing with rifles, the real kind, not dummy ones (swoon), get to use flight simulators, are shown various aircraft parts, and, wait for it… are taught to co-pilot real life airplanes.

The annual camp is nothing like the thrown-in-the-wilderness-without-reception kind of experience that other NCC cadets tend to dread! The students live in their hostel itself and attend daily training sessions for a span of about 10 days. Here, apart from the firing and flying, the cadets are trained in pitching tents.

Once chosen, NCC is compulsory for a year and at the end of this, they are awarded an A certificate. After this, it is up to the students to decide if they want to continue and work for the B and C certificates respectively awarded at the end of two or three consecutive years respectively. It is uncertain whether the same holds this year (or has been made mandatory for 2 years). NCC B and C certificates hold substantial value in terms of reservation in institutes of higher education, both private and public sector jobs and for entry into the Defence Services.

The selection for NCC tends to happen towards the end of August. The selection criterion will depend on the number of people who turn up; a larger turnout will necessitate simple selection tests for discipline and stamina and a smaller turnout will likely ensure that most of the participants get selected.


NSS (National Service Scheme)

NSS is an excellent opportunity for students to step out of the comfort of their everyday life and engage in social service. With its wide range of projects targeting different sections of the population, NSS has over the years made significant contributions to the society. Its projects can be broadly classified into teaching projects, awareness projects and content generation projects.

As part of their teaching projects, NSS volunteers teach underprivileged students in various localities around insti, one of which is ‘Teach your Neighbour’. As part of ‘Bring a Smile’, volunteers visit the Adyar Cancer institute and interact with the children and spend time with them. Drishti is another project worth mentioning for its strides in teaching visually challenged children.

Apart from this there are a number of awareness projects that seek to throw light and motivate action on issues like solid waste management. This assumes significance in an environmentally conscious campus like IIT Madras.

Then there are the content generation projects like Shravyam that develop and donate audiobooks spanning a variety of genres from fiction to textbooks. A number of these audiobooks have been donated to the Anna Centenary Library. Another project works on developing teaching kits for science which are, in turn, used in the teaching projects.

Many of the NSS projects extend beyond the college campus – seeking to spread the culture of excellence and ethics amidst the student community with the spirit of selfless service.


This is of course not the complete list. There’s a truckload of other projects for students to choose from. A total of about 200 students will be selected for NSS based on a simple written test that primarily checks the student’s enthusiasm to volunteer for NSS. For passing, students are required to fulfill a requirement of 85 credits. 30 of these need to be earned by attending events like workshops, lectures, field visits, etc. 45 for the chosen project and 10 credits are left to the student’s choice. This adds up to a few hours every week with pretty much a uniform workload distribution across projects.



NSO is the most popular option among students. No surprise there. Don’t we all love a good game? NSO offers the option of choosing from a variety of sports spanning cricket, athletics, frisbee, yoga and weightlifting, aquatics to name a few. The entire list can be found in the smail regarding the same.

The criterion for selection varies depending on the sport, the instructor and the number of people who turn up for the try-outs. In many cases, it is not essential to have prior experience in the sport to get selected. For instance, in Tennis, the selection is based on stamina. In basketball, on the other hand, it depends on the student’s ability to dribble and do a lay-up. Some sports are tougher to get selected into as compared to others. Racquet sports, for instance, see tough competition owing to restrictions due to infrastructure.

Practice sessions usually start after Quiz 1. Practices are held for about 2 hrs twice a week in the odd semester and thrice a week in the even semester. The criterion for passing is a minimum of 85% attendance. Note that the player’s performance has absolutely no say in ‘passing’. (Phew!)

Professional coaches train the students in every sport, starting from scratch. The level of skill players develop at the end of one year depends greatly on their initiative and enthusiasm to learn. Some of the students go on to get selected into the insti team. This is a prestigious opportunity to represent the college in the Inter IIT Sports Meet that happens at the end of the odd semester.


NCA (National Cultural Appreciation)

This is the newest addition to the list, having started the year before. This is a great opportunity for students to hone their skill in a cultural activity of their choice or even learn an entirely new skill. Roughly 100-120 selections are in place.

NCA gives the option of choosing between Fine Arts, Dance, Guitar, Keyboard and Theatre. Students will be selected not only based on their skill level but also their enthusiasm and inclination to learn so that students with no prior experience have a fair chance. The selections will most likely be conducted at the end of August. The criterion for selection will be similar to that of NSO. The classes will be held once or twice a week, depending on the vertical and availability of instructors. In a credit system similar to NSS, students will be given credits for the classes they attend. Most of these workshops will be conducted by professionals chosen by the Sangam clubs. The more experienced students will also have the option of claiming credits for participating in contests and uploading videos of their performance(s), so that they don’t have to attend classes on skills they are already familiar with.

Talking about arts, a number of workshops will be conducted on varying styles: glass painting, charcoal pencil sketching, coffee painting, acrylic on T-shirt and clay modelling to name a few. Students needn’t worry about materials for any of these workshops – they will be provided.

Dance will include styles like classical, contemporary, jazz ballet, bhangra, etc. One month or 4 classes will be dedicated to each style. The first 3 classes will focus on style and technique while a choreographed routine will be taught in the fourth class. Students will also be taught skills like improv.

The musically inclined have 2 musical instruments to pick from: guitar and keyboard. The instruments will be provided. The aim is to train students to grade 1 or 2 by the end of one year. Interested students can pick up from here later.

The students who take up theatre will be trained in improv, script analysis, etc. At the end of the year, the students will put up a play so as to get a feel of what ultimately goes into it.

Now that you have a fairly good idea of each of NSO, NCC, NSS and NCA, I would like to take this opportunity to address another question frequently asked by most freshies.

You don’t have to worry about being left without being selected in anything. There are exactly as many vacancies as there are freshmen.

So, at the end, all those students who’ve been selected in more than one of NSO, NCC, etc. will have to choose exactly one and drop the rest. The vacancies will be filled by those students who haven’t gotten selected in anything yet.

At the end of the day, no matter what you take, just remember to slay it.


T5E does not preferentially endorse any of the four options. This article was prepared to the best of our knowledge, and from inputs received from the managerial teams and organizers of these verticals who responded to our queries. Errors, if any are unintentional. Please contact [email protected] to raise any queries. *

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