Your Guide to the Finding the Right College Club
This summer, many incoming freshmen will visit their campus for orientation, and most will hear about their campus’ college clubs for the first time. Then, in the fall, the freshmen will return to find the same college clubs greeting them, each actively pushing their own particular brand, and recruiting more members. (By the way, if your campus has no college clubs, there’s a huge, gaping hole in your college experience!) If you’re overwhelmed by the numerous college clubs, or if you’re really just curious about how to best invest your time in one, then read on.
Why Get Involved?
College clubs are one of the most important opportunities for development that college offers you. The experiences of active membership with an organization and collaborating with others can supplement your academic career with real-world experiences. Research even suggests that more involved students get better grades, and a lot of it has to do with the responsibility and accountability that college clubs help develop in you.
The other reason to get involved is more obvious, especially if you go to a bigger school. It can be challenging to adjust to a large campus life-style with big class sizes. Set against this, college clubs are a place where you can make lasting friendships in a structured but more laid-back environment.
But a third reason is this: college clubs are often where you’ll find the most powerful, most exciting activity taking place on your campus. When it comes to political activism, fundraisers, cutting-edge dialogue, or entrepreneurship, college clubs are always hotbeds of activity. As the anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.” College clubs fit the bill, and prove the wisdom of Mead’s words again and again.
Colleges that value an active student body will hold involvement fairs several times a year, and always at the beginning of the first semester. These involvement fairs are a crucial opportunity to see all the college clubs that are active on your campus, all in one place, all at one time. Whether it’s Greek life, volunteer groups, political organizations, advocacy groups, academic societies, or professional trade groups, the best way to begin your involvement is by meeting the leaders in person, introducing yourself, listening to their elevator speech, and of course, loading up on any free food.
Checking out an organization’s website can be a good idea too, but you should be aware that while the university may allot them web space on the campus server, there are sometimes too many levels of bureaucracy for college clubs’ websites to stay up to date, especially when it comes to meeting times, email addresses of club officers, and other information that can change frequently.
What should you do instead? Go to their social media channels. College clubs will nearly always have their own Facebook pages, if not also a Twitter account. Not only is the information you’ll find more likely to be up to date, but you can also see what sort of events and projects the group values.
Breadth vs. Depth
Over the semester’s first couple of weeks, you should attend the initial meetings of the college clubs that caught your immediate interest. After the first meeting, you’ll have a pretty good feeling for whether you want to keep up with a particular club or not. Did the members seem excited? Were they welcoming to newcomers? How organized were they? Ask lots of questions about what the group has done in years past, and what they plan to do for the coming year.
There will be lots of talk about résumés during those first couple weeks of college. Career center staff will make presentations in your classes, writing center tutors will pitch their services, and you’ll hear again and again about what it takes to build a strong résumé. Nevertheless, don’t be tempted to think you need to keep up with a dozen groups at once in order to pack your résumé. The depth of your involvement is much more important than breadth. Settle on two or three college clubs that speak to you, whom you connect with on a personal level, and where the friendships keep you coming back. These are the foundations of strong partnerships that are essential to getting things done.
Are you uncertain about what you’re interested in? Or do you have the opposite problem, with too many interests to narrow it down to one or two? It might be useful to try taking a personality test, such as the Myers-Briggs Types Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI is a popular self-assessment tool that sorts participants into one of 16 categories based on their attitudes toward working with others, their approaches to problem-solving, their focus strengths and blind-spots, and a number of other character aspects. The MBTI is useful because it can help you consider the kinds of career paths where you might thrive.
What does this have to do with college clubs? As it turns out, if you have a sense of your career path you can better judge which kinds of extracurricular commitments will help you get there. For instance, it’ll take a lot of hard work and good connections to break into the music management business, if that’s your dream job. So joining a music business network on your campus will be worth the time investment. If you’re drawn to social work, you might check out an advocacy organization. Or suppose the test points out that you show strong leadership traits; getting involved in a leadership society might be beneficial.
Because of the MBTI’s popularity, hundreds of websites have sprung up offering free assessments, but avoid these. The career center or student employment office at your college likely has certified staff who can administer the test in person, or scheduled workshops where attendees can take the assessment, often at no charge. Here’s one test that approximates the MBTI, but it’s not as comprehensive as what you can get from the career center. Skip the websites—oddly enough, many of the Myers-Briggs online assessments you’ll see in a search engine are managed by organizations trying to sell something. It’s better to trust professionals at your school when it comes to personality assessments than to turn to what’s immediately available online.