Class Is in Session: Student Leadership Programs 101
With classes only a couple of weeks away, there’s a lot on your mind. But don’t forget to look into your school’s student leadership programs, as well as some of the national student leadership programs that are out there.
Student leadership programs are, as you can guess, a great way of developing yourself as a leader, but they’re also a great chance to feel out the college club scene and the people involved in it. They give you an exciting and organized way of meeting some of the most involved people on your campus, and they offer a place to get great advice for your career as a student and beyond.
Many campuses have an office specifically devoted to student leadership programs and activities. These offices are a good place to begin exploring the possibilities for student leadership programs. Check their websites and make an in-person visit to the office to get an idea for the kinds of events and services they offer. These can include weekly, monthly, or regularly scheduled workshops dealing with topics as wide-ranging as résumé-building, time management, public speaking, community organizing, and personality assessments.
As part of their student leadership programs, some offices even offer a certificate of leadership development. Usually, the first thing you’ll hear about such certificates is that they’re a great bullet item to include on a résumé, which is true, but don’t overlook the other benefits. A certificate program is indeed an attractive asset because, unlike other less formal student leadership programs, you’re given tangible documentation of your participation. But the skills you come away with will give you a huge head start when you choose to get more involved in a student organization.
First of all, they’ll help develop your cultural competence and deepen your understanding of socially responsible leadership. They can also strengthen your sense of civic engagement, improve your organizational leadership skills, and encourage you to be a more self-directed leader and worker. Then later on, if you’re active in a student organization, some leadership offices offer additional recognition for student leaders who demonstrate how they’ve put what they’ve learned about leadership into practice.
Finally, your campus’ office of student leadership programs will likely organize an annual or biannual leadership conference that is open to all students at your university. These can run in length anywhere from one day to a whole weekend, and sometimes they’ll even take you off campus to a nearby resort lodge or conference center. If the promise of a weekend getaway isn’t enough to get you to sign up, then maybe you’ll be interested in the programming. Leadership conferences are fun: don’t let the official-sounding conference title fool you. A lot of the activities, even though they’re planned with your personal development in mind, are funny, designed with just the right dose of crazy. And the activities are almost always group oriented, which leads us to a little-known secret about leadership conferences, a secret that we’re about to share with you.
Here it is: leadership conferences are about meeting people. True, it’s not an off-campus house party, nor a night out clubbing, nor a prank-filled Wednesday night full of dormroom hijinks (though in fact it might be wise to expect a few pranks). But leadership conferences are nonetheless big-time social affairs, and without any of the pressure that might ordinarily affect how you meet people at the start of school. Between the dozens of icebreakers, group discussions, break-out activities, cafeteria conversations, and late nights staying up talking in hotel hallways, you’re going to meet and get to know a lot of people at any leadership conference you attend. Of course, this isn’t to say you’re going to meet the love of your life at a leadership conference (even though one of our writers knows personally a married couple who did just that). But at the very least, you’ll make a couple of new friends, and you’ll definitely begin seeing many other familiar faces around campus when you return. It’s a step in the right direction toward making your campus feel a little less intimidating and a little more like home.
So get down to business. Sometimes you have to register for the upcoming leadership conference almost as soon as the school year begins. Don’t wait around, because you won’t want to miss it.
If you have your sights set beyond your campus, then there are plenty of national student leadership programs as well. These student leadership programs are also involved in staging regular conferences that draw student leaders from across the country for meet-ups and dialogues. These conferences are excellent networking opportunities, and while we encourage anyone who can to participate, they are especially worthwhile for older students who are thinking about whatever might come after college—a year abroad, volunteer service, or the launching of a career.
Not all conferences are strictly for college students. There are student leadership programs for students of high school age who are looking to develop themselves and perhaps even discern the sort of education path they want to take. For students interested in service, the National Youth Leadership Council spearheads and supports service-learning initiatives, and organizes an annual conference, the National Service-Learning Conference including workshops, teach-ins, networking opportunities, and an impressive roster of speakers. To draw your network’s circle even wider, check out the World Leadership Congress organized by Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY). This yearly week-long conference features workshops, one-on-one leadership training, group community service projects, and access to a global network that includes not only other student leaders, but top-level professionals from every field you can think of, who also attend the conference to share their knowledge and experience with motivated young people. Other conferences include the Congressional Youth Leadership Council for students interested in government and politics, or who just want to see what leadership looks like in practice at the national level, or even who might just want to meet other young leaders like themselves.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to student leadership programs, so use it to explore your options. If you want to look into whether some of the student leadership programs you hear about are worth the time or the money, then consult with other students and parents on the discussion forums at sites like College Confidential. Do your research, and remember the student leadership office at your campus if you have any questions or want to get more involved.