Beginning with your college search and continuing well after you settle into your new dorm, leaders on campus will tell you joining groups and participating in activities is the best way to meet new people. Universities often boast hundreds of varying activities to choose from, so it’s often hard to know where to start. Should you join the business group because it will help with your career? Or what about that rugby team you’ve always wanted to try out? The opportunities are nearly endless when you consider you can start your own group!
Here’s some helpful information to ease you into the college clubs and activities scene on campus.
Where to go, how to start
Within the first few weeks of arriving at school, there is sure to be a “student activities fair,” where all the organizations on campus gather into one convenient location just for you (and the hundreds of other freshmen looking to find their niche). The clubs will have banners, tables, maybe even some food for you to nosh on, all in the hopes that you’ll stop and find out a little more about them. Don’t be afraid to approach people—they want you to learn about their clubs! “Try something new,” says Danielle Joseph, a 2008 graduate from Albion College in Michigan. “Do not just join a sorority/fraternity where you know everyone. Be open to meeting new people and getting to know new ideas.”
During the activities fair, you should take a stroll around and talk to the clubs that seem interesting to you. Many tables will have a sheet for you to sign up on their mailing list, so go ahead and sign away so you can get up-to-date information on club events (don’t worry—the majority of clubs allow you to opt-out if you end up deciding they aren’t the right fit for you). Sometimes they have a new members meeting you can attend where they’ll answer questions and give you a better feel of what they are all about. If you can’t attend this meeting, don’t stress. Usually a quick e-mail to one of the club officers can get you more information.
If you can’t attend the activities fair, just go to your school’s student affairs website. There will most likely be a complete list of student clubs and activities, along with contact information for each of them.
Don’t worry if you find yourself signing up for every activity out there—many freshmen do! The trick is, after the first meetings, to decide on your time availability and make commitments to the clubs that you really care about. And remember, if you find you have more free time than you expected, you can always join a club at the beginning of a new semester.
What to do
There are so many varieties of groups out there that it may seem overwhelming at first. But once you put some thought into what your interests are and how you want to spend the next four years, the list will narrow down and things will become easier. And don’t worry if you want to join a club or activity because a friend does—campus groups are supposed to be social! In the same vein, don’t be afraid to go to meetings alone. Jordan Bush, a recent graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, joined the sorority Phi Mu during recruitment week her freshman year. “I joined because I wanted a way to meet people at Georgia Tech,” she says. “I was from out of state and didn’t know anyone.” Now Jordan says that Phi Mu has provided her with “friendships for life.”
When it comes to the different groups on campus, there are some major categories to consider:
These are split into three main categories, which vary in time commitment, intensity, and level of talent. Varsity sports are the “elite” teams. Most require tryouts, are funded by the school, and are intensely competitive. Joining a team is a huge time commitment, and many teams involve working your classes in around their schedule.
Next are club sports. Depending on the popularity of the sport, you may have to tryout (for a sport like soccer) or you can just walk on to the field (for a sport like rugby). The talent level is slightly less than varsity, but at most schools, the teams are still pretty intense, especially at schools where sports are popular. For these teams, you usually have to commit two to three days a week to practices, and one weekend day to games while you are in-season.
Finally, there are intramural sports. These can range anywhere from basketball and softball to water polo and kickball. Usually with these sports you can just get together a team and sign up. Most intramurals only require a commitment of one to two hours per week. Although some students do take these games seriously, the primary reason for intramural sports is to have a good time.
The arts covers anything from music to theater. And arts groups on campus abound. There are a cappella groups, dance groups, and different types of bands for the musically inclined. Then there are plays and comedy troupes for those who love to act. And if writing is your thing? Check out the literary journals and newspapers on campus. These clubs sometimes require an audition or writing sample, so come prepared! If you want to get involved without being center stage, ask about opportunities in writing, building sets, and helping behind-the-scenes.
Looking for the means to really impact the way your school is run? Student government is an organization that really makes a difference in the day-to-day lives of your fellow classmates. Within student government there are varying degrees of time commitment. You can range anywhere from the campus president to a committee head to someone who just wants to be involved by attending meetings once per week.
Here’s something you need to know about culture clubs: you don’t need to be a part of a certain culture to want to learn about it! Says Danielle, “I joined Black Student Alliance as a junior because I was too intimidated to join earlier. I was then in a leadership role my senior year.” These groups are rich with great activities and try to reach out to the university community as a whole to teach students and professors about their culture.
If it’s the good of greater man you’re looking out for, try checking out the volunteer groups on campus. There are varying commitments here, as well. You can join a group that serves the community on a weekly basis, or you can go on a week-long trip to another country! You can even use some of your vacation volunteering; for example, spend a week building houses in Central America with an Alternative Spring Break!
These groups run the gamut from pre-law and pre-med societies to a few math geeks getting together every week to solve some problems. Whatever it is you love, there’s usually a group out there to welcome you. And if you can’t find it? Start your own group on campus. At Middlebury College in Vermont, a few students loved the Harry Potter series so much they started their own Quidditch league, which has now expanded to include a World Cup with other colleges!
The one major factor you’ll have to keep in mind is time management. You may want to join every group on campus, but you’re going to have to keep up with your studies too. So you’ll have to evaluate what groups mean the most to you and how much time they are going to cost you. Thankfully, many clubs will let you be a member-at-large, meaning you go to meetings and help when you can, but you have no major responsibilities unless you sign up for them.
And when it comes to balancing your clubs, course work, and social life, don’t forget that clubs can be social. “Most of the time I spent with my organizations was also my social time with friends,” says Danielle, who estimates she spent about 30 hours per week in meetings and working on different projects for her clubs and groups.
And groups can help with your career too. Sam Durant Hunter, a theater major at the University of Vermont in Burlington, is in Hit Paws (a co-ed a capella group on campus) and joined the cast of Godspell this year. “I am rehearsing 35-plus hours a week, and it is draining,” he says. “But I absolutely love this work and it is what I want to do professionally, so I just really buckle down on my time management in order to make sure I get everything done I need to.”
It’s all about scheduling your time wisely and knowing your limits. If you need to cut back on time at a club because of a particularly hard class or you have to miss a meeting because of a project, know that it’s okay.
A few last words
The clubs you join can have a lasting impact on you college career. Jordan says her Phi Mu sisters provided “a network of people across the country. It made it easy when I moved to Jacksonville—I instantly had a network of friends to join in the alumni club.”
Getting involved at school can be easy; it’s staying involved that’s the tough part. College clubs and organizations are ready on campus to welcome you with open arms. All you have to do is make the first move. “Don’t assume the ‘get involved’ will happen on its own,” says Sam. “Be proactive. Go to corny freshman dance parties. Say ‘hi’ to the person next to you in class. Join clubs! Audition for plays! College isn’t just about getting an education. The friendships and experiences you have in college will stay with you for the rest of your life!”