When you are applying to and then settling in at college, you face a whole slew of questions. What classes should you take? When do you decide on a major? Should you get a job or an internship? How do you know when to study abroad?
There’s another very important question you should answer: what student groups should you join? Just like in high school, there are numerous clubs and organizations to become involved in, and you only have so many hours in the day. From political organizations to professional development to hobbies, there are groups for almost every interest—and if you can’t find one, you can gather a group and ask for the resources to start one.
Scope it out
Most colleges and universities hold activities fairs at the beginning of each semester. Some are a one-day event, while some offer several sessions over the course of a few days or weeks. Active student groups will send representatives to sit at tables or booths with promotional materials, seasoned participants, and sign-up sheets, all looking for you to get involved. From swag like mugs and stickers to live performances or games, everyone’s trying to get your attention!
A few tips:
- Do your homework: Check out a list of organizations before you go to the activities fair. With some schools hosting more than 200 clubs, you could get overwhelmed just wandering, so it’s helpful to know a few groups that are important for you to learn more about.
- Branch out: If you can identify a few booths you absolutely have to see, it’ll give you a little direction and then you can make time to stop and see a few unexpected clubs. (Never tried a capella before? Seeing it in action could inspire you!)
- Buddy system: Go with a friend or two. You can split up to check out more booths and put your names down on lists (“If you see a campus political group, sign me up!”), or see if there are any organizations you’d like to join together.
- The more the merrier: When in doubt, sign up for more information—you can always unsubscribe, but you might miss an announcement of a first event if you don’t receive the group’s e-mails
- Ask questions: What are the requirements to become a club officer? How often are practices/meetings/rehearsals? Are there dues? What are the time commitments? Are there other specific guidelines you should know about?
- Take notes: Pick up flyers, or write down a quick note or two about groups you’re intrigued by. Remembering what got you excited will help you decide what to look more deeply into later.
Learn the ropes
Most organizations start meetings a week or so after the activities fair, to get you involved while you’re still excited. You won’t be able to go to everything, even if you want to. How can you decide what meetings to go to and which clubs to ultimately join?
- Check your calendar: Clubs generally meet at the same time every week or biweekly, so if there’s always overlap, you won’t be able to get involved in both.
- Diversify: Attend a range of meetings—perhaps one volunteer, one professional, and one creative or sports group. Balance is key!
- Be rational: If it’s your freshman year, don’t overload your schedule right off the bat! Leave some room for downtime, flexibility, homework, and sleep.
- Don’t be afraid to change your mind: Just because you go to a meeting or two doesn’t mean you have to stay forever. If it’s not for you, check out a different group or activity.
- Experiment: It’s great to join something you know you want to stick with throughout college, and it’s also fun to try out new things every year. You never know what you’ll love or leave.
Find your niche
You can choose how you want to be involved with student groups, depending on your time, interests, and talents. Whether you’re a leader or a part of a supporting crowd, student organizations need you!
- Officer: Lead the group as a president, treasurer, or other official member if you can. You’ll gain important experience managing funds, events, volunteers, and planning! Not only is it fun (really!), but it’s a great way to amp up a résumé for part-time jobs and/or your future career.
- General member: Participate in programs and events, sit on a planning committee, and vote in group elections—help make the group exactly what you want it to be.
- Supporter: Even if you’re not an official part of a group, you can always attend a public event! See a student-run show, try out a cooking club’s food, sign up to be a one-time volunteer—student group activities are there for the student body to enjoy.
Student groups are great ways to meet new people, learn new skills, gain experience in your field, and become more involved in your school and surrounding community. Make friends who share your interests, try out a new language before studying abroad, contribute time to a cause you care about, or compete against fellow athletes—there are so many ways to enrich your college experience.
With anywhere from a few dozen to hundreds of campus groups, practically every college and university out there has some extracurricular activities. And plenty of these organizations can found at multiple schools. Many colleges offer intramural sports like soccer and Ultimate Frisbee, Model United Nations, Resident Student Associations, student body government, fraternities and sororities, cultural groups, volunteer and philanthropic organizations, and professional groups focused on majors or career tracks—just to name a few! At a larger school, you might find a broader range, including unique sports, cultural dance groups, diverse political clubs, and more. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Learn what it takes to start a new club at your school.
For more information about student groups at your specific schools, search “student involvement,” “student activities,” or “student organizations” on schools’ individual websites, or ask an admission counselor, resident assistant, or other contact to point you in the right direction. And don’t forget—have fun, learn something new, and make amazing friends.