Beginning with your college search and continuing well after you settle into your new dorm, leaders on campus will tell you that 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 hard to know where to start. Should you join the business group because it will help with your future career? Or what about the rugby team, which you’ve always wanted to try? The opportunities are nearly endless when you consider you can even start your own groups at college! Here’s some helpful information to ease you into the student clubs and activities scene on campus.
Start with the campus activities fair
Within the first few weeks of arriving at college, there's sure to be a student activities fair, where all the organizations on campus gather at one convenient location just for you (and the hundreds of other freshmen looking to find their niche). 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 groups! “Try something new,” says Danielle Joseph, a graduate from Albion College in Michigan. “Don't just join a sorority or 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 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'll have a new members meeting you can attend, where they’ll answer questions and give you a better feel of what they're all about. If you can’t attend this meeting, don’t stress; usually a quick email to one of the club officers can get you more information.
Learn more on your school's website
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 you really care about. And remember, if you find you have more free time than you expected, you can always join a club later in the year.
Types of student clubs and campus activities
There are so many varieties of student 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, you'll narrow your list 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 graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, 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.” Jordan says that Phi Mu provided her with “friendships for life.” When it comes to the different groups on campus, these are the major categories to consider.
Varsity, club, and intramural sports
College sports are split into three main categories, which vary in time commitment, intensity, and level of talent. Varsity sports are the “elite” teams. Most teams require tryouts, are funded by the school, and are intensely competitive. Joining a varsity team is a huge time commitment, and many teams involve working your classes in around their schedule. Don't forget that you can just be a fan and show your school spirit in the student section!
Next up are club sports. Depending on the popularity of the sport, you may have to try out (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're 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 or join 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.
Visual and performing arts
The arts covers everything from fine art to 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. If photography or writing are 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, designing and building sets, and helping behind the scenes.
Interested in really making an impact on the way your school is run? Student government is a campus organization that really makes a difference in the day-to-day lives of your fellow classmates. There are varying degrees of time commitment within student government; you can be anything from the campus president to a committee head to someone who just wants to be involved by attending meetings once a week.
Here’s something you need to know about cultural clubs: You don’t need to be a part of a certain culture to want to support and learn about it! “I joined Black Student Alliance as a junior because I was too intimidated to join earlier," says Danielle. "I was then in a leadership role my senior year.” You may find student groups dedicated to Black, Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and many other types of cultures and communities. They're rich with valuable activities and often reach out to the university community as a whole to teach students and professors about different experiences and perspectives.
If it’s the good of greater man you’re looking out for, look into 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 school vacation volunteering; for example, many students spend a week building houses in places like Central America through Alternative Spring Break.
These types of 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!
Making the time commitment
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're 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. When it comes to balancing your clubs, coursework, 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.
Student groups can help with your future career too. Sam Durant Hunter, a Theater major at the University of Vermont in Burlington, is in Hit Paws (a co-ed a cappella group on campus) and joined the cast of Godspell this year. “I'm rehearsing 35-plus hours a week, and it is draining,” he says. “But I absolutely love this work and it's 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 that I need to.” As you can see, 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, realize that it’s okay and let other club members know if you want to.
The clubs you join in college can have a lasting impact on your future. Jordan says her Phi Mu sisters provided a network of people across the country and made it easy when she moved to Jacksonville—she instantly had a network of friends to join in the alumni club. College clubs and organizations are ready to welcome you with open arms; all you have to do is make the first move. And getting involved can be easy; it’s staying involved that’s the tough part. “Don’t assume the ‘get involved’ will happen on its own,” Sam says. “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!”
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