Incoming college freshmen have the opportunity to start fresh, shed high school stereotypes and labels and reinvent their identity by getting involved in activities on campus with various organizations, programs and groups.
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Signing up for extracurricular activities on campus is one of the best ways for new students to make connections with other students and find those with common interests or values, says Sally Rubenstone, senior advisor at College Confidential.
“For freshmen who worry about homesickness, activities can provide a distraction--hopefully a fun and interesting one that can help make a strange place feel more familiar fast,” she says.
With so many groups to choose from and a new schedule and lifestyle to get used to, it can be hard to sort through the posters, pamphlets and announcements to find the right outlet to join. Here are factors for freshmen to consider when deciding on campus clubs and organizations.
Tip. No.1: Keep personal interests in mind and shop around
Students need to think about what really interests them, especially since they will likely discuss their organizational roles with future employers, says Jeff Livingston, senior vice president of College and Career Readiness at McGraw-Hill Education.
“Students who try to pick the activities that they think are going to be most impressive to a recruiter are not [going to be effective] if you’re going to devote yourself and your energy to an activity that you’re not totally interested in,” he says.
To avoid “joiner’s remorse,” Rubenstone suggests that students shop around by attending initial meetings and assess if the activity is a good fit with their desired lifestyle and goals.
“Does the group seem well-organized? Welcoming or cliquey? Too big or too small? Ask yourself, ‘How much time am I expected to put in and how will meeting times mesh with class schedules and other commitments?’”
Tip. No.2: Consider the cost
Some organizations such as fraternities and sororities often require yearly dues that can require some serious budgeting from students, warns Hannah Faust, a rising senior at Loyola Marymount University.
“If you are on a tight budget, ask your organization if there is possibility for payment plans or scholarships,” she says.
To accurately gauge if they can handle a financial commitment, Livingston recommends students wait until second semester freshman year or even sophomore year to join a group with fees.
“You really don’t know the first day you come to campus what this is going to cost you, so it’s really difficult to accurately assess what percentage of your budget you really want to devote to social things until you have a baseline figure,” he says. “Plus, you have a year or at least six months to figure out which ones you want to make a commitment to.”
Tip. No.3: Create relevant experience
Schools with business fraternities and professional organizations create a social environment that also fosters professional skill development and builds relevant skills that can be quantified later on a resume, says Livingston.
“If you are a recent college graduate and you don’t have years of work experience from which to draw, but you can say, ‘I learned to collaborate because I was responsible for ‘XYZ activity’ and because I had taken responsibility for the projects, I had to learn how to get the best out of all of those people no matter what--that’s what I’m going to bring to you as an employee.’”
To maintain a balance of professional and social purposes, Faust suggests joining a more business-focused group as well as activities strictly for enjoyment.
“Get the best of both worlds--it's all about maximizing your opportunities.”
Tip. No.4: Make sure there’s a balance
The new workload of going to classes, studying, completing long-term projects, budgeting time and money for meals and laundry and extracurricular activities can be hard for new students getting their first taste of the real world.
Faust says students over-commit to multiple activities and stress out unnecessarily as a result. “Make sure that you prioritize the activities that are important to you and give the proper amount of time and dedication to them. Getting your degree is the reason you are in college, everything else just comes with it to make the full college experience.”
Although students have gone through high school and know about juggling school work with extracurriculars, college offers more freedom and can make balancing work and play a challenge.
“Don’t make iron-clad commitments to a club until you’re in the swing at school,” Rubenstone says. “Don’t take on big projects or leadership roles till you’ve gotten through at least one set of mid-terms.”