There’s something of a precedent set for how to “succeed” in high school extra curriculars. Step 1: sign up for everything. Step 2: somehow attend all of the meetings (spoiler alert: you won’t be able to). Step 3: try to run for president of all of them because that’s what’s “expected” if you want a chance at getting into a “top” school… (side rant: a top school should be the school that’s best for you – not what the likes of Princeton Review deems worthy).
I’ll be the first to admit that I subjected myself to this system. And it definitely led to a less-enjoyable, more-stress-inducing senior year than I probably needed. It’s not a foreign concept: stretching yourself too thin is just, well…
The difference in college is that, for the most part, people have come to accept this. And actually refrain from slugging it out. Which brings us to difference number one…
Difference 1: You only really show up for what you want to show up for
In the beginning of the year, it’s definitely worth signing up for all kinds of email lists. The more clubs and organizations you can be exposed to, the better. It later becomes a matter of testing out the different meetings. You’re going to find that some days just don’t work with your schedule. And some group vibes just aren’t what you’re about.
The thing with college, though, is that you simply don’t have the time to feasibly be a part of things that you don’t like. If it maybe wasn’t worth it in high school, it definitely isn’t worth it in college. There are quite simply too many amazing opportunities that you could otherwise be a part of. And even then, if you can’t make a meeting of a club you are committed to, people are going to understand. While there’s a lot to do in college, there’s also a lot to get done.
Difference 2: Networking exists
There also tends to be more of a separation in college between the clubs you do out of personal passion, to meet interesting people, to learn something fun – and the clubs you do to network for career paths (not to say that the two are mutually exclusive… in fact, they shouldn’t be). A very large number of student groups prove to be key ways of getting your foot in the door for competitive fields.
Now you may think this completely contradicts Difference 1. But the catch in college is that most of these “resume building” clubs require actual resumes to even get in. There are generally applications with interviews, etc. And a lot of the times, freshmen don’t make the cut that first semester (though you should always go for it anyways – persistence gets noticed). Reading this back, it’s occurring to me how scary this could sound, but it’s really quite the opposite. The more individuals you can meet with your major, the more you can learn about internships and the lifestyle potentially ahead of you. Not to mention, there’s never a downside to getting more application and interview experience.
Difference 3: There’s funding!
The days of bake-sale fundraisers are over (actually, that’s incredibly false… bake sales happen on campus all the time). But what I’m getting at is if you are trying to really go out and accomplish some big things: it’s even more realistically within reach. Present universities with a compelling enough proposition, and they’ll have the means to support you. Plus, clubs in college, more so than in high school, grant you a greater gravitas – it’s easier to contact experts for event speakers, you can align with larger nonprofits, and you can more successfully tackle causes from a political angle.
Difference 4: It’s okay not to join anything
It’s far from out-of-the-ordinary to decide to focus on school work alone. When you get to college, you’re going to be overwhelmed. That’s just a fact. So don’t feel like you have to be active in any clubs at all. It’s exceedingly common for students to join organizations throughout the year (as it is for them to leave throughout the year). After all, the best clubs are the ones you want to make room for.