How to navigate the world of student organizations

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By: Cheryl Marcelo, Managing Editor  |  College can be some of the best years in a person’s life. In fact, many a time I’ve heard from professionals that college was the most rewarding phase of their life. To seniors in high school dreading the intimidating workload that is synonymous with college life, rest easy–there is a positive side to the next four yearcheryl thumbnails of your life. Aside from being driven insane by late night study sessions and last-minute paper writing, college is also about meeting new people, making new friends and building a personal network. Perhaps the easiest way to navigate the social sphere of college is joining a student organization. In most medium- to large-sized universities, the possibilities for choosing an organization seem endless. From major-specific clubs and hobby-specific organizations to Greek fraternities and sororities and cultural associations, there is an affiliation for everyone to join. So how do you make sense of these overwhelming choices and find the best organization for you?
Here are some considerations to think about when choosing the right organization:
Goals/Focus – What is the purpose of the organization? Some clubs focus solely on providing social events for their members, and therefore tend to be more casual. Others concentrate on professional development and networking, and might have standards for their members, such as wearing business attire at events and purchasing personal business cards to hand out at networking events. Organizations that focus on volunteering in the community might have certain volunteer hour requirements for its members. Some organizations will be multidimensional and encompass more than one goal. Figuring out what you want to get out of an organization can narrow down which ones are for you and which ones are not.
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Time – How much time do your studies allow you for extracurricular activities? This aspect of student organizations is especially important for anyone wanting to apply for a governing position in the organization. While planning activities and events is fun, it is always time-consuming, and sometimes stressful, depending on the scale of the event. Remember that other people will be relying on you for information and tasks, so accomplishing responsibilities in a timely manner may involve rearranging your schedule to fit both studies and event planning. If you plan on only being a regular member of an organization, consider its meeting times. Does it fit with your schedule? Do the organization’s activities coincide with your free time? Make sure you can leave for a night out and ace your exam.
Cost – Is there a cost to joining an organization, and if so, how much is it? Most student organizations have a nominal membership fee to cover costs of activities and events held throughout a semester or year. Ask what benefits are included in paying the membership fee; make sure that the cost of membership is reasonable for what a member gets. Other organizations do not have dues but will ask members to pay per event attended. In these cases, you will benefit from not feeling as if you’re not getting your money’s worth if you can’t attend every event. If your busy schedule prevents you from regularly attending an organization’s activities, then perhaps joining one without semester/yearly dues is the right one for you.
Obviously, there are many more considerations one can make in choosing an organization to join. Don’t be afraid to explore all the choices available to you as a college student; odds are, you will be attracted to more than one organization, and that’s okay! Eventually, you will realize which ones work well with your schedule and personal interests. Extracurricular activities will teach you how to prioritize your time, a skill that will come handy when you’re out of college. Joining an organization, much like the rest of your college experience, will also be a journey of self-discovery, and through all the good and bad experiences in and out of the classroom, you will figure out the values you stand for and which friends you can call your best. At the end of your years in college, you will have become a more well-rounded individual ready to take on both the professional and social demands of adulthood.
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