This post was written by an external contributor. Lucy Skoulding advises what you should be thinking about when deciding what activities to get involved in at university…
Your degree is just one aspect of university. An important aspect, yes, but it doesn’t have to make up your whole experience. Universities usually have a lot for you to get involved in, from sports clubs and societies to voluntary work and travel opportunities.
There are multiple reasons to get stuck in to a hobby at uni. Apart from having a whale of a time doing it, extracurricular activities offer benefits like making new friends, adding stellar experience to your CV, and even helping you decide the career path you want to follow. Finding a passion can also do wonders for your mental health, especially when you’re feeling the strain of your degree.
However, actually deciding what to join can be difficult. When I started at Warwick, I was faced with almost 300 sports clubs and societies plus charity work, volunteering, and skills building opportunities to choose from. I wanted to make the most of what was right in front of me but knew I couldn’t do everything. So, here’s how I recommend making these choices.
Think about what is important to you
Serious sports teams usually require you to make a snappy decision if you want to get into the team, but apart from these you don’t have to rush into anything. Get into the swing of university life for a few weeks; you need to get a feel for your course, the contact hours you have, and how much spare time you’re going to have. If you have narrowed your list down by going to freshers fairs and taster sessions, cross anything off which you feel would not work with your course commitments.
Next, think about what kind of person you are, what else you want to do at uni, and how many extracurriculars are right for you. If you’re someone who loves being very busy, constantly surrounded by people, and up for a range of experiences you may think about joining more clubs than someone who prefers to focus their attention on one or two things, or someone who wants to focus elsewhere, such as on a part-time job or language lessons.
The rule of three: career, fun, health
First and foremost, I chose my university activities based on what I enjoyed, but I also thought about finding a balance. I tried to spread my activities over three categories: those which would add good experience to my CV, those which benefited my health, such as a sport, and those which I did for fun. Many fell into all three categories, but this is a good guide when choosing.
There’s no point in joining something simply because you think it will make you look good in a job interview, so my ‘career’ clubs were always something I had an interest in as well. Equally though, I cannot recommend enough how useful a society could be to your future career. Many of my friends ended up pursuing a career because of their university hobbies. I am pursuing journalism because I spent three years at my university paper.
You don’t have to be totally loyal
When you’ve decided upon the clubs you want to join, go and get stuck in and have a great time! Go along to whatever you can and make friends there. However, remember that it’s ok to be experimental and try out new things. If a friend asks you to try out a new activity with her which you end up loving and you need to drop something you currently do, that’s ok!
I must have tried out around 30 different societies during my uni years, but I definitely did not maintain all 30 for the three years I was studying. Sometimes I went to a couple of sessions and decided it wasn’t for me. Sometimes I did an activity for a while, and found I couldn’t fit it in anymore when my workload increased. Often, I would join a few new clubs at the start of the year, just to try out an activity I hadn’t done before. Deciding to stop going is not giving up; you have to do what’s right for you.
But have one or two constants
I would, however, recommend having one or two constants. This is particularly beneficial for your employability, because you are able to show an employer that you are willing to stick with something and work hard to improve yourself.
Having a club you’re really serious about can also be really advantageous for your mental health. With your more casual clubs, you don’t often feel the same sense of commitment to keep going along to sessions.
However, for those you attend over a longer period of time, you’ll inevitably feel more motivated to attend as many sessions as you can, even when you feel stressed with work or your mood is low.
Try an exec position
One of my best decisions I made was going for a position on the executive board of my student newspaper, because it helped me decide what career I wanted to pursue but also gave me fantastic experience to show off about in interviews. Aside from specific industry-related skills, exec positions show employers you are capable of handling responsibility, managing your time, and being both a leader and team-player.
I advise choosing a club you’re serious about and finding out how you could become a member of the exec board or committee. It might involve you being elected or submitting in a written application. Speak to current exec members and ask them how they find the role, and then work out if you could commit it.
Whatever you decide to get involved in at uni, remember you’re there to enjoy it. The moment something becomes too much, don’t be afraid to leave or have a break. If you’re intrigued about a new activity, satisfy your curiosity and give it a go. Be prepared for priorities to change as you move through your degree as well; you might have more time for hobbies in your first year than your final year. Most of all, allow these potential experiences to make you excited about university, and the possibilities of meeting new people and learning new skills.