At some point during the start of your freshman year, you will attend your school’s student activities fair and when you do, you will feel like a kid in a candy store. You will fall in love with a million different clubs and end up signing up for almost as many by the time you leave. Even though that is completely normal, figuring out what extracurriculars to get involved with should go beyond love at first sight. You need to be strategic in terms of quantity and quality if you want to be considered by top graduate schools and jobs later on.
In terms of quantity, less is more. Back in the day, conventional wisdom dictated that you should join as many clubs as possible because this somehow looked more impressive. But not anymore. Rather than being a jack of all trades, you need to be an expert. And an expert is usually proficient in just a few areas, not eight. Therefore, I would recommend being involved with no more than two to three extracurriculars. But for those two or three, your involvement needs to be all about quality.
To that end, I would like to introduce you to Marie (not real name), a former Duke undergraduate I came to know quite well because she joined the Duke Prospective Health Care Club (PHCC), which I had founded and advised. Her involvement exemplified the main qualities you should strive for when participating in extracurriculars.
First is longevity, which I define as being involved for at least two years. Marie was a PHCC member for three years. If you’re unable to commit to any extracurricular for a long period of time, graduate schools and jobs may worry that you’ll show that same lack of commitment if they choose you. This is the last thing they want to see given that they invest considerable time, money and effort into every applicant they accept/hire.
Second is evolution. When Marie joined as a sophomore, she ran for and was elected VP of Publications, which she also served as during her junior year. When she was a senior she ran for and was elected Co-President. She went from being responsible for publications to being responsible for publications, forums, community outreach and curriculum (i.e. the four committees that comprised the club). By taking on more responsibility over time, she demonstrated a willingness to challenge and improve herself, which of course graduate schools and jobs love to see.
Third is results. During her two years as VP of Publications (the club published a journal), Marie increased the funding for the journal threefold. While process is important, at the end of the day it’s about getting good results. Since past behavior is the best of predictor of future behavior, graduate schools and jobs rely on your academics and extracurricular activities to determine your ability to get results.
Even though you’re just starting college, at some point you will create a resume, where you will include your extracurriculars. When you do, please keep the following in mind: you are responsible for being able to explain in detail whatever is on it. Unfortunately, some students tend to exaggerate their involvement in extracurriculars. Then when asked about it during an interview, they embarrass themselves by not being able to say much about it. Don’t let yourself get caught in such an awkward situation.
So how did Marie fare after she graduated from Duke? She worked at BlackRock, a top global investment management corporation, as well as Smart Vision Labs, whose mission is to increase access to vision care through cutting edge technology. Now she is a student at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, a top-tier business school.
Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to excelling at extracurriculars your freshman year!
About the Author
Ziggy Yoediono – a Harvard, Yale, Duke and University of Rochester educated/trained psychiatrist with an MBA and a former college academic adviser – is the founder of ZIG Consulting, a college life coaching firm where every student works one-on-one with him in terms of academics, career, social life and extracurriculars. While college resources such as academic advisers and career centers should be optimized, some students want more personalized, continuous, detailed support – whether it’s because they want that extra edge or because they’re struggling – that colleges can’t always provide. Whether it’s a general issue like figuring what you want to do with your life or a more specific one like applying for certain internships/jobs or to certain graduate schools, ZIG Consulting can help you every step of the way! You can find him at www.zigconsulting.com