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Before Joining College Extracurriculars, Consider This

The 21st century has, thus far, shown us a promisingly impactful decade and a half. We’ve completed the Human Genome project, successfully implanted an artificial heart, ditched Internet Explorer in favor of better alternatives (looking at you, Chrome), programmed cars to drive themselves, and miraculously boiled down the entirety of dating science to a left or right swipe. Incredible.

Apart from our advances, we’ve also experienced a somewhat negative shift in our prevailing mindset regarding hard work. It seems to me that, as the century progresses, we’re losing our sense of authenticity. It’s becoming increasingly rare to see someone working out of genuine interest; instead, everyone appears to be working to build a resume or impress a peer. This isn’t inherently a problem. Regardless of incentive, hard work is still being done, propelling the 21st century forward. The thing is, when there is no authenticity, the quality of our work suffers.

Imagine yourself reading a book for enjoyment on a breezy summer afternoon vs. reading one to later dissect in your literature class at 8AM. The latter seems significantly less appealing. And, because you’re reading without authentic interest, you’re probably skimming, dozing off, or not putting your best effort forward. You should think of your extracurriculars the same way!

Outside of class, college lends itself to quite a bit of free time. Most students choose to take on a number of extracurriculars accordingly. There is, however, one thing students seem to forget: you have complete agency over which extracurriculars you choose. So, before you go joining every club that offers you a free t-shirt or a cool party, seriously consider the work you will be doing with that club. Consider the contributions you can make, and whether or not the club’s purpose is something you feel genuinely passionate about. Just ask yourself one question — Why do I want to participate in this extracurricular? And if the reason will allow you to do genuine work, then go for it! And, while this seems obvious, not many people take the time to sit down and really look at the big picture.

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Here are a few examples:

Why do I want to join Greek Life?

x) My sister is the head of this sorority so rushing will be easy. They promised a lot of wine.

✓) My sister is the head of this sorority, and she says it fosters a very fulfilling sense of community. There are so many opportunities to connect with other people my age who have similar interests.

Why do I want to join a sports team?

x) Athletes get to skip a lot of classes, and they get tons of free collegiate gear!

✓) Playing a sport is a great way for me to keep active throughout the academic year. I always find that I can focus better after a good team workout. The coach is like my mentor, and the team is like my family.

Why do I want to do research?

x) If I assist this professor with his research, he will give me a better grade in his class. I think he’s too old to notice if I make mistakes. It’s not relevant to my goals after college, but it looks great on my resume.

✓) The research topic genuinely interests me. I want to conduct research after college, and this is a great way to get practical experience.

Why do I want to join a cultural organization?

x) I was president of my high school’s culture club, so I’m used to it. Sometimes they bring food.

✓) I want to expose myself to a variety of cultures and gain a deeper understanding of those around me. It’s a great way to meet new people with different values and gain perspective.

Sometimes it’s tricky to distinguish between the genuine and the insincere parts of yourself pushing you to join an extracurricular. Sometimes they overlap. It’s up to your discretion whether or not the good incentives outweigh the bad ones. For instance, just because you did that club in high school doesn’t mean you need to do it in college. BUT, if joining that club in college will bring about a sense of familiarity in an otherwise unfamiliar environment, then maybe you should join! Another example: you volunteered with your church growing up, and now you want to continue giving back to others, but not necessarily from a religious standpoint. You get the idea.

Don’t worry about your resume and don’t worry about what other people think. Just consider the why before getting involved in college extracurriculars. The rest will work itself out. If you do the things you truly care about, your resume will fill itself with accomplishments, because you will be working hard and with a sincere attitude.