This blog post is part of a series where our writers discuss their experiences attending top colleges. In this installment, they answer the question below.
What are college extracurriculars like at a top school? What are one upside and one downside of college extracurriculars at a top school?
Cory Chen: So it obviously depends on the school, but more importantly it depends on your major, the student-led organizations and clubs, and how ambitious you are. At UCLA, the English major/Humanities student organizations kind of suck, so my main college extracurriculars (development intern at UCLA external affairs and undergraduate seminar facilitator) actually come from special programs I applied for within the English/Humanities Department. They circulate many programs through mass emails, and I save all the ones I might want to apply to (including contests, research programs, and internships.)
But, if you were a STEM major at UCLA, your main college extracurriculars could consist of being a project manager at engineering clubs like Design Build Fly or Underwater Robotics or something like that. There are definitely people who spend most of their time doing classes and don’t do many extracurriculars, and there are some people who go all out. In the end, I’d say it really depends on your keenness in locating and going after the opportunities the school provides.
Upside: Top colleges provide lots of opportunities
Downside: Your peers are probably really smart and ambitious, so you’ll get rejected a lot because the competition is tougher.
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Colton Lipfert: I think Cory is right about the breadth of different extracurriculars. Every club imaginable is probably at these top colleges. I remember during a club fair seeing a poster that read “Gay-Asian-Jewish Club.” There’s so many to choose from that the question is not is there the right club for me? but which clubs are actually worth your time? You have to pick two, maybe three at most, to invest your time in, and sit out the 30+ that didn’t quite make the cut.
Cory: Absolutely. Actually, I remember seeing similar clubs at UCLA– very obscure groups that you’re shocked exist– and these groups are not necessarily a bad thing because it gives the school and its students a greater diversity of choices. And hey– if you’re gay, Asian, AND Jewish, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to make some good friends in that club. I think the point Colton’s trying to make is that it comes down to what you want out of your extracurricular experience. If you want to join clubs to make friends, then by all means join the Quidditch team. But if you’re trying to use your extracurriculars to put on a resume, apply for an internship, or a job, then you probably want to commit to a select few, strategic clubs which you could contribute to significantly— like becoming a club leader in the next quarter or getting a position where you can contribute to a project.
Matt Nola: I definitely agree with the points that both of you have made. The wealth of opportunities is amazing, and you can certainly find a club for almost anything that you’re interested in (or start a club if you can’t!). At the same time, I think that the competitiveness of some clubs is a bit ridiculous. For example, I spoke to a Vietnamese student in my freshman year who got rejected from the Vietnamese student club, and I was baffled. In most cases, I think that competitiveness is often unnecessary and even contrived for its own sake, which I’m really opposed to. There are, however, plenty of non-competitive clubs and organizations that one can join. You shouldn’t feel discouraged if you’re looking at top schools that have competitive clubs, because you certainly can join one; they just might not be your first choices.
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