extracurricular activities at university

How important are extracurricular activities at uni?

It’s crucial to max out on involvement in university clubs and societies that take your fancy. Obviously don’t spread yourself thinly, but make sure that you try things at least once so you can reflect and say that you gave it a shot. These sorts of opportunities don’t come again this cheaply or conveniently; once you find a job you will have much less free time to enjoy your hobbies (boo!).

There is a great variety of clubs and societies out there so it’s worthwhile attending the Freshers’ Fair to meet ambassadors and sign up to welcome events. You can arrange to go with your flatmates to explore the stands together and maybe sign up to the same things. The clubs and societies you find will broadly fall into the following categories.

Sports: open to novices and the dedicated

Most sports are represented by a society at university. The major ones are often rugby, hockey and rowing; these have different levels of involvement depending on aptitude, ranging from a novice or intermediate level, where it’s more about casual training for a smattering of organised events, to a senior level, where you represent your institution in competitions.

Rugby, for instance, might have a first team with its strongest and most serious players. It could also have casual teams that have arranged matches, which are less intense and require less commitment in terms of training preparation. Sports societies also arrange dinner events and initiation ceremonies, so it can be good for meeting new people and making friends. But beware: sports societies have a reputation for getting very boozy!

Subjects: medicine, law, engineering and more

There are university societies specifically targeted to certain degree subjects. For instance, medical and law faculties, which are typically two of the largest ones, tend to have the biggest subject societies where a committee arranges social and educational events. There will also be smaller societies for other subjects such as history, English and so on. Subject societies book speakers to visit and give talks; there are also careers discussions and drinks evenings.

Creative: from journalism to life drawing

There are many art-focused organisations at university, such as writing, painting, drama and music societies. Activities in these societies can include workshops and open mic nights. For example, you might be able to sign up to a life drawing class, or get a chance to read out some poetry you’ve penned for feedback. The societies may also organise culture field trips to museums and galleries. This could be helpful if you want to find out more about a topical artist, such as Damien Hirst or Grayson Perry, or if you want to see the birthplace of an author that you are writing an essay about.

Involvement in creative societies and student journalism bodies is a good gateway for editorial and journalism careers, and could lead to other roles. For example, learning about paintings and sculptures could be good experience to put down on a job application for a curator position.

Volunteering: helping others (and your CV)

Your university’s volunteering society is a great way to get experience helping others. You should be able to sign up to the mailing list to find out about opportunities. You could undertake conservation projects, work in a hospice kitchen as a catering assistant, help organise fundraising events or train as a tour guide. The mailing list will provide regular updates about new volunteering roles in your area.

Volunteering is useful for your CV as well. For instance, if you work for Nightline you could write a few sentences about this and how it helps your communication skills. This could then turn into a topic of conversation at a job interview. If you have volunteering experience, make sure you sell it on your applications and use it to show your work ethos.

Social: nightlife, gaming, drinking…

There are many opportunities at university to meet like-minded people in nightlife, game and party settings. EDM or drinking societies are often more geared towards hedonism, and so may appear harder to spin as relevant for your CV, but it depends on what you do during your time there. You could show that you’ve developed organisational skills as an event planner or secretary. This kind of position could involve work with design for an event icon or banner, knowledge of social media to promote an event, coordinating lots of different people for one event and managing finances.

Cultural: making connections, celebrating heritage

This type of society seeks to represent and promote different cultures and celebrate heritage. The events that cultural societies organise include free cuisine events, cinema screenings, exhibitions, festivals, balls, discussions and museum trips. It’s a good way to connect to others and could give you a chance to converse in your mother tongue.

Political: learn to speak out

The political societies at university engage debating and public speaking skills to talk about contemporary global issues. A lot of people can be anxious about voicing their opinions in a forum, but overcoming that fear and doing it is a great way to display confidence and an ability to make logical and structured arguments.

Debating skills are useful in all kinds of situations, whether you have to quietly mull over a problem by yourself or present your project findings and conclusions during a meeting. Being involved in this kind of society could help you in terms of securing law, journalism, charity, activist or international finance job roles.

Unusual: from Beyoncé to quidditch

New societies are popping up all the time to match demand. They range from the eccentric to the fabulous: UCL has a Beyoncé appreciation society. There are also quidditch societies, which take themselves very seriously; the positive aspect of being part of an unusual society is that it is a unique talking point. If you do try something that is off the beaten track, it could help you stand out in the minds of interviewers, who are forced to look at stacks upon stacks of similar applications that list the same dull things. Even if it’s not the most useful thing for your CV, it could still be a fun way to spend your time.

Now that you know a bit more about these categories, here’s an action plan for when you actually arrive at uni:

  • go to the Freshers’ Fair
  • sign up to mailing lists
  • put your name down for welcoming events
  • visit websites for information about membership fees and events schedules
  • think about what kind of involvement you are prepared for
  • talk to your friends to see if they want to join a society with you

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