The Complete Guide to Success with University Student Societies

3 April, 2014

Image shows student rowers in Oxford.

Going to university isn’t just about long hours in the library and stressing about exams.

Most universities have a diverse array of student societies to suit every taste, and you might be surprised to learn that involvement in these groups isn’t just good fun; they teach invaluable life and business skills that will help set you apart from other job applicants after you graduate. Whether you use student societies as an opportunity to pursue a hobby with the excellent facilities that universities often provide at vastly lower costs than elsewhere, or get into the full swing of organising events and end up as president, you’re sure to find something that will be enjoyable and look great on your CV. In this article, we’ll explain the benefits of joining student societies and how you can get involved.

The benefits of joining a student society

Image shows complicated knitting with white and pink wool.

You may find that, say, Knitsoc becomes a haven of relaxation for you in a busy week.

Before we look in detail at how to get involved in specific student societies, let’s have a look at the many great benefits of signing up.

De-stress – it’s very important to take some time out from your hectic academic workload; working yourself into the ground will prove counter-productive in the long-run, and you’ll do far better in your studies if you’re able to approach them feeling relaxed and positive. Student societies are a great way of letting off steam and getting you away from your desk, and that change of scene is vital to your physical and mental well-being.

CV – participation in student societies is tremendously beneficial to your CV, as it not only shows you to be an interesting and well-rounded individual, but it also gives you transferrable skills that will be of use in the workplace, such as teamwork or leadership. Employers are (anecdotally) thought to look more favourably on someone with a 2.1 who can show active participation in a good range of other interests than they are at someone who has a First but no social life.

Make new friends – student societies are the ideal place to meet like-minded people who share your interests, and are a good source of new friends outside the confines of your Halls of Residence or course.

Pursue your hobbies – if you’ve grown up passionate about a certain hobby, such as horse riding, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t carry it on at university. There will almost certainly be a society dedicated to it, and if there isn’t, you could start your own! (We’ll explain more about that later.)

Exercise – many student societies and clubs offer a fun form of exercise, notably the sports clubs, so provide health benefits as well. For those who aren’t keen on sports, a Rambling Society will get you out in the fresh air on some long walks.

Even if you’re worried about balancing extra-curricular activities alongside your studies, it’s still worth going along to a few. University is about having fun too!

Image is a button that reads "Browse all Student Life articles."The Freshers’ Fair

Image shows a row of different coloured paintbrushes.

Not sure if the Art Club is for you? Sign up for it anyway and decide later.

Your first step to becoming involved in a student society is to attend your university’s Freshers’ Fair. This is a large exhibition in which all the student societies attempt to recruit new members. With so many vying for your attention, you may find it hard to decide which to sign up for, so here are some top tips for making the most of your time at the Freshers’ Fair:

Take a bag – you’ll be bribed into adding your name to mailing lists with lots of free stuff, so take something to carry it in!

Sign up to lots of groups – even if you don’t end up going to all of them, it means you’ll get their introductory emails and you can make your mind up later about which ones you’re most interested in.

Go along to their introductory meetings – most societies will offer an introductory meeting for potential new members, with no obligation for you to continue if you don’t like what you see. This will give you the chance to see what meetings are like and meet the people who run the group.

Go again in second year – it’s perfectly acceptable to go to the Freshers’ Fair again in second year, so you’ll have the chance to try out things you didn’t have time for in first year.

After the Freshers’ Fair you’ll be inundated with emails. You’ll probably want to unsubscribe from some of them straightaway (the ones you were coerced into signing up for just to be polite!), but for the ones you’re interested in, note down when their introductory meetings are and what days or nights of the week they meet. This way, you’ll be able to see where meetings could fit into your schedule, and double-booked slots will help you make your mind up about which groups to choose.

Specific requirements

Some student societies are easier to get involved in than others. Some are open to anybody, even if you’ve never done the activity before, while others may have more stringent requirements. In this section, we take a look at some of the typical entry requirements for different kinds of student group.

Student Union

Image shows a march of students shaking red boxes, which read 'tuition fees.'

Student Union involvement requires an active engagement in politics, and can be a stepping-stone into a career in politics too.

The Student Union is the official body that represents students at your university, communicates issues with the university, provides support to students, organises student events and votes on key decisions that will affect the student community. Student Unions typically act as a sort of Parliament, with student representatives taking on the role of MPs and addressing concerns from within the student body, such as accommodation fees or gender equality. As a member of your university, you’ll automatically be a member of your Student Union. If you feel passionately about making changes to your university, being a voice for your fellow students or having a say in how things are done, you can take your involvement further by trying out to be a student representative. There’s usually a set time of year when representatives are voted into positions within the Student Union, and you’re normally elected for a year. Gaining a place as a representative on the Student Union is a bit like becoming an MP; you’ll need to gain recognition as someone who cares about the issues, be seen, help people, and win their votes.

Sports teams

As you might expect, there will be a plethora of sports teams available for you to join at your university, and they’ll cater for a range of abilities. Whatever your sport, you’re sure to find it represented. Groups with higher ability levels may well require you to go to a try-out, while others will be happy to accept you even if you have no experience. A very few sports have a basic entry requirement; rowing, for instance, requires you to be able to swim (and you’ll very likely be tested on this). Some universities are now offering the Harry Potter broomstick-based game, Quidditch; if you have any prior experience of this game, we’ll be impressed!

AIESEC

Image shows AIESEC members in a group photo in front of university building in Cairo, at night.

AIESEC members at Cairo University.

Another fantastic society to have on your CV is AIESEC, the world’s largest youth-led organisation, which has a presence at many universities. Though no longer used, the original name (from which the abbreviation AIESEC comes) is Association internationale des étudiants en sciences économiques et commerciales (in English, that means the International Association of Students in Economic and Commercial Sciences). AIESEC works to the following core values:

– Striving for excellence
– Demonstrating integrity
– Activating leadership
– Acting sustainably
– Enjoying participation
– Living (embrace) diversity

This makes it great for developing yourself as a person and as a future business leader. By joining AIESEC, you’ll have many international volunteering and work placement opportunities open to you via its Go Global and Join 2 Lead programmes, plus numerous other experiences designed to help your professional development. You don’t have to be a business student to get involved – it’s open to all talented and ambitious students, whatever they’re studying.

Debating

A great way of improving your public speaking skills and sharpening your clarity of thinking is to join your university’s debating society. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of debating, think of Prime Minister’s Questions and you’re on the right track. It’s a superb test of your reasoning skills and you’ll develop the ability to make persuasive arguments quickly and articulately. Some debating societies also put on appearances by special guest speakers, the Oxford Union Debating Society being a particularly well-known example of this. You’ll usually be able to go along to a debate early in term to decide whether it’s for you, and you often won’t need any experience. Some debating societies may require some experience and have a more formal admissions process for those wanting to join the debating panel and enter competitions, rather than just listening to other people debate. For instance, to be considered as a possible panel member, you may be required to attend a certain number of debates and contribute by posing a question as a member of the audience a minimum number of times. This gives you the chance to build your skills and show them what you’re capable of, though it will be nerve-wracking if you’ve never done it before!

Orchestras, theatre and other performing arts

Image shows a wind ensemble performing.

With lots of new things going on, keeping up music practice at university can be hard; joining a music group can be a good form of motivation.

The requirements for getting involved in the musical or theatrical scene at your university will depend on the level at which you want to perform. There will almost certainly be groups of every level of experience, from beginners upwards. At beginner level you’re unlikely to have to go through an audition process, but for the more advanced groups, such as the university symphony orchestra, you will almost certainly have to do an audition. At Oxford, the main Oxford University Music Society oversees a number of ensembles and you can be considered for any of them during a single audition at the start of term. Other performing arts groups you could get involved in include dance groups and choirs.

Volunteering

You are likely to have a number of volunteering opportunities open to you when you’re at university. One example is Nightline, an anonymous 24-hour helpline run almost entirely by student volunteers, who provide a compassionate ear for distressed students who feel they need to talk to someone. It’s like a student version of the Samaritans. You’ll need to undergo training to get involved, but it’s tremendously rewarding knowing that you’re helping fellow students, and it will help you develop as a person as well as giving you numerous transferrable skills. As with other such volunteering opportunities, of which there are plenty, you don’t need any experience to get involved and you’ll be given all the training you need.

Hobbies

Image shows a hand holding out a beautiful blue origami star.

Why not take the opportunity to learn a new skill?

Student societies devoted to hobbies are normally very easy to get into, with no experience required. They’re the ideal opportunity to try something new and broaden your horizons. When I was at university I joined the Origami Society; I’d never done it before, and it was thoroughly enjoyable to learn a new skill at the same time as giving my brain a break from the rigours of my course.

Fan clubs

Fan clubs devoted to all kinds of things will be a prominent feature on the menu of student societies available to you. These are usually much easier to get involved with, the only requirement generally being to be a fan of Doctor Who, Tolkien or whatever or whomever the society’s members are devoted to.

Getting onto committees

You can take your involvement in student societies a step further by trying out for a position on the committee. This is great for your CV, as it’ll help you populate the ‘positions of responsibility’ section admirably. Many societies need a president, manager, secretary, treasurer and other such positions, and they all offer great experience to prepare you for applying for jobs. To get into a committee, you’ll probably need to have been involved in the group for a year. Increase your chances of being voted in by attending religiously, contributing lots, and getting your name known by the members. Make yourself indispensable and the rewards will follow.

Starting your own student society

Image shows a delicious-looking sticky toffee pudding topped with ice cream.

No university should be without a pudding club.

If you can’t find the right society for you, or you’ve spotted a gap in the market, why not start your own? If you feel your university is missing a Pudding Club, or you really want to get involved in a book group but there isn’t one, be proactive and make it happen. There may even be university or Student Union funds set aside for this sort of thing, so it’s definitely worth asking. You’ll score extra points for your CV with your ingenuity and proactivity, and it’ll be a great talking point in those early job interviews when you graduate.

We hope we’ve inspired you with this introduction to the amazing array of activities on offer when you go to university. We’re sure you’ll agree that the benefits go way beyond having fun, so get stuck in and enjoy the time away from your desk in the knowledge that it’s building you a great CV.








 

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Image credits: banner; knitting; paintbrushes; tuition fee protest; AIESEC; music group; origami; pudding.

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