Throughout the course of your undergraduate career, you are going to have the opportunity to get involved in a wide variety of clubs and activities. There will most likely be hundreds of options at your university, depending on its size, so how do you decide which clubs to join? From what I’ve learned, the clubs on your resume/application can do three things:
- Show that you can lead others and handle responsibility
- Show your interest in whatever field you’re pursuing
- Round out your application
Now, it’s OK to want to be a part of many organizations (either at once or throughout your college career), but I can tell you that that’s a risky move. Being involved in too many clubs leaves less time to devote to each club, and this leads to less substance to talk about during interviews. Potential employers for internships and admissions officers don’t want your answer to “So, what do you do with club X?” be “Well, I attend the monthly meetings…..I…..uh…..um…oh! I also went to this speaker thing that the club had come in.” This doesn’t do you any good and may actually hurt you more than help you. Additionally, having brief stints in most or all of your clubs looks suspect, too. While joining more clubs may help put more lines on your resume, if asked to put in the dates of each club (which most b-school apps do ask), you’ll be in trouble. Even if you tried to lie (which you absolutely shouldn’t), admissions officers will ask about your experiences in your interview, and they can tell when you aren’t being sincere about your club involvement.
So, how does one mitigate this? How can you ensure that your extra curricular activities are in the perfect range of both breadth and depth and successfully mesh with your story? After a lot of research and personal trial and error, I have come up with a checklist, of sorts, to determine that your club involvement shines.
The checklist is as follows:
- A club that you started and is relevant to your industry (Founder/Co-Founder & President)
- A leadership position in another club relevant to your industry (VP/Treasurer)
- A leadership position in a broader, university-wide entity (Council Member/Representative/Ambassador)
- An unrelated club that rounds out your profile (No leadership)
Let’s take a look at what each one brings to your application.
1. A club that you started and is relevant to your industry (Founder/Co-Founder & President)
This shows it all: initiative, ability to lead, ability to handle responsibility, ability to galvanize others, etc., etc. There are two caveats here, though. First, you must be able to articulate why you started the club. What did you hope to accomplish? What did you do to work towards that goal? Second, going off of that, you need to do substantial things. A Global Marketing club that you founded looks great on paper, but if the club’s extent is you and your friends talking in a room for 45 minutes each week, it’ll show in the interviews. Ideally, you’ll want this club to revolve somewhat about your chosen industry, as there is no clearer way to say, “I’m really interested in this! I really care about this!” than by dedicating your own time and effort to that cause.
My example: I helped start a mentorship program for international school of management students new to my university. This was relevant to my interest in the education field as it allowed me to help English as a Second Language students new to the US develop tools to succeed in the classroom.
2. A leadership position in another club relevant to your industry (VP/Treasurer)
This club will further display your ability to lead, ability to handle responsibility, and interest in the field. I recommend shooting for a VP or Treasurer role only because you’ll have a lot of responsibility with the club you started that running another club might stretch you too thin. If you think you can do it, go for it, but proceed with caution.
My example: I was the Treasurer for the Active Minds branch at my university. Active Minds is a club that seeks to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness on campus, including learning disorders (again, education-related).
3. A leadership position in a broader, university-wide entity. (Council member/Representative/Ambassador)
Your university will have some entity that represents the students in some capacity. Whether it be via a student government or council role, an ambassador role, or any other school representative role, get involved in this type of club. It shows that you are committed to your university (which your potential b-schools will love to see), that you care about your fellow peers and want to represent their best interests (again, a huge plus to a potential b-school), as well as the aforementioned ability to handle additional responsibility.
My example: I got involved in my university’s Honors Student Council (side note: if you are an Honors College Scholar or the equivalent, get involved in that student government) where we fostered a close-knit community of Honors Scholars. I helped host a wide variety of events for scholars and defined and led service initiatives (commitment to school, commitment to peers, and ability to handle responsibility).
4. An unrelated club that rounds out your application.
This is the fun club. The one where you can be as creative as you want with its selection. The only thing I recommend is that it rounds out your application. For example, if you are already on the swim team at your school, perhaps don’t opt for another athletic club. Instead try something unexpected, like poetry club or photography club. If your academic clubs are maxed out, join an intramural team. However, my only stipulation is that you must actually be curious about or interested in the club. If you hate poetry, but join the poetry club to round out your application, it’ll be much more difficult to talk more about it when interviewed. B-schools want students whose interests extend beyond the classroom and their selected field, and joining an off the beaten path club that really interests you is the perfect way to stand out as a candidate.
My example: My clubs (and application, in general) was very academics-heavy (research, independent studies, conferences, etc.), so I decided to join an intramural sports team every semester I was at my university. I love playing sports and staying fit, so the interest was already there, and the teams really helped show that I did things outside of academia in college.
One last thing to mention is that you should aim to get involved in these four clubs as soon as possible. Obviously, the longer you are in a club the more committed you will look, but another benefit is that the officers of these clubs will look to committed members to be officers for the coming years. Rarely can you join a club and be the Vice President the semester after. Climbing the ranks will take time, so the earlier you join, the better. Like I said, a solid few clubs that you’ve been engaged in and doing substantial things in for three or four years looks a heck of a lot better than listing ten clubs with the word member next to them and being unable to talk about anything you did with them that was worthwhile.