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How to Pick the Best Extracurriculars for Your Career

Remember that girl in high school who barely had time to breathe because she was too busy running from the Student Senate meeting to her intramural volleyball practice? There’s always that girl (maybe it was you!) who wants to be part of every organization whether it’s the Glee Club or the new all-girls Quidditch team (yes, they do exist). While it’s great to dabble in different activities to see which ones you like best, have you ever asked yourself if you’re choosing theright ones? When you were in high school, you had time to try a buffet of different activities that triggered your interest. But now that you’re in college, you have less time and may be wondering which extracurriculars you should join to make the most of your college experience, help you stand out on the job market or beef up your resume, even if that means stepping a little out of your comfort zone. Remember, it’s quality not quantity (no extra points for whoever joins the most!). You want to choose extracurriculars that are fun, but also ones that are going to help you after you graduate. While there are certainly no “wrong” groups to join, there are smart ones that you may have never considered.

Larry Druckenbrod, Assistant Director of the University of Connecticut’s Department of Career Services, believes that joining an organization on campus is key for your post-gradation life. He says that when you apply for jobs, employers will likely take a look at your resume and say, “Yes, you went to classes and worked at Subway, but did you take advantage of the ‘third dimension?’”
The “third dimension” refers to the activities that you were involved in that make you a well-rounded candidate for a job. At some point, “Somebody is going to ask you what you did during your time at school,” says Druckenbrod—and you want your time to be worth it.
Which brings you to one of the essential questions you need to ask yourself before joining a group while at college: “What organization will allow you to push your skill set?”
You want to join a group that is going to challenge you and allow you to expand the skills that you already have. However, it is equally important to understand that just because you join a group, it could mean nothing on paper if you put in no effort.
No matter which group you join, Druckenbrod asks, “Did you have any impact or were you just along for the ride?” In other words, in addition to choosing the right extracurriculars for you, you also need to take it up a notch in terms of how you want to be perceived as a participant by employers.
Here are some different avenues to take that you may have never thought of:
Instead of: The pre-business society
Try: The business board of your student newspaper

If you’re a business student, chances are, your first instinct would be to join the pre-business society. Makes sense, right? You can still join the pre-business society, but why not try stepping out of the box a little? Joining the business board of your student newspaper will allow you to interact with a different student organization, while still letting you in on the business aspect. Prospective employers will be impressed that you took the initiative to try something different. Furthermore, with a business board consisting of a smaller group of people (as opposed to a couple hundred students in a pre-business society), you’ll gain more hands-on experience in addition to seeing the business world through a different lens. By working with a smaller group of people, you’ll have an even better chance to stand out, giving you the potential to add impressive accomplishments to your resume, such as “helped to increase circulation” or “maximized group profit by 20-percent.”  If the newspaper doesn’t spark your interest, pick another group on campus that has a business board.
Instead of: Key Club
Try: A community service-based fraternity

Taking part in your school’s community service programs is definitely important no matter what your major is or what kind of job you want after you graduate. By joining a service-based fraternity, one of the main advantages is that you can become closer with the people in your frat as opposed to being in a gigantic, university-sponsored service club. Furthermore, many service frats require a minimum GPA, which is attractive to future employers because you can show them that you can do extracurrics while still maintaining great grades. 
Instead of: A technology or computer science club
Try: Blogging or maintaining the website for a student organization or one of your school’s departments

For all those techies out there whose second language is HTML, instead of going the typical route of joining your on-campus technology club, take your love of comps and the Web to the next level by volunteering to manage and/or blog for a student org’s website. You’ll get great hands-on experience while making the most of having a leadership position. If managing a website or blogging for an org or department seems to be too much of a commitment, propose creating a Twitter account for your school (if it doesn’t already have one) or student newspaper and tweet the latest updates.
Instead of: The student newspaper
Try: Your school’s newsletter or alumni magazine

While there’s nothing wrong with writing for your student newspaper, it can be harder to get your writing showcased if a.) your newspaper has a large staff or b.) it’s not published on a daily basis, which means fewer chances for your work to get published. Instead, try reaching out to your school’s electronic or mailed newsletter or even its alumni magazine. Not only do these have a wide circulation, but also you may be able to connect with alumni or faculty who have connections in the field you want to pursue.
In general, working for your school allows you to gain professional skills you wouldn’t necessarily obtain elsewhere. HC contributing writer Gennifer Delman is a Welcome Week Coordinator at Hofstra University, where she goes to school. Although she ultimately envisions a career in the magazine industry, being involved in planning school functions has expanded her skill set as well as helped her networking web.
“It’s a mini-professional community, so it’s almost like interning,” explains Delman. “I have learned how to pitch business opportunities to vendors and I have been introduced to the business structure (hierarchy). I’ve also strengthened my professional etiquette skills through email/phone. I used social media to spread the word about our Welcome Week celebration, which is a great skill to put on my resume.” 
Instead of: The economics club
Try: A cultural organization

It is a common myth that only people of a certain ethnicity or race can belong to a cultural club, but this is not the case. While it may seem that the Asian American Cultural Club at your school predominately consists of…well, Asian Americans, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t join it if you’re not Asian American. Feel free to join any cultural group, whether or not you’re personally a part of that culture!
Not only will joining a cultural club other than your own open your eyes to a different way of seeing the world, but it shows you are stepping out of your comfort zone. If you’re an economics major, it is practically common knowledge that Asia is a major contender in the global market. Joining the Asian American Cultural Club at your school could possibly give you a better understanding of how your major and Asia connects.
Another possibility is becoming the Treasurer of one of these organizations. You’ll get experience from being responsible for a group’s finances, and you’ll be stepping outside of the box is order to do so.
More tips for choosing the best extracurriculars:

  • Choose ones that will help you develop “real world” skills (like managing time, negotiating contracts, taking on leadership roles, etc.)
  • Pick an activity that is fun and has significance to you
  • Keep track of the tasks you completed and any important roles you took on so you can add these to your resume
  • Don’t over-commit yourself

HC contributing writer and Hofstra student, Gennifer Delman
Larry Druckenbrod, Assistant Direction of the University of Connecticut’s Department of Career Services

Taylor Trudon (University of Connecticut ’11) is a journalism major originally from East Lyme, Connecticut. She is commentary editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Campus, a blogger for The Huffington Post and is a proud two-time 2009 and 2010 New York Women in Communications scholarship recipient. She has interned at Seventeen and O, The Oprah Magazine. After college, Taylor aspires to pursue a career in magazine journalism while living in New York City. When she's not in her media bubble, she enjoys making homemade guacamole, quoting John Hughes movies and shamelessly reading the Weddings/Celebrations section of The New York Times on Sundays (with coffee, of course).
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