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5 Tips For Getting Leadership Experience In College

From the first day you step foot on your college campus, you can be a leader through the opportunities you explore and the way you treat others. Apart from academics, you can participate in a vast array of extracurriculars that will enrich your college experience — and boost your resume. There are more than enough opportunities to pursue throughout college that can help you achieve the leadership you crave — and will help shape you into a better person along the way. Here are five ways to get leadership experience in college, according to experts.

Discover what you’re passionate about

Before you sign up for 25 different organizations in your first semester (seriously, you won’t answer more than half of their emails), really think about what you want to devote your time to during your college experience. What are you most passionate about?  

Ayden Berkey, a 2020 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the co-founder of Access Scholarships, recommends joining an intramural sports team, hosting an event on campus, or even getting a part-time job where you’ll have the opportunity to manage a larger team.

“Most campuses offer no shortage of ways that college students can gain leadership experience,” Berkey tells Her Campus. “You can get involved in a club or student organization that interests you, and work your way up.”  [For example], you can get involved in Greek life and run for an executive board position — I did this, and I learned so much from the experience!” 

Obviously, you don’t have to have everything figured out the first time you go to a club fair — an impactful passion project can present itself sophomore, junior, even senior year. Pick the organizations that you know will drive and motivate you. Whether you’re interested in writing for a small on-campus publication or running for student government, you’ll be most likely to succeed in the organizations you genuinely have a passion for.

Take on a leadership role

If you’re interested in becoming a leader within an organization you’re a part of, reach out to the current executive board. There are innumerable ways to impact your club — organizations like Greek life, student government, academic societies, and community service clubs are consistently looking for future leaders. The great news is, many of these clubs aren’t hierarchical — sometimes, you can get involved as a leader as early as your freshman year.

After determining how involved you would like to be, reach out to a member of the leadership team or exec board, and inquire about what positions would be best to fulfill your interests. For example, you can apply to be a membership or marketing chair, to plan events, or even run social media. Ensure that you are interested in multiple positions so that if you don’t get your first choice, you are still an active participant in your club — and maybe even work your way up to “president” someday. 

Berkey says that gaining leadership experience is key to having a well-rounded college experience. She tells Her Campus, “[Leadership] gives you a taste of what it’s like to be a voice for others, to think on the cusp, and to make decisions that will impact a larger group.” Berkey also says that leadership can help you navigate challenges and build resilience, both of which are helpful skills for college and post-grad life.

When looking for leadership experiences, Berkey says it can also help to focus on the quality of your experiences over quantity. “I know from experience that there is a lot of pressure to be involved in a variety of clubs, organizations, and activities on campus,” she tells Her Campus. “However, at the end of the day, being able to show great leadership skills and abilities in one [area] is a lot more impactful than being ‘a leader’ in multiple clubs, but not really getting the chance to dive deep.”

Network and get involved

One of the best ways you can get leadership experience in college is by simply finding ways to get involved on campus. Whether it’s being a tour guide, student ambassador, administrative assistant, tutor, research assistant, or an intern in a department you’re interested in every experience counts and can be an opportunity to grow your skills.

Robin Buckley, PhD, CPC, an executive coach with a PhD in clinical psychology, tells Her Campus that networking can play a significant role in finding these opportunities. She says, “Connect with your favorite professors and ask them for any opportunities to research or teach under their supervision. [For example], being listed as an author on one of your professor’s articles or studies is a significant leadership accomplishment!” Dr. Buckley recommends identifying inspiring leaders in your community, and reaching out to see if they’d be interested in speaking with you. “Maintain these contacts,” she says, “as you never know when they might be valuable.” 

Christian Busch, PhD, the faculty director of the Center for Global Affairs (CGA) Global Economy Program at New York University, says that leadership experiences can also help you “cultivate serendipity” and embrace experiences you might not have initially expected. Dr. Busch tells Her Campus, “Often, ‘unexpected positive outcomes’ emerge [during college], like when you’re organizing a society event and invite high-profile speakers who might unexpectedly offer you an internship because they were impressed by you.” Always keep an open mind — you never know who could lead you to your next impactful experience.

Take advantage of your resources

It’s important to remember that leadership opportunities don’t simply come your way; you have to put yourself out there and trust in your capabilities. Make sure you’re constantly introducing yourself to people and attending events in college. It’ll take a little leg work on your part, but ask for all the help you need along the way. Attend expos, networking events, and socials in order to make yourself seen as the leader you are — and the leader you eventually aspire to be.

“You’ll probably never have as much time as you have in college again,” says Dr. Busch, who teaches students about purpose-driven leadership at NYU and the London School of Economics. “Lots of my students have unexpected relationships or opportunities emerge when they get involved in volunteering and extracurricular activities,” he says. “You can ‘experiment’ with the types of roles and the areas of interest that excite you the most.” 

do good for others

One of the most rewarding ways you can be a leader is through providing service to your greater community. Whether this means volunteering at a local soup kitchen, organizing a clothing drive, or hosting fundraisers, you can be seen as a leader at not only your university, but in your larger community. Service opportunities provide a place for you to grow not only in leadership skills, but also in empathy. Service encourages you to examine and step outside of your privilege, and put yourself in another person’s shoes; ultimately, it can remind us to work  for a greater purpose.

Impactful service opportunities can also lead to rewarding leadership roles. Become involved as a Student Health ambassador and work in erasing the stigma surrounding mental health. Volunteer at your university’s sexual response center and be a resource for survivors. Take a leadership role within your community service center and plan service trips and local excursions. Ultimately, even if you’re not planning to work in that particular industry post-graduation, service can teach you valuable lessons that extend to just about any career path.

Maybe you spent your high school classes daydreaming about your future, wondering if you’d end up hustling in New York City or Los Angeles, starting a small company in your hometown, or traveling the world. Nowadays, there are so many possibilities available for young women that it makes sense why we’re more driven to choose a career over settling down right away. If you’re anxious to get a head start on the rest of your life, college can be a prime opportunity to truly discover what lights your fire. 

Though you may view college as the main vehicle to get you to your dream career, remind yourself that these four short years shouldn’t only be about the next step. Remember to slow down and enjoy it! Enjoy the laughs you have with your friends, enjoy the sleepless nights and the memories you’ll make along the way. While leadership experiences in college are invaluable, you have your whole life to be a badass CEO. Take these four years to become the leader you were always meant to be — while genuinely enjoying college in the process.

Experts
Christian Busch, PhD
Robin Buckley, PhD, CPC

Sources
Ayden Berkey, Alum, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Studies
“Reaching The Modern Independent Woman.” (2018) Hill Holliday. Retrieved from https://thinking.hhcc.com.

Maddie is a senior majoring in journalism and public relations in the College of Communication at Boston University. Hailing from suburban Philadelphia, Maddie is incredibly happy to be back in Boston for her fourth year. This year, she's looking forward to spending all of her money on brunch, downing lots of coffee, and of course, writing and editing at Her Campus. Outside of Her Campus, Maddie is involved with her sorority and exploring all of Boston.
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