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How to Grow Your Political Experience in College

Are you a student with an interest in the world of politics? Does it intimidate the heck out of you?

If so, do not worry. The political sector, whether your interests are public or private, is terrifying. Especially if you’re interested in politics but feel like you don’t know as much as other politically minded people, or feel like you can’t keep up with the intense debates around current events.

If you feel like you’re this person – don’t worry! I am too. Even after two politically oriented co-ops and an eboard position in a political organization on campus, I sometimes feel like a fish out of water. Here are my recommendations for dipping your toes into the political world without getting overwhelmed:

  1. Get involved on campus!

The first step to getting involved is joining a club. For me, this was Northeastern University College Democrats, or NUCD. NUCD was perfect for me because I knew that my values fell into the category of a ‘democrat’, but I didn’t know much apart from that. I was too intimidated to go to a more specialized organization, but there are lots of those on campus if you are more interested in a certain legislative issue, for example climate change, than a specific party. If you are more interested in conservative values, there is Northeastern University College Republicans. 

What I liked about joining NUCD is that you don’t actually have to know a lot about each specific issue. In NUCD, we have spent meetings talking about things I knew nothing about, and there was no gatekeeping involved! The goal was for members to understand the issue, which I really appreciated. Shameless plug: we meet at 6pm in 344 Curry on Thursdays!

  1. Find your legislative passions!

Speaking of specialized issues, if you’re like me, you’re probably a bit overwhelmed at the idea of picking a ‘thing to care about’. When I first got into politics, I knew I cared about women’s reproductive rights. And about LGBTQ+ rights. And justice reform. And climate change. And… the list goes on! There are so many great things to care about, it’s sometimes hard to pick one to be the most passionate about.

Let’s get this straight: you do not have to. I care about all of those things listed above and more. But I needed to learn how to answer the question ‘what legislative issues do you care about?’ It’s a question that, if you apply for a political internship, you will be asked.

During my second co-op, I found transportation and infrastructure politics were at the top of my list. This is something I never would have considered, but I worked for a member of congress who was very passionate about the subject, and I understood his excitement. So be open minded: let your interests pick you.

  1. Get involved at a local level!

One of the nice things about joining a political organization on campus is that it could lead you to opportunities to get involved locally. With NUCD, I did some canvassing for local elections in the surrounding area of Boston. An opportunity then opened up for me to work with a person running for Cambridge City Council, who I will now work for in her upcoming election.

Even if you do not want to join a student org, you can find these opportunities just as you would find jobs. Go on Indeed.com, or even NUworks for internships. A warning: they will most likely be unpaid, working somewhere between 2-5 hours a week. This is an unfortunate reality for political internships, but I felt for me personally that the experience was worth the effort. 

These local internships will teach you how campaigns are run, which is a very important aspect of both civic engagement and the political sector. At the very least, you will have a working knowledge of politics in your local area. Most campaigns take high school graduates and university graduates to work as fellows or interns, so the difficulty level is specialized to you and your ability. You will never be ‘unqualified’ for one of these positions, so do not let that keep you from applying!

  1. Join National Organizations

Once you have an understanding of local politics, you can get involved on a national level. Let’s say you joined a student org focused on climate change, and then got involved with the Sunrise Movement, which has a club on campus; through that club, you could get an internship or fellowship or even a full time job working for the organization.

  1. Don’t let someone tell you you’re unqualified for something!

Don’t feel like you need to know everything about everything. When I was cooping at the House of Representatives in DC, sometimes I’d be standing next to a senator and not know who they were. You don’t have to know every face, understand every movement, and have a working knowledge of every law. 

You can – and if you do, I’m very impressed – but that is most definitely not a necessity.

Sometimes I feel like I didn’t deserve to get those jobs because I didn’t grow up surrounded by politics. I didn’t have any interest in what was going on in Washington D.C. until the 2016 election, and even then I only really understood it as ‘something I didn’t get.’ I don’t know everything, and sometimes people will be surprised by the things I don’t know. But hey, a quick Google search will fix that!

Most importantly: no one knows everything. Including me, you, and the voice in your head telling you that you’re not qualified or educated enough to get involved in politics. So just do it, don’t be afraid of what you don’t know, and elicit social change!

Rowan Van Lare

Northeastern '23

Rowan Van Lare is a third year at Northeastern University, hailing from in the great state of Rhode Island. She has previously written for Boston.com, The Boston Globe, Times New Roman Satirical Magazine, and The Avenue. She likes chai lattes, Ireland (the country), and has a terrible taste in music.
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