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Notching your Niche: A New Bruin’s Guide To UCLA “Cults”

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

Chances are you kicked off your first few weeks on campus with a visit to UCLA’s annual — and very aptly named — Enormous Activities Fair. With the entirety of Wilson Plaza filled to the brim with what feels like millions of options for campus clubs and involvements, one truth becomes glaringly apparent to students: choice is overwhelming. As you search the masses for a beacon of guidance that peaks your interest, the overstimulation of countless groups throwing flyers and rhetorical questions at you can be an anxiety-provoking experience. 

The good news is that no matter what you could possibly be interested in, there’s definitely a club for that. From sports medicine to bagel appreciation to quidditch (and everything in between), our vastly diverse student body has incorporated their subsequently diverse interests into the fabric of campus life. 

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Zen Chung Via Unsplash

Because UCLA is a university filled with such driven and passionate students who are eager to get involved, student-led organizations reflect this same sense of intense passion. Like our school itself, many campus clubs hold a sense of legitimacy and prestige not seen within other undergraduate opportunities. This reality translates to hefty application processes and heightened competition for limited spots.

Does it require a resume? An interview? Count me out. While it may be tempting to opt out of the rat-race for sanity’s sake, we’re here to convince you to not only get involved, but to find your home in the right club with the right mindset!

Getting involved, no matter your involvement of choice, is one of the easiest and most effective ways to connect with new people who likely share the same interests as you, often helping to ward off the unavoidable loneliness that comes with college. What’s unique about UCLA’s campus culture, in particular, when compared with other universities is that club involvements make up a significant part of students’ social lives, as well as the usual resume cushioning. This central role that involvement plays inspired the nicknaming of some clubs as “campus cults” — joining these organizations typically requires a significant time commitment, and students become very integrated and proud of their affiliations. Students are able to connect with fellow undergraduates of different years, majors and backgrounds in a consistent environment that often leads to invaluable friendships and mentorship. 

Finding the right organizations for you is a very personal pursuit — be honest in your self-evaluation of the time commitment, social environment and workload you are willing to take on. The best way to begin is by brainstorming your own interests and browsing the available organizations. Create a versatile profile for yourself by picking clubs that are a mix of both fun and productive — after all, if you are never having fun, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid burnout. We are home to a wide variety of academic, professional, hobby-oriented, athletic and social organizations that are all calling your name. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of creating an impressive resume or building a social circle, focus on what will make you feel the most well-rounded and fulfilled. Nothing is a waste of time if it feeds your soul.

Next up, do your research! While some organizations are huge time investments, others can be much more peripheral to your life. Another important consideration is finances — are you willing to pay for involvement in a certain organization? Or are you looking to be paid? While joining UCLA Campus Tours as a guide is a paid position, the very similar Cub Tours program is volunteer work! Attend information sessions, talk to current members and ask questions about the overall experience of being a part of the organization. 

Once you’ve determined your preferences and interests, the work doesn’t stop — there are so many niche organizations around campus that all have distinct missions and even distincter approaches to achieving them. For example, for students interested in special education outreach programs, the Special Olympics creates sports teams for tournaments, while the Expressive Movement Initiative serves this community through weekly dance classes and mentorship. Further, there are countless organizations that focus more on ableism advocacy work. Figure out how exactly you hope to be involved in pursing your passions because there’s probably a club for that (or you could make one)!

Depending on the organization, applications can be a significant amount of work, and with school and life, especially at the start of the year, this work can pile up. Don’t spread yourself too thin — pick organizations that you are truly passionate and excited about, and commit yourself to those. 

Finally, keep in mind that you aren’t really a Bruin unless you’ve been rejected by a club. Such a talented applicant pool means that countless qualified people are applying for the same limited spots — this reality can create our reputably intense and competitive culture. At a D1 athletic school, even club sports function more like elite-level teams with rigorous tryout, practice and tournament schedules. Student-decided internships are probably more coveted than most paying jobs you’ve applied for. The truth is that if you’re putting yourself out there, you will not get into everything, and you shouldn’t take that personally. A “no” can be deeply uncomfortable and embarrassing for our population of high-achieving students, fueling a sense of inexplicable failure as if the school as a whole is what’s rejecting them. Rejection really is redirection — or a sign to reapply! You know yourself better than any admissions committee, and you deserve to be here, no matter what the imposter syndrome says. 

It’s okay to be overwhelmed (who wouldn’t be?), but try to use this energy as fuel for excitement, rather than discouragement. You are here because you are unique, talented and, above all else, capable, and you deserve all the love any of our innumerable organizations can give you! Go out, and join a cult (the good kind)!

Claire Smith is an Orange County local studying Human Biology and Society at UCLA. Claire loves to read, try new coffee places, and spend time outdoors with friends.