Extra Curriculars: a distraction or a benefit?
The value of the university degree will forever be reevaluated as exam results and new academic terms approach. Multiple publications and news outlets will question what a university degree tangibly provides graduates in the world we live in today. (Packham, 2019). A world where change – be it social, political, economic, and technological – is constant and inevitable.
If there is one thing that the youth of today value from their university education more than the roll of paper and pat on the head on graduation day – it is the experience. Writing from the perspective of a 2018 graduate, while I became intellectually enriched from working towards my degree, diving head first into extracurricular activity on campus enhanced my skill set tenfold, personally and professionally.
What you have already been told about extracurriculars at university, and what you hadn’t already considered…
Plenty of outlets geared towards preparing students for university, as well as universities themselves, have published pieces detailing how and why students should get involved in extracurriculars, clubs or societies. (Mock, 2019). Before being accosted by a throng of keen campus society volunteers, new students should consider where their passions lie outside of academics. This might prove difficult, as similar publications list why extracurriculars, clubs, and societies can catalyse students’ admissions processes into their chosen universities, rather than how continuing these at universities can be more valuable to their career paths following their graduation. (Patel, 2019). Universities do not solely exist as vessels to create graduates with black caps and degrees. They should be viewed as playgrounds to explore and expand upon one’s perspective, and to practise the necessary hard skills applicable in jobs required in today’s ever-changing industries.
Unless you are being provided the necessary encouragement throughout your secondary education by your school, establishment, peers, or parents, chances are your hobbies are futile bullet points on a university application or CV. The reality is that if you are in the fortunate position to be able to succeed at an early stage in life, you will feel determined to succeed in a way which is not immediately reward-based, but value-based. The privilege of attending university goes far beyond the lectures and the degree you receive at the end, thus every opportunity put in front of you should be considered.
My Experience outside of academics at Uni – AIESEC
I feel like I should preface that I was strangely situated in becoming heavily involved with university extracurriculars. This was the complete opposite to my character from when I was in secondary school. I come from a suburb of Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland. In Scotland, it is quite common for students to attend university in their home cities to save costs. (Denholm, 2018). A very likely week in my life could have been spent attending classes during the day, going home afterwards, and spending time with my school friends at the weekend. As soon as I realised this upon matriculating at the University of Glasgow, I decided to immerse myself in whatever the uni’s freshers fair had to offer. This is when I came across AIESEC.
AIESEC is the world’s largest youth-led organization, based in 100+ countries and territories. The purpose of the organisation is to develop young people’s leadership abilities through global exchange experiences. Students at chapters all over the world are responsible for sending young people abroad on professional experiences, whilst liaising with local businesses to bring young people from abroad to do the same in their local cities.
During Freshers week, I attended the AIESEC information session by myself. I didn’t fully understand what the organisation did, but there was an especially friendly girl from Sweden at the fresher’s stall who encouraged me to come along. Upon arrival, an AIESEC member asked the audience if they could have a volunteer. Naturally, there was immediate silence and hesitation. Someone eventually put their hand up and was invited to the front. They were then handed a free bottle of wine. Safe to say, as a 20 year old Glaswegian, I was furious for not having thrusted my hand in the air myself. Amanda, the friendly girl from Sweden, then told us that Augustus volunteered not knowing what the outcome would be, but saw the opportunity and grabbed it anyway. This is what AIESEC aims to nurture in young leaders. Ever since then, I’ve always called this a “bottle of wine” moment – when you are not really sure of the payoff of a situation, but you dive in for the opportunity and experience regardless.
This moment kick-started what became 5 years in the NGO, moving from the role of member of the outgoing exchange team, to team leader, to then being elected President of AIESEC in Glasgow. Being in my early 20s and responsible not only for the wellbeing of young people coming and going from the UK on international internships, but for the financial sustainability of the chapter, was a huge undertaking. After continuing to support AIESEC UK’s business and organisational development functions, I was then elected to oversee the charity’s organisational development from its London Headquarters. Whilst many graduating students panic about job applications in the months leading up to and after their graduation day, I started my first job out of uni mere days after sitting my final exam. In five years, I attended and/or delivered training sessions at over 30 conferences in both the UK and abroad. I managed teams and coached individuals from all over the world, which made me become extremely agile in how I communicate with people from different backgrounds and cultural upbringings. As Head of Organisational Development for a UK registered charity, I devised organisational models which are still followed today, and regularly presented for our Board of Directors at forecasting calls. Additionally, I had the opportunity to travel to Colombia, Brazil, Egypt, Romania, Sweden, and Portugal for conferences, internships, and quality assurance visits.
Being so heavily involved in AIESEC while I was at university equipped me with hard skills I probably would not have gained from the academic experience alone. It would be easier to consider them as two separate things entirely which I devoted different measures of passion towards. By this, it provided me with the insight to understand how to execute upon my degree. Upon reflection, if not through AIESEC, the most similar kind of extracurricular experience would have been with an NGO of some sort.
Most importantly, being part of a global organisation whilst at university allowed me to establish a system of connections that I simply would not have had otherwise. Through the AIESEC experience, I had the opportunity to work on and deliver projects from individuals of all different countries, degree courses, and educational, cultural, and religious backgrounds. As a result, I am now extremely fortunate to have a global network of friends – and couches to sleep on!
Now that I am older, and somewhat wiser, I have realised that investing time outside of academics equips you with a superpower that many career professionals nowadays have never fully tackled – time management. Being able to commit to tasks and projects alongside your studies forces you to choose where your time is best placed to achieve optimal results. While it is important to not overcommit, there is some truth in the idea that busier people get more done, and become more trusted and relied upon in team settings.
In my current business development career in video technology, my levels of organisation are frequently commented on. Since entering the tech world, I am often perplexed as to how seasoned corporate professionals struggle with competing tasks, delivering results, and most importantly, the emotional labour of team leadership. I can only assume that they had not had the opportunity to practise these skills prior to entering the world of work.
Prior to scrawling your name and email address on every clipboard you will have thrusted in front of you at freshers week, you should assess which of your hobbies you find genuine passion in. Invest your time somewhere (e.g. a passion etc available to be explored further at your university) you already know you have some skill to give and so build on other ones from there.
In the same way that modules within degrees have transferable skills, all types of extracurricular activities at universities can have transferable hard and soft skills, regardless of the area they fall under. If a certain club or society that you join has little working infrastructure or is extremely disorganised – even better! This is an opportunity to be part of bettering or creating processes that allow you and others to blossom in a hobby you are passionate about. If there is no relevant outlet that exists for your interest – great, establish it yourself. University life thrives from new students bringing new ideas, perspectives, and interests to campus culture. Even if you are vaguely interested in a particular society but not sure if you want to throw yourself at it, going to a freshers welcome event and sussing it out for yourself is the first step in deciding how you want to spend your time at university.
If you are relocating for your studies in a different city or country, partaking in campus activities can fast track your immersion into university life. Each year, a significant number of new students experience the same feeling of being thrown in the deep end in an unfamiliar, challenging, environment. As you figure out how you will adapt to your new academic surroundings, joining on-campus clubs and societies will allow you to connect with other students sharing similar experiences.
Extracurriculars are not just “extra” to your degree – you can leverage them to influence both your degree and your future work. When it comes to applying for jobs, the institution that you graduated from, the degree and its classification, will account for approximately two lines of your CV. Although the learnings of a degree are hugely valuable, combined with skills acquired from extracurricular activities, you can set yourself apart by gaining a head start on a job market which requires more than simply demonstrating academic excellence.
Copyright Ⓒ Juvenis Maxime 2023
Author: Ruth Paterson