By Daniel Speer ’22
Disclaimer: The author speaks from their own lived experience before and during their time at William & Mary. Your background and current situation will vary from theirs; use the advice in this article that fits you as you see fit, and modify what you feel does not fit however you chose.
As Haider Ali discussed last week, college is a high-stress environment; not only are many of us living away from home and meeting completely new casts of people for the first time, but the constant pressure of focusing on the future that began junior year of high school jumps by at least one atmosphere. It is easy to get bogged down by externally set goals or status markers and lose sight of the fact that college is both skill/knowledge preparation and a place to figure out what makes one fulfilled.
Classes and clubs are expressions of this duality of college. Both are opportunities to not only learn new soft skills and hard facts, but also to find satisfaction through topic or learning style. Though there are major and COLL requirements, opportunities exist (through electives, for example) to learn about topics of interest and help find fulfillment. For example, when I entered W&M, I was torn between Government, Economics, and Public Policy. Taking intro and seminar courses in all three majors helped me figure out what aspects about each I liked, and ultimately, what to major in. Additionally, in my first summer internship, I learned about ArcGIS; I was able to follow up on this interest through courses, even though I am not in the GIS certificate program. Course selection can be part of your strategy of determining what makes you fulfilled, and clubs can help as well.
In high school, we were encouraged to participate in several clubs and to seek prominent positions in all of them to demonstrate involvement and leadership. In my case, this resulted in much stress and scattershot commitment to activities. In college, one should plan their club participation strategically, but the goal is to balance career utility and happiness. Employers care less about how many and which clubs you are involved in, and more about the “soft skills” demonstrated through your participation, such as ability to manage your time, project leadership experience, or administrative ability—in short, the stories one can tell in an interview. Clubs allow one to practice skills through experiences that classes cannot provide; For example, if one was a history/archeology major and very interested in historic interpretation, but needed to learn about the field and get some exposure before applying to a job in Colonial Williamsburg, joining the Revolutionary War College Company to participate in reenactments would be a leverageable opportunity.
That said, having these experiences should not be a chore; join a club based on whether you enjoy its focus and culture (i.e., it fits your values), not for its leadership potential. If one feels connected to the club, they are more likely to enjoy taking a leadership role or creating a role when the opportunity arises (e.g. taking the lead to create a fundraiser for the club). More importantly, for all the value courses add (or how fun the topic is) the assessments are still stressful; make sure at least one club is a place where you can blow off steam and not feel pressured. Finally, as implied, whether you join a club to fill out a skill or have fun, these are all emotionally draining commitments; as such, take care to limit your involvement to two or three clubs.*
*This is not a hard-and-fast rule; some folks are in no clubs and have other ways of having fun, and some are in more. It depends on your values and personal capacity.
Daniel Speer is a rising senior at William & Mary, majoring in history and public policy. He is President of the College Company of William & Mary, an upcoming resident at the Colonial Williamsburg House, and a spring 2021 participant in the DC Semester Program. He has also led a club that raises money to build primary schools in Uganda using local contractors and staff.