For the Freshman Survival Guide, it’s tradition that the gray-haired, wise old seniors impart tidbits of wisdom to doe-eyed freshmen before starting our final years at Tech. As cheesy as it is, it’s an excuse for us to kick back in a lounge chair, smoke a pipe and pretend that we actually know what we’re doing.
Well, my last year of college has arrived, so it looks like it’s my turn to break out the smoking jacket.
As my friends enjoy pointing out, I’m annoyingly practical. If I don’t see the clear benefits of doing something, then odds are good that I will just not do it. I don’t read for class unless I don’t understand the material, I don’t put up with any of that “self-betterment” and “well-rounded education” mumbo-jumbo, and I absolutely cannot stand organizations that are about leadership for leadership’s sake. So, I figured I would take a purely practical approach to something that tends to have a lot of gushy fluff written about it: joining clubs and organizations on campus.
In their first few weeks, freshmen will hear a lot about the importance of getting involved. Joining clubs, getting elected to various councils, joining different leadership organizations and generally just doing stuff with other people on campus will all have their merits sung from on high in the name of having a better work-life balance, giving back to the Tech community and making yourself a more well-rounded person.
But, in the end, what does that actually do for you? In my thinking, if you sink hours a week into an organization, you had better get something back for it. For me, the profit from involvement comes from two directions: selling yourself to recruiters and just plain keeping yourself happy.
While a solid GPA is going to be your number-one selling point to employers and grad schools, it’s not the only thing they look at. A good GPA will open the door for you, but it won’t do much to keep recruiters from slamming it in your face once it’s open.
I spent sophomore year applying for about a half-dozen summer internships, and, after the initial application, no one wanted to hear about my GPA. At all. What they did want to talk about was my two years of writing for different newspapers. They wanted to hear stories from studying in Spain for a semester. They wanted to know what my research was focused on and hear about who I was collaborating with. They wanted examples where I showed leadership outside of class. They wanted to know what kind of hobbies I had.
In a nutshell, they wanted to make sure they weren’t talking to someone who only emerged from his room to vomit memorized facts and figures onto a test paper every couple of weeks. As useful a skill as that is in college, it doesn’t make a lick of difference in the real world. Employers want to know that you’re creative, resourceful, independent and driven. They want to see that you’re a good investment, and showing accomplishments outside of the classroom goes a long way towards assuring them of that.
Beyond their contributions to my resume, the organizations I’m part of are really what keep me sane on campus—they are what have introduced me to more than half of my on-campus friends. Right now, I’m sitting on a couch, watching the guy writing the editorial below mine wrestle with writer’s block (he’s on hour four now), listening to my co-editors swap advice on professors, complaining about how long our editor-in-chief is taking to pick up dinner and—of course—swapping videos of cats with our managing editor. We just finished a procrastinatory trip to the new Starbucks, have spent the past two hours swapping stories from our summers and are indulging in some good old-fashioned self-pity about our registration woes. Translation: I’ve been hanging out with friends for the past six hours, and I get to put that on my resume.
If it weren’t for the organizations I’m in, my college career would have been far less interesting, far less productive and would have had far less people in it. Joining a club—or publication, or organization, or council—is far and away the best way of making college memories. I might not remember what an eigenspace or Poisson distribution is, but I definitely remember winning a week of free coffee at trivia night with the trivia team, spending two all-nighters watching a printer in the College of Computing, throwing our editor-in-chief in the pool and singing Backstreet Boys with a bunch of Honors kids while watching the Virginia Tech game.