I often tell people to consider joining university societies (or student clubs) in order to take a break from academia and to do something in their spare time other than drink and party. Societies and clubs at university are a diverse collection of groups and organisations ranging from sports teams to hobby organisations to political and liberation groups.
If this is something that you are considering joining when you get to university, take my virtual hand and let me guide you through the minefield that the world of societies can be.
Choosing your society
It can be daunting to decide which club or society to join when you first get to university. The options are endless but unfortunately your time is not. So first take a moment to think about what it is that you want to get out of your society. Do you want to join a sports team to continue playing a sport you already love, or is it time to start playing the sport you always wanted to? Are there any hobbies that you have been interested in picking up, but have never found the time? Or are you just looking to meet more people that have similar interests to you?
Or you could use this opportunity to try something completely different, something that you would never usually have the opportunity to do
Once you've decided on this, it is then worth looking through the list of clubs or societies that your university offers (you can usually find this on the university website or when you first arrive at university) and having a couple that you want to know more about.
Then most societies will offer a taste session so you can join in and try it out, without the commitment and then continue if you end up loving the club that you have chosen.
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Consider commitment and expenditure
Sorry kids, but life ain’t free most of the time. Quite often you may have to pay a membership or annual fee to join. As a member of a society executive committee, I can tell you that this goes towards funding events and equipment for the society. This fee can range from less than £5 to more than £100 depending on how technical a club you decide to join.
At this point, consider how willing you are to commit to the society. In terms of a sports society, are you looking to stay healthy, learn a new sport or just be active during the week, or are you looking to be the cream of the crop and represent your university? This decision will affect how much time and money you will need to put aside for that particular society.
Furthermore, while the wakeboarding society sounds awesome, will you actually have the time to justify the £50 membership fee? Even low-priced societies should factor into this equation.
There is no point joining a society if you aren’t going to show up half the time. So how do you deal with this? Well, most societies will host an introductory session, and I would encourage you to attend these to see if the society is for you. It will also give you a chance to meet current members and ask about issues such as amount of commitment and potential future expenditures.
Or if you are looking for just some light relief, that doesn't require too much of a commitment, there will also be a selection of free clubs that you can join that won't require too much time or money commitment.
Societies may not do what they say on the tin
Let’s say that politics or social justice or a liberation movement is your kind of thing. It is likely that many of the groups that fall into these categories (specific political parties, feminist societies and the like) will hold a particular viewpoint.
Many of these organisations will have a discussion format for their meetings, and so you may feel that it is not worth your time to attend, especially if you hold an opposing viewpoint.
There is nothing worse than attending a society meeting where you feel alone and isolated because everyone else holds "the society’s opinion". If you do decide to stick it out, be warned that this may work against you if you choose to run for positions on the exec committee, as people may feel that you would be a detriment to the society’s image. Just remember that while everyone is entitled to their opinion, others may forget that when everyone else around them shares the same opinion.
Do what you are comfortable with doing
Again, this applies mainly to activist groups and political organisations. Just because you are a member that does not mean that you are automatically obliged to participate in all the society’s events. Imagine that you are a member of the environmental society and the exec announces that they are organising a protest at a local refinery, where they will be chaining themselves to the gates of the complex. You do not have to go anywhere near that if you don't feel comfortable.
Keep yourself safe and happy, both physically and mentally. If people think less of you because you don’t participate in some events, that is not a society you want to be part of. Important to include here, a society should never ask you to do anything explicitly illegal or legally dubious.
Try new things
Your university experience will depend heavily on what you make of it. There is no point joining a society in third year, finding out that it’s awesome and wishing you had joined in first year. Equally, it’s OK to try things you never go back to.
But the important thing to do is not be afraid to take a leap and try something new. Take me for example: I mentioned that I joined the role-play society when I joined university. I had never done role-play before and I thought it might be seen as "uncool". However, I very quickly came to love it, and I have made some of my closest friends from the experience.
So try new things because at the end of the day, that’s what university is all about.
This article was updated by Student Content Editor Seeta Bhardwa in August 2019. This article was originally published in March 2016
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Organising your recreational activities just got that much easier with this advice on navigating the student society minefield.