We all experienced it in the first week at university: there was barely a chance to say “Hogwarts” before you were thrust into the chaos of the Freshers’ Fair where a barrage of societies awaited you. Maybe you decided to sign up for the free sweeties getting thrown your way, for the riotous socials promised by the sports teams, or maybe to continue a hobby from school that you loved dearly. But now there is another important reason to consider joining in the fun.
A recent study has found that 70% of employers believe young people with evidence of extracurricular activities alongside their studies stand out from the competition in their job applications. This is great news for many students because it acknowledges the hard work and precious time they put into volunteering in societies, from charity work to playing in music ensembles, organising events and even publishing magazines (hello). There is absolutely no denying the transferable skills to be gained from such experiences, and it’s a triumph to see these being recognised positively by our future employers.
But despite there being over two hundred societies at our university, they aren’t always accessible to everyone. Most students live on campus and can stroll to an evening meeting from their flat, but there are still many commuting students who travel to and from campus every day. For them, having to wait around on campus, unable to return home for a mid-afternoon nap, is a tricky situation. It can be hard to stay committed to a society when awkward transportation and having nowhere on campus to properly relax has such a huge influence on your day. For many, the prospect of spending twelve or more straight hours at uni is just unfathomable.
Now that potential employers think that you’ll be less successful in a job without this experience, there could be a detrimental effect for students who are in this unlucky situation. It seems that they could automatically be at a disadvantage for not being able to show who they are ‘behind the CV’ through extracurricular activities, compared to students on campus who have much easier access to them.
Time management isn’t just a problem for commuting students though. It can hard for any student to manage their workload –there’s just not enough hours in the day. Those with less contact hours may have more time to pursue outside ventures, but every course has its difficulties. Some students use their free time to integrate fully into many different societies, which can become the pinnacle of their time at university. Others may not even consider this route and instead solely strive for that first class degree which, for them, will be worth the solitary library study sessions. Every student has different individual goals, and hard work towards these should be recognised. It is, therefore, quite surprising that only one in three employers places more importance on the academic achievements of students than on their life experiences.
For others, it doesn’t even matter whether they want to spend more time in societies: all of their free evenings and weekends are already spent working at a part time job. But the skills and experience this teaches should not be ignored either. A job of any type teaches responsibility, communication and teamwork skills, and these can enhance your future applications just as much as commitment to a university group would.
For all those who don’t have jobs, there’s one particular hook that reels us into extracurriculars like no other – “It’ll look really good on your CV’.” We are a generation facing the scary prospect that a degree does not guarantee you a job in your chosen subject. So when we join clubs or societies, is the main objective just to boost our employability? Any activity you pursue should be for your own benefit, but in light of employers looking for these extra skills, there is a chance many people won’t be doing it for the fun at all, but because they feel pressured into it.
It is the ultimate university conundrum – the balance of work and play. But can we even class the latter as time for fun and socialising when the chances of getting a job are so heavily reliant on what you do with your free time? Maybe one day someone will work out an algorithm for the perfect combination. But until then, why not try something new? Be curious, stay at uni for that extra few hours a day, even just to see what a society is like. You never know – you might end up loving your new found hobby, and it might just help get you a job.