“I may be over-committing myself, but we’ll soon see,” I told my suitemates in August after submitting an application to a third student-led organization. College classes had just begun — I was still secretly using my phone’s GPS to find the buildings — but already I’d been bombarded with countless emails and face-to-face appeals to apply to X, Y and Z extracurricular opportunity. The world was my oyster — or so it seemed.
According to the Yale College website, there are more than 500 active organizations on campus. With so many possibilities, it can be difficult to choose which ones to pursue. And student organizations don’t really make the choice any easier. In fact, their recruitment process often misleads freshmen and encourages us to chase after activities that only have limited spots available.
At the illustrious freshman extracurricular bazaar, student representatives from the whole spectrum of clubs rush to your side to explain the appeal of their group, and why you would be the perfect fit. After the bazaar, clubs hold information sessions tempting students with bribes like Insomnia Cookies and Yorkside pizza.
But after we are courted with food and encouraging words, we are required to fill out those dreaded applications. Since freshmen in August are already overwhelmed with meetings and settling into a new environment, it becomes necessary to choose within a few short weeks which activities are worth the precious time required to finish the application process.
After investing time and energy into the selection process for several clubs, I received multiple form-letter rejections. Obviously, competition is stiff when the majority of candidates are qualified: I was aware of this reality. However, I still couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Various members of the clubs that rejected me had spent weeks urging me to apply — and they hadn’t been entirely clear about their degree of exclusivity.
I felt bamboozled. How many spots were available in each group? How many students apply for the positions? This information is not available to a doe-eyed freshman eager to get involved. In retrospect, I may not have applied to certain organizations had I not been so strongly persuaded by their representatives. Or I may have applied to more had I known that the system resembled the college process: best cover your bases, kid.
As the weeks passed, I took small comfort in the realization that many of my friends experienced the same frustration. I figured that this is something a Yalie learns as she or he moves through the system and then eventually joins some non-exclusive extracurricular groups instead.
A couple of months later, a new round of emails began to flood my inbox: winter and spring break trips. One in particular caught my attention, as it was right up my alley. I seemed the perfect candidate with loads of experience in the field. So I went through the process again, but this time I felt ready. My application was dead-on, and I was confident during the interview. At the end of our discussion, the students asked if I had any final questions.
“Yes,” I responded. “How many people will get to go on the trip?” The two trip leaders paused for a moment, then replied, “Eight to 10, including ourselves.” Wait, what? Seriously?
When Yalies fill hundreds of inboxes with ebullient emails, it’s not difficult to predict the number of replies they’ll receive (hint: It’s more than eight to 10). It’s understandable that selective clubs and trips want a range of people to choose from, but at what volume does it become a waste of time and resources — both for the applicants and the recruiters?
Extracurricular clubs, organizations and trips should be more explicit about the application process not only to save freshmen the disillusionment, but also to shrink the pool to students who are truly passionate about the cause. I’m not suggesting clubs should stop holding information sessions or that representatives shouldn’t encourage newbies to get involved. I’m advocating for transparency — and an honest approach.
Sarah Sutphin is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.