Yale is hard. And it should be.
But this is not something that we actually think of as we write those admissions essays. We focus on receiving the welcome letter so much that we almost never consider what college life will look like. Perhaps once we were admitted, we imagined ourselves on this old and beautiful campus, taking interesting classes, experimenting with new extracurriculars and hanging out with people that we clicked with on our first day. Of course, let’s admit this only happens to very few people.
Now that my first month here is over, I’ve realized that no matter how interesting the classes are, it is normal to sometimes lose your focus and struggle to finish readings. It is normal to not befriend everyone instantly; it takes time to connect with people. It is normal to feel confused and insecure after realizing how different it is to read about the almost 500 student organizations and clubs versus trying to participate in them.
In fact, it’s the extracurriculars where the reality of Yale clashes most with our rose-colored glasses. Mock Trial, Dramat, MUN, research institutes, finance clubs and even volunteering activities have seemingly benign application processes. After all, they are competing to be the best in their fields. To achieve their high goals, these clubs need “qualified” and “dedicated” members. Even before the move-in, they start sending encouraging emails: “Come and join us!” Yet when the actual application period begins, a series of tryouts, callbacks and essays pile up and with them come a host of rejection emails.
The issue here is not about the rejections or how challenging all these applications are. We know that we’re among talented people and that the competition is fierce. But we also come here to discover ourselves and this process doesn’t allow us to try and explore new passions.
We directly lean towards the activities we have already done in high school, knowing that our experience will provide us an advantage. Most of the time, if you have prior experience, it’s more likely you’ll receive that “Welcome” email. But clubs will never tell you this, nor require past participation. In fact, in their information sessions, they explicitly state that you don’t need to know anything. But the advantage of experience becomes undeniable. A student who has done MUN for at least four years easily shows a better performance than a student who is just learning what a resolution is.
If college is meant to be the place we discover ourselves, shouldn’t we be given the opportunity to participate in a debate competition, a play or a finance conference, and worst comes to worst, suck at these?
That rejection email doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that we cannot try all these things. We as Yalies need to ease this process of exploration, not impede it. Beyond the famous clubs, we should create their low-pressure versions that will welcome and train everyone as long as they are eager and interested. We shouldn’t think that we don’t have the talent when the only thing we lack is experience. These low-pressure clubs can imitate practices and competitions, and act as a stepping stone for students who want to commit themselves to the competitive clubs later.
One response may be, “How are these low-pressure clubs different from a gut club; that is, a club that doesn’t do very much and is just used for resumes?” But as Yalies, our main motivation to try new things shouldn’t just be to fill a resume. Even though low-pressure clubs should welcome everyone, one-time participation shouldn’t be enough to become a regular member. Learning necessitates a certain level of commitment, and we are no strangers to this concept.
Another response may be, “Why would an expert student want to lead a low-pressure club?” Because training first-timers will undeniably increase the quality of candidates who tryout for the actual competitive clubs. If the “expert” students really care about their activities, then they will happily undertake the responsibility of running a low-pressure club. Additionally, interacting with first-timers might remind them of why they started doing that activity in the first place.
You may be wondering, “Who is this first-year to propose such a change?” Let me suggest a relatively easier idea: workshops. Competitive clubs should be required to organize several workshops before their recruitment process. These workshops could teach basic skills and give an honest idea of what is expected: How should you organize your arguments in a speech? What should you do if you are suddenly bombarded with questions during your debate? What distinguishes a good acting performance from a really moving one?
Even though these clubs have information sessions, they are usually about the application and club culture. Questions on the actual substance remain unanswered, yet they could make all the difference for an inexperienced candidate.
We are at Yale. It is hard. But the connotations of hard are not just about staying in the library until the sunrise or trying to finish all the prerequisites for our majors. It is hard because we are finding ourselves. Our extracurriculars should help us do just that.
SUDE YENILMEZ is a first year in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.