Three years ago, I confronted the uncomfortable reality that many first-year students are facing this week: that not every club is open to every Yale student. In my first year, as I faced rejection after rejection from clubs, I questioned not only whether I could excel at Yale, but also whether I would be able to find community. Two years later, I was president of Yale Undergraduate Moot Court (YUMC), and had to make over 70 talented students feel the same way because we lacked the money to accept everyone. I embraced the chance to share my story on both sides of the student organization experience with Rachel Shin, whose excellent piece on club competitiveness at Yale was published last Tuesday in The Atlantic.

The article describes club competitiveness as a problem that students inflict upon themselves with the Yale administration as a concerned yet helpless bystander, but this is an incomplete story. While some organizations choose to be competitive, others face legitimate barriers, often financial, to accepting more members. Furthermore, the problem is not just that some clubs have miniscule acceptance rates, but that there is a small group of supposedly prestigious clubs that students put pressure on themselves to get into. There is one thing Yale could do that addresses both of these problems: providing more funding to young clubs with big ambitions.

Yale funds its clubs through the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee (UOFC)

In 2021-2022, the UOFC distributed $​​277,873.10 to 626 organizations, averaging $443.89 per club. While many clubs, including YUMC, receive more than this, even the most that the UOFC can offer is not enough for many clubs to complete their core mission. This problem is compounded by the fact that the UOFC places restrictions on how their money can be spent, such that the only meaningful use that I have found for it is on food and other minor social expenses.

Yale can address this gap in funding by creating a “startup grant” for young, high-expenses organizations that lack the infrastructure to raise enough money for their core activities. This fund would provide newer groups with the resources of a mature and financially stable club, allowing them the time to develop their own fundraising methods. Compared to UOFC grants, this would be significantly more money—YUMC projects that our startup needs would be about $30,000. But it could also come with significantly stronger oversight, like regular check-ins with the Dean’s office, to ensure that clubs remain on the path to self-sufficiency. The grant would also only go to a certain set of clubs; any club with too small a budget, too much existing funding, or that has existed for too long, say more than 10 years, would not be eligible.

For moot court, this startup funding would be transformational. Last year, despite minimizing nearly every cost, we spent about $10,000 on transportation, lodging, tournament registration, and food. These costs increase with every new member. To fund them, the team spent hundreds of hours organizing three events on a shoestring budget. With the security of the startup grant, we would be able to accept more members, freed from the need to fundraise immediately to cover their travel costs. We would also be able to focus more substantially on our educational mission as an organization and spend more time on outreach and program development, which would yield fundraising dividends in the long-run.

The startup grants would also spur the creation of new clubs. It isn’t feasible for a new student organization to recruit its first class of students and conduct its ordinary activities in its first year if it also needs to heavily fundraise for those activities. Many ideas for new organizations are never pursued, and the ones that do fight through the challenges typically have no choice but to charge dues. YUMC, for example, had to charge $300 dues in the 2019-2020 season, its first year as a club. This is not only an unsustainable strategy for financing an organization, but also an inequitable one. 

By providing a solid financial base for the challenging early days of running a club, the startup grant would result in an explosion in new clubs, many of which would capitalize on Yale’s generosity to quickly excel in their field. This would spread applicants out among more organizations and lower the number of students who are rejected from their first choice clubs, particularly in highly competitive areas like public speaking, music, and finance where clubs have high startup costs.

Managing the club startup fund would also help teach students about organizational leadership and financial management. While I am occasionally envious when I hear about the budgets other moot court teams receive from their universities, I understand the value of learning to manage a cash-strapped organization. Yale might worry that giving clubs more money would yield complacency, but making the startup grant a one-time payment would ensure that club leaders would understand it as a resource to achieve self-sufficiency rather than a substitute for it.

In the coming weeks, YUMC and many clubs across the university will once again tell a group of wonderful, talented, and interesting people that they can’t join a social group in which they could thrive. As a direct result of this, many of our incoming classmates’ first days at Yale will bear the sting of rejection. If Yale really is as appalled at the competitiveness of clubs as they say in Rachel’s article, they will start by reforming the way they fund new clubs.

MATTHEW MEYERS is a senior in Berkeley College majoring in Political Science and Statistics & Data Science. He was President of Yale Undergraduate Moot Court from February 2022 to February 2023. Contact him at