Courtesy of Hannah Turner

As first years settled into campus life, hundreds spent hours filling out applications and attending interviews to join extracurriculars.

Only two weeks into the school year, three students in the class of 2027 told the News they felt surprised and dismayed by the competitive atmosphere surrounding club applications. A recent article written by Rachel Shin ’25 and published in The Atlantic, captured similar sentiments, drawing national attention to what first-year students and several club leaders described to the News as part of Yale’s cutthroat extracurricular environment.

“It’s so difficult, impossible even, to explore new things with so much competition,” Ali Otuzoglu ’27 — who said he received rejections from the Yale Debate Association, Yale Mock Trial and the Yale Political Union — lamented to the News.

Leo Shen ’27 arrived on campus this fall excited to continue pursuing the clubs he said he “lived and breathed” in high school while also trying something new. With more than 500 active student clubs, students the News interviewed said they were hopeful at the prospect of expanding their extracurricular horizons.

Yet students found themselves rejected over and over again, even from clubs that advertised being open to those with little to no experience.

“Before I came here I thought I would sign up for whatever I wanted,” Shen said. “I thought the admissions process would already create a passionate and qualified student body. Nobody mentioned to me how competitive it really is.”

Shen said that while he found it “understandable” that clubs would brand themselves as friendly and inclusive to newcomers, he thought this attitude proved misleading and ultimately left applicants dismayed. Instead, Shen said, club leaders should be transparent about just how selective their groups would be.

Another student told the News that he had heard about selectivity in Yale’s club application scene but was surprised by the extent of its competitiveness. Christian Daniels ’27, a first-year student tapped for the dance group Rhythmic Blue, said he figured that the process of joining extracurriculars on campus would be difficult but not impossible.

“[I] didn’t expect it to be so deep,” Daniels said. 

Some student club leaders, however, told the News that they understand the need for some clubs to have a competitive rush process.

Thomas Hamblet ’24, leader of Yale’s Spikeball team, Club Roundnet, explained that funding and logistical constraints prevented his group from accepting all their applicants right away. He emphasized that students who were dedicated to joining usually succeed in their efforts to join.

“If you show up with little to no experience and put in effort, you could be on the competitive team by the end of the semester,” Hamblet said. “We try our best not to be super exclusive, it is just a question of who wants to be on the team.”

Matthew Park ’24, head of the Yale Undergraduate Consulting Group, shared his own story of first-year rejection, stressing that most applicants are qualified for the positions they seek. He said that Yale’s culture of exclusivity does not reflect discrepancies in student ability.

Park noted that it is incumbent upon current and future club leaders to change the culture surrounding Yale’s club application process, increasing transparency and accessibility for a diverse range of applicants.

“We’re all students. We’re all, like, two, three years older than the other at most? I don’t think anyone really has a place to deprive others of experiences that they benefited from,” Park told the News. “I got rejected the first time I applied to the YUCG.”

He shared current strategies YUCG has employed to create an accessible pre-professional scene. The efforts, Park explained, include taking a student’s background into account while reviewing their applications and creating specific information sessions for underrepresented groups who believe the organization may benefit from their perspective.

Park’s advice to surviving the whirlwind of first-year club applications? “Give everything a shot.”

The Extracurricular Bazaar was held Sunday, Sept. 3.

Karla Cortes covers International Relations at Yale under the University Desk. She is a first-year in Silliman College majoring in Political Science.