Top tips for joining university societies

It’s the number one tip you’ll get from everyone at home, desperately worried about you making friends at uni. When you arrive, you’ll experience a week of stalls in a marquee, with hundreds of student societies wanting new members. It can be an overwhelming experience and, if you like trying new things, it can be difficult to decide what to join – there are only so many hours in the day!

If, like me, you are open to pretty much any new society, then this can be especially daunting. Don’t worry, though, these are our top tips for joining (and staying in) a student society at university.

Types of societies

CUSU Societies Fair 2011
Photo credit: Sir Cam ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/camdiary/ ) © University of Cambridge

Most universities will have hundreds of societies with different aims and membership. What you join entirely depends on what interests you, but these are some of the most common types of society that you might be interested in joining.

  • Sports – anything from hockey to ultimate frisbee, there is something for everyone at uni. Most sports are incredibly social societies, with frequent nights out as a group. Some require lots of commitment and thrice-weekly training, others run pay-as-you-go classes and members can go as often or as little as they like.
  • Interest and appreciation – wine society, battle reenactment, hummus society, if it exists, there are people who appreciate it enough to join a society dedicated to it. These societies are often the most chilled out, with members able to choose between different socials and events.
  • Culture and religious societies – most universities have societies dedicated to particular religions, nationalities and cultures as a way of uniting students from these communities.
  • Liberation associations – these are usually some of the largest societies going at uni, including things like the LGBTQ Association and representation for BAME students.
  • Subject-specific – most subjects will also have their own society to put on fun events for anyone who does that subject. You usually don’t have to be doing the subject to attend these events either, so perfect for seeing what your friends are up to on their course.

Be open-minded

If you have a specific society in mind when you go to uni, that’s great. But be sure to try as many as possible to begin with – the start of term is the perfect time to be going to loads of society events before deadlines start to come up. If something interests you, try it out. Committee members, particularly those from quite niche societies, know that lots of people will come along to try them out and they’ll be happy to answer questions and give you more information.

Lots of societies run taster sessions, particularly in Freshers’ Week. I’ll go into this a bit more later, but you absolutely don’t have to be a fresher to start a new society, so go along to the tasters and see what works for you!

Don’t be afraid to leave

If you do join a load of societies at the start of term, it can feel tempting to keep them all going. That might be okay if you have few contact hours or if you go on a casual basis to each one, but I don’t recommend trying to religiously attend more than three societies as you get further into the year and further into uni. This is particularly true if you have chosen a sport – they often require more commitment than showing up to the SU once a week for a couple of hours.

As a committee member myself, I will say that we won’t be offended if you leave because of the time pressure, a clash or even if it just isn’t for you. Our events run late in the evening because we need a specific room and staying on campus until 10pm isn’t for everyone, particularly if you are a commuter student. Stick with what you enjoy and don’t feel like you have to stay in every society that you join.

Don’t feel pressured

In school, we are constantly told: ‘don’t take a subject just because your friend is taking it.’ The same is true of societies – don’t feel pressured into joining a society that all of your friends enjoy if you don’t want to go. Don’t be put off by something that isn’t traditionally ‘cool’ or isn’t what your friends enjoy, or even if it is something a bit different for you. Try out what sounds interesting to you, and you might find a fun new interest.

I should also say that, although I have loved joining societies and meeting like-minded people, they’re not for everyone. If you don’t want to join one or can’t for whatever reason, don’t feel that you haven’t had a proper uni experience. Having the experience that you are comfortable with is the most important thing.

Meeting new people

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Joining a society is one of the best ways to meet new people with similar interests to you. A lot of them run ice-breaker sessions or introductory meetings so that new members can get to know people in a chilled-out setting. They’re great if you’re not necessarily the most outgoing person because everyone there is in the same boat, meeting people for the first time.

If you prefer meeting people spontaneously, most societies welcome new members throughout the year, so don’t be afraid to try something new at any time!

Level of commitment

Some societies have more activities and socials than others, and some require a significant time commitment from their members. Because of the training and conditioning sessions, lots of sports have sessions every day, or most days. Some societies meet once a week, every fortnight or even once a month. When joining a society, think about how much time you can dedicate to it and the timings of the meetings themselves. Some will be late in the evening, others on weekends or in the middle of the day when you might have other things on.

However, most societies don’t require members to attend every meeting, but it’s still worth looking at and making sure that you can get the most out of the societies that you join!

Joining the committee

From second year onwards (or part-way through first year if someone resigns) you will be able to run for a society committee position. The amount of commitment needed for this varies, and generally the larger the society, the more responsibility you have. If you want to join a committee but are worried about the time it will take up, I would recommend joining a smaller committee of a society that you know well. It’s a great experience and a great way to make friends and gain some valuable skills for the CV!

If you are going to join a committee, you’ll have to be formally voted in during an AGM. You’ll usually need to be a member of the society and give a short speech, although this varies between unis and societies. Also, I really recommend not joining more than two small or one large society committee per year.

Setting up your own

If you’re really passionate about something, but there isn’t a society for it, start one! Although it varies between unis, you’ll usually have to prove people are interested, either by a Facebook group or an online poll, something to show that you will have some members when the society starts up. Again, another great addition to the CV, as well as a great way to meet new people who share your interests.

Your uni will support you in doing this, and your SU officer in charge of student activities should be able to help you with any questions that you have.

So there we have it, our top tips for joining a student society. It’s something I can’t recommend enough, as long as you join what you enjoy and make sure you have enough time left to do some uni work!

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