Are Societies Really Worth It?
Joining a club (known as societies at university) is constantly promoted across the glossy prospectuses that you’re likely to collect if you’re looking for your perfect campus. However, once you arrive at university, society taster events and groups of stalls staffed by current committee members seem to take over for the first few weeks, which may leave you confused as to what society is right for you.
There’s no golden rule, some people will join and maintain multiple society memberships throughout their degree, while others won’t bother with any. The truth is, some are expensive, a few will be good, and a good majority will be pretty lame. In this post, I thought that I’d dive into the world of university societies to give you an insight into how everything works, and how to make sure you’re not being ripped off.
If joining a competitive sports team is your thing, universities will easily be able to cater to your needs. Try-outs and training usually happen in the first month or so of the academic year, and there may be the opportunity to be part of different teams that play at different levels. The top teams generally travel to compete against other universities in their own leagues, and depending on how many teams a sport has, you may have the opportunity to play away from campus at varsity events. Costs for sports at university varies on the equipment, coaching and facilities available, but they’re generally on the more expensive side of things, and are taken quite seriously if you’re allowed to play competitively. There’s uniform, coaching, travel and equipment hire to pay for, which may be demanded up-front, or paid in instalments over the course of the year.
The expense of joining a sports society won’t always be worth it, especially if you’re not part of the top team. For example, if leagues are smaller you won’t get the opportunity to travel to play against other universities or attend varsity competitions, but will still be required to cough up cash for uniform and membership fees. Lots of sports do have provision for players who just want to use the society as an opportunity to meet people and keep fit, which often includes cheaper membership, but double-check before you commit to anything expensive. Attend trials and ask current players about fees, practice times and social events to see whether that particular sport will be a good fit for you.
Each society will have a committee, made up a few students who’ve been elected to oversee the financial, social and welfare actions of the group. Being part of this group looks fantastic on your CV, as it gives you real-world practice on managing finances for an organisation. This money will come from membership fees, subsidies from the student’s union and any outside sponsors. Committees are voted in towards the end of the academic year, which gives you the chance to write a manifesto and campaign to be elected as a member.
If you don’t want the commitment of being part of this group, there’s no pressure. Lots of people want to be part of a social group without the hassle of running it, and that’s perfectly fine! In my experience, committees often get a lot of support from the Student’s Union in regards to the financials, so there’s lots of help if you do decide you’d like to take it on.
Sports teams will train several times a week, attend matches and socials, which is a big time commitment that it’s important to be aware of. However, the majority of other societies will meet weekly or monthly, meaning it’ll be much easier to fit them around your schedule. A lot of meetings also take place in the evenings, especially through socials which often (but not always) involve alcohol. That being said, there are more and more sober societies cropping up at universities, which means that you’ll never be faced with the pressure of a night out if you know that’s definitely not your thing.
Some societies where you learn a skill, such as first aid, will have a more specific time commitment, as you may be required to attend training days that aren’t based at your university. If you have a weekend job or study a course that requires a lot of hours outside the classroom, it’s important to evaluate whether you’ll have the time, especially if you’re paying up front.
The final thing I have to say on time commitment is all about enthusiasm. It’s encouraged that students join at least one society, and many will join a lot more in the first semester. However, you might decide after a few weeks that you’re not that interested about giving up several hours of your time each week, especially once you’ve settled into your course and have a better understanding of your schedule and assignments. I personally decided that I’d rather put my spare hours into working and earning money, so I decided to stick with one society that held events a few times a term instead of every week.
Joining a society based on physical activity will have lots of benefits for your mental and physical health, so that’s an obvious one. Societies are also a great place to meet like-minded people and make great friends, and if you’re not close with your flat mates, I’d recommend joining a society that meets regularly so you can have some much-needed social time. Widening your network outside of your course is always a good idea for the future, as well as for taking advantages of opportunities within your university. If you’re not planning to get a job, holding a committee position will show employers that you’re capable and willing to take on a position of responsibility.
Cost is the biggest disadvantage in my opinion, as many of the “more exciting” societies that involve sports, travelling or eating will often incur a significant cost. There are always exceptions to the rule, so there’s always a chance you might find a society like this which is heavily subsidised. The great news is that lots of societies are aware of the financial pressure that students face, and therefore price themselves in a bracket that is most affordable for students. There are always going to be a number of students who can afford the more expensive societies, and that’s why those societies exist! If a society can’t keep to a budget or meet its cost, it will eventually cease to exist, so don’t ever feel pressured to put yourself out of pocket.
That’s it, that’s my opinion on societies. Getting involved in things outside of your course is so important, so try and find one society that fits your budget to see you through your time at university. This September’s content is themed around starting university, so if you’ve enjoyed this post, be sure to check in on the rest of my content coming soon. I'll also be posting lots of tips for students this month over on my Instagram, so come and join the community over there.