Finding your Extracurricular Niche at Yale

college of my involvement

Now that admissions decisions are out and I’ve started talking with admitted students, I wanted to write about how I found my extracurricular niche at Yale, with the hopes that our new students fill find theirs too! First, I’d like to debunk a few myths:  though my blogger bio might suggest otherwise, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when I got to Yale. I knew approximately 0 about the campus or college culture (I probably knew less than 0 because, like any other first-gen or minority student, I had to overcome college’s hidden curriculum). Now that we’ve debunked that myth, let’s get started.

screenshot of webpage with text blocked out
What my blogger bio would have looked like when I first got to Yale (empty). 

Advice #1:  Let your high school interests guide, but not define, your college experience.

It might look like current Yalies or other prospective students have it all figured out, or that they came to Yale with a plan they haven’t deviated from. I can honestly tell you that, for the vast majority of students, that isn’t the case. And it’s okay not to have every single extracurricular or career aspiration ironed out before you move in your first year. It’s okay because Yale has so so so many opportunities for you to experiment and grow and try new things and see for yourself what you do and don’t like.

When I got to Yale, I knew I valued volunteering with education advising opportunities (because it had been precisely a program like these that helped me matriculate to Yale). I used this interest as a guide post and tried out a few different advising groups, before ultimately deciding to devote my time to Matriculate.

group of matrciulate advisors smile
A group of the 2020 Matriculate advising fellows!

Advice #2:  Go to Yale’s extracurricular bazaar.

As I mentioned above, Yale has wayyy too many student organizations for me to list now (or even for the Admissions Office to keep track of on their student organizations page–student groups and opportunities literally evolve like a living being). Some organizations have more of an online or social media presence than others, but where these organizations do most of their first-year recruitment is at the extracurricular bazaar. In non-covid times, student groups register and then set up a table in one of the many rows of tables that dominate Payne Whitney’s gym (which is already the size of 3 basketball courts). Seeing the bazaar and all the possible email lists you can sign up for can be overwhelming. But it can also be exciting! You can seek out organizations you talked about with your new suite or that you found before coming to campus. Or you can stumble upon a cool table and be completely sucked in by a student group you never knew existed.

During first year, my mouth dropped when I saw the sheer number of student-led groups I could join. The extracurricular bazaar is where I learned about Yale’s different college advising groups and where I signed up for a few different literary magazines to write for. Even if you’re only remotely interested, it doesn’t hurt to put your name down on an email list and learn more.

packed gymnasium
Not at all an exaggerated picture of the bazaar–it literally is like this (non-covid times, of course)!

Advice #3:  Try many things (but don’t be afraid to back out if you committed to too much)

An almost unavoidable side effect of the extracurricular bazaar is that you’ll have found yourself signed up for a slew of email lists that all sound amazing. You might join a handful (or two, or three) of these groups, and then you might start feeling like you oversubscribed to Yale’s multiplicity of opportunities (don’t worry:  we’ve literally all been there; it’s VERY hard not to go there). One of the most important pieces of advice I can offer is to be okay with saying no. Just as it’s okay to be excited and try many new things, it’s also okay to decide you value one group over another, or that your workload is too heavy to take a more active role.

As a full-aid student who works multiple jobs, I soon found out my first year that I had to balance the work, extracurricular, school, and social life so I didn’t lose my mind or lose sight of the fun and excitement of it all. For many of us, college is our first time where we literally have almost complete control over our entire lives–what and when we eat, sleep, study, and also what extracurriculars you participate in. It’s very rare for someone to come to Yale having already mastered how to balance so many things. Don’t be afraid to prioritize your wellness if you find yourself stretched too thin.

girl smiles with books
A quick side note from my suitemate Katherine–your course readings also want your time just as badly as all those extracurriculars

Advice #4:  Double up your extracurricular interests with employment or research.

As I mentioned earlier, my work involvement limited my free time to work with extracurriculars. While that meant I chose extracurriculars that were incredibly meaningful to me, like Matriculate, I also found ways to make the work I did meaningful, as well. My first year, I got to know all the dining hall staff in my residential college as their student manager. I formed an indelible relationship with many of these people, and I never would’ve gotten that without working alongside them. As an English major, I also found working in the writing center incredibly meaningful and beneficial to my own writing:  I was quite literally getting paid to do what I loved and to improve my own writing and communication skills. I can say the same for this job as a blogger:  I literally get to write to you guys about why Yale is meaningful to me. For prospective students who might be in a situation similar to mine when I first got to Yale, I get to give you guys reassurance and a narrative that Yale has a space for you, too.

I smile with Tim, Jonathan Edwards’s grill chef, during one of our Valentine’s Day dinners. 

In the same vein, you can also use extracurriculars to do research or work that you would’ve done otherwise. For example, I partnered with Rural Students at Yale to make a free national resource guide for high school students. I found an extracurricular that enabled me to do the outreach I already wanted to do. The bottom line is that in addition to a vast number of extracurriculars, there’s also a vast number of student jobs or doubling up opportunities where you can still be fulfilled while making the most of your time.

Advice #5:  Keep an open mind and have fun.

As a graduating senior, I feel like I almost have to say this:  the four years you have here go by so fast, and while there probably won’t be another pandemic in your senior years (RIP mine), there are always things that could happen that make you wish you’d done it earlier (for me, for example, I wish I ate in the Timothy Dwight (TD) residential college dining hall. I jokingly told everyone that I was going to wait until my senior year, and now, because of covid restrictions, I never will eat in there). So make the most of your time! Try things you’re remotely interested in. Don’t be confined by your expectations or high school aspirations. Explore those interests and more. I can promise you that you’ll never run out of things to try.

large crowd smiles together
I had no way of knowing my junior year that this would be one of the last times I’d be in the same room with this many Yale students. Don’t let any opportunties pass you by!!