The case for moderation
In diving into extracurricular opportunities, students should not lose sight of their initial goals
Intense excitement and optimism swept over me during my first-year move-in day. College seemed like an entirely different world, and I couldn’t wait to embrace new academic and extracurricular opportunities. If there is one thing that I have learned from my time at the University, though, it is that an abundance of social and extracurricular prospects can detract from and add to one’s undergraduate experience in equal proportion. Sometimes, too many interesting outlets can cause students to lose sight of their initial goals.
There is a particular culture at the University with respect to a student’s extracurricular activities. Students at this school are often more involved around Grounds than I had previously thought possible. This is partly because your typical Wahoos are very motivated, often with type-A personalities. They are the kinds of people who embrace being constantly busy. But a student may be motivated by more than a desire to become involved. I have seen other students derive their perceived standing in the University community based on how many or which groups they are in. Older students understand that theme and are familiar with the prestige attributed to such groups as the University Guide Service or the Jefferson Society. Similarly, the University has a tradition of publicly rewarding those who are heavily involved in University life. Take, for instance, the Lawn: students apply every year describing their achievements and accolades, and some earn the right to live in the historically significant—and beautiful—Academical Village. Heavy involvement in clubs and organizations may also be a way in which some students try to feel superior among so many other high achievers. Whatever the reason, it is not uncommon for students to spend as much time with extracurriculars as they do on schoolwork, even though many of those activities may not be relevant after graduation.
On the one hand, this tendency for students to take on extensive extracurricular commitments is beneficial. The University’s many stimulating groups can aid a student’s growth. And who isn’t compelled to give back to the University after walking past the Rotunda or lounging in the quad between the Old Dorms on a sunny day? Being placed in such an ideal setting has spoiled us students, and I wouldn’t wish it any other way. On the other hand, an abundance of activities and an environment of extracurricular overachieving pose temptations that have ensnared so many of the students I know—myself included.
The University provides such a breadth of opportunities that I have found it hard to avoid overextending myself. As I start my fourth year, I realize that my undergraduate experience has been busier and more varied than I expected when I arrived on Grounds. I have remained premed and am still majoring in a science—the two goals I had coming out of high school. But I have also joined several new organizations—for instance, The Cavalier Daily and Greek life—and have entrenched myself in University life to an unanticipated degree. I could repeat my undergraduate experience three times over and still not sufficiently immerse myself in everything that I consider worth exploring. There will always be clubs for which I didn’t have time, or events I missed. Yet I also realize that, in my excitement about extracurriculars, I have at times forgotten my primary reasons for being in college.
I am currently knee-deep in the medical school application process, and have found myself frustrated at times with the decisions I made during my first three years. There is little margin for error when competing against thousands of qualified applicants for med school classes composed of only around 150 students. Reviewing my undergraduate career has enabled me to point out the instances when I lost sight of how competitive medical school admissions are. I can recall classes for which I could have studied more or labs in which I could have worked a bit harder. I have spread myself too thin at times trying balance school and other aspects of student life, though thankfully I have paid only a small price.
Some of my friends have not been so fortunate. I have seen numerous instances where admirable and competent people partied too hard, became absorbed in too many extracurriculars, or let their academic drive slip amid the buzz of busy student life. Now that the time has come to start worrying about jobs and postgraduate opportunities, they are left wishing for second chances.
I am not telling incoming first years to avoid new experiences or to use college as only a stepping-stone to postgraduate life. Quite the contrary—college is as much about self-cultivation as it is about academic achievement. In moderation, University student life is immensely rewarding. But I want to underscore the need for balance. College is undoubtedly great, but it makes up only four years of our entire lives. And at a place like the University there will always be legitimate ways by which we may lose sight of the bigger picture. We must struggle, then, to keep from forgetting what we ultimately hope to achieve.