Excited, nervous and a little bit naïve, I had high hopes for my freshman year at Northwestern.
But I underestimated the challenges of adjusting to a college course load while navigating new friendships. The added pressure of having to apply to most of the student groups I was interested in wreaked havoc on my stress levels. So, when I opened the email that regretfully informed me that I wasn’t accepted into the student-run marketing company I had so desperately wanted to join, I was crushed.
As silly as it sounds now, without the club, I felt lost. Because of that initial rejection, I was too scared to tryout for one of Northwestern’s many dance teams and I hesitated to apply to be on a Dance Marathon committee. I didn’t want to feel rejected again, but I also didn’t know where I was going to find friends, how I was going to explore my extracurricular interests and – on a more basic level – what I was going to do with all my time. While I ultimately found ways to get involved and made some great friends through other student groups, it definitely took a lot longer than expected.
According to Northwestern’s undergraduate admissions webpage, there are over 450 student groups and organizations on campus, among which include several open student groups that require no application to join. However, many of the more prominent and hence more “coveted” student groups on campus, like Dance Marathon, Spoon and F&F Marketing, require students to undergo some form of application or interview process.
This makes sense for some student organizations like a cappella groups or other performance-based extracurricular activities, as tryouts are integral to their nature. In theatre, it’s pretty understandable if, as a freshman, you don’t get a role in the first campus play you audition for—that’s just how the industry works. With groups like NUDM or A&O, accepting every single student who wants to join would be impractical because they are so popular. But should other student groups – cultural, academic, philanthropic, etc. – really require an application to simply be a general member?
Northwestern University Women Filmmakers Alliance (NUWFA) just started a new General Member Program, in which all students are invited to attend a monthly meeting and participate in discussions as a general member – no application necessary. Why can't more university organizations promote this type of inclusive, welcoming atmosphere?
Sure, at the end of the day, rejection is an unavoidable part of life and you can learn from these experiences. (What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?). But that doesn’t make it any easier. When that rejection comes at a time when you’re trying to discover where you belong in a new place with new people, it cuts a lot deeper. It amplifies the hidden loneliness and the disorientating newness that the start of freshman year inevitably brings.
For one friend, getting rejected from clubs in freshman year was the first time she had ever been rejected from anything – something most Northwestern students can likely relate to. Because club applications occur one right after the other, rejections can come one right after the other. This made my friend's rejections that much harder, leading her to question if she was even good enough to be at Northwestern.
Student groups and organizations are supposed to help students, especially new students. They're supposed to make students feel like they belong on campus, to allow them to explore their interests, to find their niche, to take a break from the academic rigor of Northwestern – not reject them, adding to already overwhelming amounts of stress and perpetuating an atmosphere of competition and comparison.
For a while, without anything to do besides homework, I felt insecure and isolated. I dwelled a lot on the intrinsic hardships of freshman year fall quarter, making my transition into college much more difficult than it needed to be as well as prolonging the time it took for Northwestern to feel like home.
While it would be both impractical and unrealistic to completely eliminate applications for every student group and organization, clubs need to reevaluate how to make involvement with their group more open. Are applications absolutely imperative for the way they function, or could the club have open general membership? If so, that process could take place winter quarter or at the end of fall quarter instead, giving students the rest of fall quarter to adjust and get involved rather than overwhelming them with every application in the span of about two weeks in the beginning of October and potentially leaving them with nothing.
Freshman year is hard. Getting involved on campus and feeling like you belong at Northwestern shouldn’t have to be.