Student orgs must better accommodate new students

Neha Dronamraju

Narrow acceptance rates don’t end at the college admissions process. They follow you. 

I came to UT with so much enthusiasm. Before I stepped on campus, I detailed two four-year plans — one for academic purposes and another for all the organizations I planned to join. I had a solid idea of how to apply and what I would do once accepted. A couple months later, I found myself reconsidering all of that after receiving seven rejections.

Was my planning excessive? Sure. Was I dramatic in thinking my life trajectory changed because of those rejections? Absolutely. But I still find myself pining for some of those missed opportunities. 

UT organizations often implicitly mandate that you already be accomplished to join, which defeats the purpose of exploring new things in college. If new opportunities are not accessible to freshmen or students without experience, they can’t be encouraged to broaden their horizons.

Student organizations should offer a platform for new students to familiarize themselves with the required skills to be accepted to and succeed in the organization.

Lisa Valdez, senior administrative program coordinator of the FIG program, acknowledged the importance of exploring different fields as a young adult.

“In FIGs, we encourage mentors to talk students through the benefits of joining different organizations and how to find them,” Valdez said. “We have a lot of students who come from smaller communities, and we want them to be able to branch out and explore different opportunities.”

Branching out becomes difficult for new students because of the exclusivity and rigorous application processes of many organizations on campus.

Plan II freshman Safa Michigan said her experience applying to student organizations started when she attended Camp Texas this past summer. There, she said she learned about different UT clubs she could join.

“I applied to so many organizations ranging from spirit groups to a literary magazine, and I got rejected from all of them,” Michigan said. “I got all of those rejections within a week of each other, and I felt really disheartened. I would value more transparency from organizations because I think they‘re looking for different things and require different skills.”

Students would benefit from organizations providing opportunities for new students. Specifically, organizations should help incoming students develop relevant skills before applying — similar to an audition period, but with more guidance. 

Organizations could offer specific workshops during the recruitment process. They could also build a new student level into their programs where prospective members spend a semester becoming familiar with the organization, thus bringing in interested freshmen who may not have advanced experience.

Sarah Boatwright, a Plan II and sustainability studies junior, served as the student government director of communications in the 2018-19 school year. She writes the application for the communications positions in student government.

“While previous experience adds value to an application, we think enthusiasm and a willingness to learn is just as valuable,” Boatwright said. “But I think the sentiment about new students not having opportunities is valid. Some organizations do present their applications in that manner.”

A big part of the college experience is learning new things and cultivating new skills and interests. Student organizations are marketed as the ideal way to do that, but they are not always accessible to new students.

Student organizations cannot accept everyone who applies, but applicants should have an opportunity to succeed in the application process. Organizations should offer new student workshops or create a new student sector in order to provide all applicants an equal chance of participating.

Dronamraju is a public health freshman from Dallas.