A few days before the start of every term, I get an e-mail from some eager student wanting to know how to complete the first writing assignment. I’m usually still in my end-of-term grading haze, but I direct that student to the assignment guidelines and the rubric, and I assure her that she’s always welcome to ask questions. Inevitably, the student e-mails me back. She thanks me enthusiastically, and then, she issues a warning: “I’m going be that student who asks you questions about everything. Just want you to know.” It’s that student, the one who asks questions on a weekly, sometimes even daily basis, who usually ends up being the superstar of the class!
We’re back to the involvement topic, folks! My favorite subject to discuss when we’re talking about college education. It’s very clear I have a bias here, so you shouldn’t be surprised by this. However, I’m going to tie in student involvement with something I’m sure everyone cares a lot about – career advancement.
Online higher education draws in students that tend to have more of a focus on career advancement than your traditional 18-22 year old college students. You are here because you are taking your career, and your life, seriously – not just because it’s the step you’re supposed to take after high school. You have a much better idea of what you want out of this, and you’re going to do what it takes to get there, not to just get by. And that’s precisely why you have the power to both get involved outside of the classroom and to do it in a way that helps with your career path.
Let’s first talk about how your resume can be enhanced with student involvement, and then we can (briefly) recap what you can do to get involved outside of the classroom. So, how does this kind of stuff magically enhance your resume? Well, that really depends on how you put your resume together. Does your resume currently include sections like a summary, your educational details, your past job experience, and your skills? If so, that’s a great place to start!
The biggest tip I have is to simply add a section to that list for your affiliations and student clubs. This could possibly go along with a section for your volunteer and/or leadership experience. However, if you don’t volunteer, a) don’t include that section, and b) you should consider starting! Volunteering is a great way to boost your resume, develop various workplace skills, and give back to your community while doing so. However, that’s entirely up to you and your schedule – I just had to at least put the idea out there!
When it comes to a leadership section, this is something that may or may not work with your resume. If your leadership experience comes from your student club affiliations, you’ll want to consider which of those two sections best highlights your skills. Whichever you chose to include, the key is to absolutely focus on how those affiliations/leadership roles directly relate to your field/career and the specific job you to which are applying.
For example, let’s say you want to include an “Student Clubs and Affiliations” section. You were a member of the So-and-So University Accounting Club, and you’re a business major looking for a job in Corporate America. Not only do you list that club affiliation, but you include a few bullet points about how you co-presented in a virtual meeting on helpful tips for using Microsoft Office Excel, how you were a member of the newsletter committee and researched and wrote about various roles within the accounting field, and how you held a position on the executive board for a year of your membership. Suddenly, this unpaid, voluntary membership looks almost as impressive in the business world as your current job as an Account Manager – and you did it all while also working and going to school!
If you set your resume up with a section like this, and you have the experience to make sure it isn’t just an empty spot, it can be that little extra something you need to get your resume noticed. And if it works, and you get an interview, you’ve set yourself up to have entirely new topics to discuss with the hiring manager about the skills that makes you great for the job. The key is to simply make sure you’re including the right information in the right place when it comes to your resume.
So now that I’ve highlighted how you can use these student involvement opportunities to boost your resume, how do you get involved in order to get to the point where you can list your responsibilities in clubs? Well, I’m going to do no more here than link you back to my post from 7/16/13 called How You Can Get Involved Outside the Online Classroom. Check that out and start engaging outside the classroom! However, I challenge you to not only get involved on a surface level (join a club, attend a few webinars, etc.), but to actually seek out opportunities to create those bullet pointed skills. Run for office in an organization, volunteer for committees, offer to speak in a webinar on a topic you know well or are passionate about.
The great thing is that you are in a position where you can actually construct your involvement outside the classroom so that it works best with your career ambitions. After all, you’re attending an online college because you know what you want and you’re going to do what it takes to get there. So go for it now, while you’re still building your skills!
I have to start this second-part post with a disclaimer – each institution will have different options to get involved, and I can’t guarantee every suggestion I make here will be available at every online university. However, I strongly encourage you to begin to look into your options – and to look into the options available when you are still deciding on which school to attend as well!
So now you know why it’s important to get involved in college, but you’re not quite sure how to get things started. After all, as mentioned before, you can’t just walk into an office for student engagement or grab a flyer with the date and time of an upcoming student organization meeting. But never fear, this is still the internet and your online school’s website will have a lot of great information for you!
A good place to start looking, especially for those of you who are looking before registering at an institution, is to check out the university’s public website. Most websites will include a section about student experience. This is a place for universities to include information about “campus life,” services offered relating to your career search, student involvement and organizations, disability services, social media resources, information about events and webinars, and more. If you can’t find a student experience or similar section, you can look for some of those breakout topics individually as well. And don’t forget about the handy dandy search function!
Another spot to learn more about ways to get involved outside the classroom is within your student portal. This isn’t something you can see unless you’re enrolled at a university, but once you have access, I definitely encourage you to explore all aspects of your portal. Not only will that help you learn more about what your institution offers in general, but it will also provide you with details about how you can engage with the university beyond just your classes – you can find things like webinars that are only offered to students at the university or information on joining online clubs or access to a career network that provides resume building tools and more. Usually, what you see on the public website is just a hint at what you have access to as a student, so the portal often has more details about student engagement.
If you’ve been digging around on the website and on your portal, and you’re still not sure what is offered, you can always check your university’s catalog. Usually it will include basic information about the student services that are offered, including engagement and involvement opportunities. You should be able to use the catalog to find out what is offered – like student organizations – at the very least, even if that does mean you still have to do a little more research to figure out how to then involve yourself. Also, read those emails that your university sends you. I’m sure you get a lot, but you never know when one advertising a club or inviting you to an honor society or promoting a webinar on time-management might pop up – sort of like a virtual flyer! So keep your eyes open for direct communication from your institution too.
Finally, one of the quickest, easiest and most helpful ways to learn more about how to get involved at your institution is to ask someone! Ask your advisor, ask your admissions counselor, ask your instructors, ask your peers. Let your advisor or instructor know that you’d love to get involved outside the classroom and you’re interested in knowing what’s available. Even if they don’t have a direct answer, they should be able to set you off in the right direction. A lot of student organizations are actually connected to different academic departments and schools as well, so your instructors and peers within your classes can be a great resource regarding organizations that relate to your education.
Student involvement at an online school can be a more difficult thing to discover than at a traditional campus, due to the nature of the online campuses and the huge focus on academics (Yay!). Academics aren’t always the first things noticed with traditional institutions, so it can be easy to find out how to join a student group when they’re very present around campus. But by having to do a little research to see what is offered at your online school, you’re only enhancing your skills that can be related back to the classroom – after all, you’re doing research! – and allowing yourself to learn more about your university. It can be easy to log on, go to class, do your homework, and log off, so by simply looking for how to get involved outside the classroom, you’re already starting to engage with your institution on a higher level. Which, as we know from the previous post, has a lot of benefits!