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University societies – what are they, how can you join them and why should you get involved?

Make friends, have fun and even potentially give your CV a boost – there’s lots to love about university societies

No matter what you’re interested in, you’re likely to find a university society to suit you. Some are mainly about socialising with like-minded people, while others are about, for example, playing certain sports, taking part in activities, sharing hobbies or helping the wider community.  

And if you can’t find any societies that quite fit your particular niche, you could always consider starting your own instead – Jane Austen balloon art appreciation society, anyone?

How to join a society

First things first, you’ll need to decide which society you want to join – and you’re likely to have loads of options to choose from.

Most universities run Freshers’ events where societies can set up stalls to attract new members. You’ll be able to wander around browsing the stalls and chatting to current members to get a feel for which societies interest you.

Your university’s societies should also be listed on your students’ union website. You could either search for the specific society you’re interested in or, if you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for, scroll through and see if anything catches your eye. Lots of societies will also put on a free social event to give you a taster for the kind of stuff they do and to give you a chance to meet other members.

Then, if you decide you want to join, most societies will ask you to pay a membership fee. The fee can vary depending on how much it costs to run the society and the kind of social activities it offers.

Your membership to the society usually lasts a year, although in some rare cases it might last for your whole degree or come at a reduced membership fee for the next year.

What do all the different positions in university societies mean?

For each society, there will be a group of people running it. They will all have specific roles on the society’s committee and you might be feeling a bit bamboozled by what all the different positions actually mean.

While these positions will vary depending on the society, there are a few that most societies are likely to have on their committee.

President/vice president: the president has overall responsibility for the society – they’ll make the big decisions and arrange the meetings.

Secretary: the secretary is in charge of the admin, such as getting new members signed up and dealing with any paperwork.

Treasurer: the treasurer handles the finances.

Social secretary: this position takes the lead on organising the society’s events.

There are also plenty of other positions that are specific to each society.

If you’d like to join the committee yourself, you’ll have to either wait until your second year or see if a current committee member quits part-way through your first year.

To get onto the committee, you’d normally have to first express your interest and then get formally voted in during the society’s annual general meeting (AGM). 

What are the benefits to joining a society?

Aside from the obvious – making friends and having fun – university societies can offer all sorts of benefits and support, depending on what their aims are.

Most universities, for example, will have an LGBTQI+ society, for members of the community to meet and socialise in a safe space.

Societies for students from particular cultural or ethnic backgrounds are another popular one, as are groups for students who share the same faith.

You could also help the wider community if you sign up to a volunteering society, such as Raise and Give (RAG) or the student support service Nightline.

Getting involved in a society can also help give your CV a serious boost – more about that in the section below.

Can joining a society help with your future career?

Yes, definitely!

You just need to find a society that has some kind of association with the sort of work you want to do. This might be obvious – for example, if you want to work in radio or journalism, you could get involved in your university’s radio station or newspaper.

And plenty of vocations will also have an associated society – law and medical societies are common, for example, as are ones for entrepreneurial students.

But you can also think outside the box – even if, on the surface, your society doesn’t appear on the surface to have anything in common with your dream career, you might well be developing useful work-related skills without even realising it.

That film screening you organised for Bad Movies Soc? That showed skills in event-planning, marketing, leadership and teamwork.

How to start your own society

If you’ve searched and searched but your dream society doesn’t exist yet, you could consider starting your own up.

The first step is to make sure that other students would want to join your society and help you run it. Other than asking around your friend group, you could widen your hunt for like-minded potential members by running an online poll or posting about it on your student union’s Facebook page.

You won’t need hundreds of new members – you probably won’t even need tens – but your university may ask for a minimum amount of recruits before approving your society. You’ll need to check in with your students’ union to find out what requirements they have.

The next step will vary depending on your university, but you’ll probably need to write an application. This could include information about the kind of events you’re planning to run, as well as a description of the society’s overall aims.

Once you’ve been approved, it’s time to choose your committee and start trying to attract more members. You’ll be given a stall at your university’s Freshers’ fair, and this is a good place to begin recruitment.

And when you’re up and running, you just need to keep your members interested with regular meet-ups and events. 

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