Are UCLA clubs too competitive?

by Kayla Hayempour

UCLA has over 1,200 student clubs and organizations that cover a diverse array of career interests and hobbies, providing ample opportunity for each Bruin to find something that aligns with their passions. However, many students on campus have expressed frustration at the competitiveness of joining clubs, as many of them require a selective and often multi-step application process to join. Does this intensity make clubs too competitive? We gathered the perspectives of three Bruins to get their take on the nature of club applications.

Sean Seo, a third-year student with a business economics and statistics & data science double major, is no stranger to the strenuous journey that is navigating club applications. Seo recalls that as a freshman he expected that some clubs would require applications, but was surprised at just how many clubs actually did. Instead of letting the selectivity deter him, Seo saw it as an opportunity to cast a wider net and apply to as many clubs as possible, increasing his chances of getting into at least one. He was particularly interested in a cappella groups that hold rigorous auditions as part of their screening process. Seo’s initial applications were met with rejection, which was disappointing.

“It’s definitely discouraging,” Seo said, “It sucks to apply to something and not get it. It’s a combination of that discouragement and knowing you have to apply to more because it’s more selective.”

However, with setbacks also came success and Seo joined Deviant Voices A Cappella where he serves as music director. Seo thinks that overall clubs are too competitive, but now, having been on the other side of the application process as an evaluator, understands why so many groups require them. While he acknowledges that there is a large expanse of clubs on campus, Seo also sees the sheer number of people trying to join each one, thus warranting some sort of selectivity.

“Having done leadership for a cappella, it makes sense because there are so many people who want to audition each year. I feel like that’s how it is for how many different types of clubs at UCLA. The club application process inevitably becomes long,” said Seo.

He encourages other students to not let the application process deter them, and still apply to as many clubs as they can until they find one that accepts and fits them.

“It’s so hard for people to judge your talent or personality based off a single interview, application or audition,” Seo said. All the more reason for Bruins to persevere and continue putting themselves out there.

Josh Mendoza, a fourth-year student double-majoring in human biology and society & economics, agrees that many clubs – especially medical, economic and finance ones – are extremely selective, but doesn’t necessarily see this as a reflection that clubs overall are too competitive at UCLA.

As someone who had applied to and participated in these pre-professional groups, Mendoza sees the rigorous application process as a reflection of the demanding nature of the clubs themselves, making it warranted for certain clubs.

Many pre-professional organizations have direct connections with employers in the corporate world and frequently work on projects for them. Not having an application process to screen for experienced members could diminish the reputation of a high-caliber club, which needs to ensure that potential members will be able to produce quality work and be dedicated to the commitment that’s required of them. Mendoza notes that filling out such a lengthy application may even help applicants evaluate their own priorities and interests, allowing them to better determine what groups they want to dedicate their time to.

However, Mendoza acknowledges that the intensity both of applications and the clubs themselves does not come without faults, particularly ones related to wealth disparities. Mendoza has noticed that many pre-professional organizations (who sometimes also require membership fees) tend to have more affluent students in them.

“There’s still a massive divide at UCLA where you have first-generation students…and you have really high socio-economic students that have a major advantage…especially in experience…maybe their parents are lawyers. The social capital also creates a big divide.”

In order to mitigate the exclusionary nature of some of these clubs and increase opportunity, Mendoza explains that a “middle ground” should be established. From his perspective, UCLA either has clubs with an extremely low barrier to entry and low commitment requirement, or ones on the complete opposite end of the spectrum.

“There’s not really a middle ground, and that’s what should be worked on,” Mendoza said.

There are a handful of students who are interested in certain career areas but may not have enough prior experience to pursue one of the high-ranking pre-professional clubs. Mendoza himself – while still successful in getting into some clubs – recalls that the ones he got rejected from were areas where he was a novice. To fill this gap, Mendoza proposes that there should be more groups where Bruins can explore their passions and gain the hands-on experience that clubs and employers are looking for on a resume, providing more personal and career growth. These clubs could still take applications but would evaluate more on interest, making them easier to enter.

Katy Palmer, a third-year student majoring in economics minoring in environmental systems and society, speaks more to the competitive nature of pre-professional groups as a co-director of recruitment for TAMID, an investing and consulting group.

Similar to both Seo and Mendoza, Palmer describes club competitiveness as “a little bit inevitable,” being at a reputable school like UCLA. Even with the large number of clubs, there are still hundreds of applicants.

“I think [clubs] are very competitive…but I wouldn’t say it’s too competitive because I do think the nature of being at a top school that’s very big…it’s going to be competitive,” Palmer said.

From a club leader perspective, Palmer said that TAMID is representing UCLA internationally and working with startups directly on projects and proposals. A multi-step application process that assesses technical and personal skills proves to be vital, since the members they choose and their ability to commit to weekly meetings and work are a direct reflection of UCLA to the global business community.

Palmer has empathy for those currently going through the club application process which she describes as “brutal” for students on both sides, as she was once in their shoes. Palmer explained that applications can be long and exhausting, filled with info sessions, writing portions, coffee chats and interviews. This undertaking is something that was difficult for her to go through when she arrived on campus, and discouraged her as a freshman. She described feeling a sense of “imposter syndrome” when she realized that she lacked experience in the clubs she wanted to join.

“Part of the reason why I didn’t initially apply to clubs just as a freshman was because of the intense application process,” Palmer said.

Now successful in TAMID and also in a competitive dance club, Palmer has advice for those currently applying. As someone who evaluates applicants, she says it’s important for students to research clubs as much as they can so they have a deep understanding of why they want to join. Looking through social media pages, reaching out to board members and understanding the industry can help Bruins feel confident going into applications or interviews.

Having made recruitment decisions firsthand, Palmer also implores applicants to not take rejections personally. The applicant pool is large and strong, so even those who get cut are amazing candidates.

“I think that the nature of the process, of there being so many qualified people, is that a lot of great people get passed up,” Palmer said.

She encourages people to continue applying, since each attempt is a learning opportunity and each rejection is a step closer to being accepted, a reassuring sentiment Seo and Mendoza also echoed.

Featured Image: Students stop by the Chess Club booth during fall quarter’s Enormous Activities Fair. While various clubs have an open enrollment process, others have been criticized of having a competitive selective multi-step application process to join. Photographed by Juan Perez/BruinLife.

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