What the students' union can do for you
Everyone knows the big things you need to think about when choosing the right uni. League table placing, reputation, location, the cost of booze in the union - important stuff like that.
But there’s one key question that many students ignore: what’s the quality of the uni’s student union (SU)?
This matters because a strong SU will have a huge influence on your university experience. An active and healthy union will create a social and supportive atmosphere throughout the university, and will mean that the student voice is likely to be heard and acted upon. After all, the union is run by students – so they know what students need.
“The most active student unions tend to campaign and fight for what their student body feel is important, both internally within the university, and on a wider national or global platform,” says Akila Shakir, junior common room president at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford.
The student union is also responsible for keeping student societies up and running, so by going to a uni with an active SU you’ll be sure of having plenty of extra-curricular options to choose from. And why’s that important? Here’s why…
Meet more people
Uni’s full of chances to make friends. You’ll meet people on your course and in your halls, but you can never have too many mates! You’ll meet loads of new people outside your immediate circle by joining a society, and they’ll be people with similar interests as you've joined the same society.
“The number of friends students make in a society is amazing,” says Sophie Matthews, Newcastle University athletic union officer. “Students are surrounded by people of similar interests and hobbies and it really is a place where you can make friends for life.”
And while future employment might not be on your mind while you’re windsurfing, netballing or Ultimate Frisbeeing, you’ll be developing a whole new network to keep in touch with once you go into work.
“Some societies may be linked to your course and so are a great way to meet people outside of your classes,” says Lydia Newton, higher education adviser, UEA.
“These societies might also run professional networking events. For example, a law society can be a great way to get involved with others on your course and offer help with applying for a training contract.”
Do more stuff
Moving to an unfamiliar place to go to uni is a big step into the unknown. While you’re getting settled, it’s a nice feeling to have your social calendar feeling full.
Getting involved with an interesting society or two sorts that right out – being part of one literally gives you an excuse to go out! It won’t all be drinking and dancing; the type of society you join has an obvious influence on the type of activities you’ll spend your time doing.
“Societies play a big part in students’ social lives with various fun as well as beneficial events,” says Indre Urbanaviciute, president of Dundee University Students’ Association.
“Aside from making friends, getting involved in a society will offer students the chance to travel, discover their talent, speak at/attend events they would otherwise not have attended, or give back to society, if taking part in a fundraiser, for example.”
Learn key skills
Time management, leadership and organisation are all the kind of skills you can develop from being in a society.
“Once you join a society, there’s a good chance that you’ll be asked to help run an event, join the committee or become the all-important social sec,” says Lydia. “All of these experiences help add to your time at university and build your transferable skills.”
Becoming a key part of a society is about recognising that there’s more to uni than just your course. Yes, getting a good degree is hugely important, but developing your skills in more ways than just the academic is going to make you stand out once you’re looking for a job – as well as making you a more rounded person in general. You’ll learn how to prioritise, speak up and, perhaps most importantly, get out of your comfort zone and try new things.
“Joining a society can make you more confident, sociable and well-rounded,” says Shakir.
“Many students find that societies they joined in freshers become a platform for responsibility as they take on committee roles and learn valuable skills such as leadership, time management and organisation; giving students an edge when meeting employers.”
Build your CV
Adding skills to your CV alongside your degree gives you a useful edge in the job market. Your hobbies and interests can help you stand out against hundreds of other graduates with the same qualification.
Showing that you bother to take part in extracurricular activities outside of binge-watching Netflix proves that you’re dedicated to bettering yourself, and that you’re passionate about whatever it is you do. If the society is linked to your course subject and future career too, even better.
“Joining a society improves your employability in a number of ways,” says Matthews. “You’re always involved in the organisation of upcoming events and social activities which looks great on your CV. You’ll also demonstrate that you can work as part of a team alongside others in your society and have good communicative skills. If you were to become a committee member of your society, you’ll then be able to show great leadership skills which again will look great with any employer.”
Stay fit and healthy
The regular exercise you'd get by joining a sports society will help you lose weight, improve your focus and even boost self confidence.
Exercise is also great for reducing stress, so if you're revising, in the middle of dissertation madness or if the flat above is constantly loud then any kind of sporting action will help you to unwind.
Even if you're just trying a new hobby, joining a sports society can go a long way towards helping you live a healthy, rounded and fulfilling student experience.
Finding a strong union
“Looking at the number of active sports clubs and societies is a great way to look at how active the Students’ Union is,” says Matthews. “There’s also a number of reports published by the SU, like a little book of facts detailing the impact of the union over the year and how many students have engaged with activities, events and other things that go on in the SU.
“But the best way to judge a students’ union is to actually visit it! If you can get down on an open day, the students’ union is always a great place to visit to see the more relaxed side of university.”
Watch more videos about student life
Our vloggers are sharing their experiences of student life direct from the campus. In this video playlist, we've collected their vlogs about first year accommodation, to help you get an idea of what it's like when you first start.