I say almost anything counts because the reason you decide to be a student leader matters. If you’re only after popularity and resume boosters then that does not count.
Being engaged as a student leader is one of the hallmark experiences of college. Personally, my time as a student leader had a great influence on my leadership style and gave me a unique perspective on what it took to run a successful organization well.
My experiences as a student leader served as a prequel to my experiences as an entrepreneur. Student leadership, on or off campus, can come in many forms. Regardless of how you engage your campus community, I encourage you to take it seriously and do your best.
Recognize that people depend on you and what you do (or don’t do) makes a difference. It’s more than just a resume booster. It can shape your college and post-graduation career.
#1 Start an Organization
Starting an organization on campus is one of the most entrepreneurial ventures (short of actually starting a business) you can take in college. The university acts as a nice safety net. Before you decide to start an organization, determine what need you’d be filling on campus and what other organizations are already doing on campus. Do some research to determine exactly what it takes to be considered an organization on campus and find a team to help you.
I’m serious about finding a team too.
If you think you can start a successful organization on campus by yourself, you’re dreaming. It’s important to create buy-in from your peers and the campus community in order for your organization to be successful.
I strongly encourage you to be an active participant in other student organizations as well (both big and small) to get a sense of what works well and what doesn’t work at all.
Copy the good and leave out the bad.
Talk to current and past student leaders about their experiences in running the organization and what hurdles they had to overcome.
If you like doing your own thing, making an impact and have a strong entrepreneurial streak (but you’re not ready to launch off just yet) starting an organization is your best bet. If you are acting in the best interest of the school and the campus community, the campus will support you. You already have resources at your disposal to be successful.
While your gathering up material and resources to start an organization, find a mentor (or 2 or 3 or a dozen) to help you out. It’s important to create a support system that wants to see you be successful. If you do this right, these relationships you create while trying to launch your organization should outlast your time on campus.
#2 Apply for a Leadership Role
Apply for a leadership role in a current student organization. I encourage students to pursue leadership opportunities at every chance they get regardless of what year they are currently in.
Being an engaged student leader will help you create more meaningful relationships with your peers and the campus. It will also challenge you to listen and meet the needs of others which will lead to personal and professional development as well.
Being a student leader is an excellent networking opportunity too.
Remember that what you do (or don’t do) as a student leader makes a difference. Be the kind of leader that other people can depend on. If you commit to something, make sure you can honor those commitments. After all, a bad reputation will follow you and can and close doors you didn’t even know were there.
Even though I encourage you to take advantage of leadership opportunities, be judicious about what opportunities you decide to pursue. Being a student leader is an investment of time. In college, time is your greatest asset. Make sure you’re thoughtful about how you spend that time. If you need help deciphering which student organizations are worth that level of attention, take a look at an article I wrote about choosing a student organization.
#3 Run for Office in Student Government
Running for office in student government is a way to affect your campus community on a fundamental level. What happens in student government can literally change how students experience life on campus for years to come. If you want an up close and personal look at how the university is run and what it does to support students, then participating in student government is an excellent way to get front row seats.
Before you do that though, it’s important to educate yourself on the issues affecting your campus. Then you need to have a clear idea of what your role would be in effecting change that would help your peers now and in the future. You want to go in with a clear mind and strong shoulders because serving in student government is a lot of pressure.
Fortunately, this is good pressure that will leave you looking like a diamond at the end of it, but you have to be intentional and you have to do the work.
#4 Volunteer and be a Community Ambassador
If you are passionate about social entrepreneurship and making a change in your community, then take up the mantle and be a Community Ambassador. Community Ambassadors are heavily involved in their local community and go out of their way to serve people in the community surrounding the university (as well as students on campus).
Chances are there are a ton of volunteering opportunities on campus. The easiest way to be a Community Ambassador is just showing up.
Showing up for a community service event and being helpful means the world to community organizers and makes a difference. Donating an hour of your time once a week can lead to major progress.
Take time to learn about organizations in your area serving the community or advocating for issues you care about. Then reach out and figure out how you can help. Once you get that information, act on it. Consistent participation will lead you down a path of being a Community Ambassador. This is an excellent form of student leadership as well.
There are many different ways to get involved and leave your mark. The most important thing to remember is that as a leader, every decision you make (or don’t make) should be in the benefit of the people who follow and depend on you.
Not for yourself.
You’re guaranteed to develop personally and professionally but leadership is an act of service. It should be done in humility by putting the needs of others ahead of your own.