How should you spend your time at Harvard?
There's a saying that college is a real-life example of the impossible trinity—friends, school, and sleep: you can only pick two. But most of the time, it feels more like a delicate balance between academics, sleep, extracurriculars, social life, dating, and working. At Harvard, extracurriculars and social life tend to converge. Most of the parties thrown during the first few weeks of school are mixers put on by various clubs to recruit freshman and kick off the semester. As you become upperclassmen, “What clubs are you in?” tends to be a classic conversation starter when meeting someone new. Extracurriculars can shape your time at Harvard; even finding your extracurricular niche can be a defining experience by itself.
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of clubs available, especially when your first introduction to the scene is the Harvard activities fair. There are multiple clubs for everything, and with so many options, it's hard to differentiate them. This guide is meant to help you get started.
This is the most obvious: are you genuinely interested in the purpose and content of a club? Do you want to spend your time taking photos, singing, or writing? Does this club organize its activities in an organized and enjoyable way?
The people you meet here are the core of what makes one organization a better fit than another. Sometimes, you'll know whether or not you want to join an organization just based on how comfortable you feel about the membership. Some people feel more comfortable in a small group while others prefer the openness of larger organizations. Of course, there's also the question of whether or not you can even get into the club. One group can have more than 160 applicants for only a few openings. Some groups have a comp process where members go through two cuts before reaching initiation.
Some clubs are older than others, and as a consequence, better established. Older clubs have had time to build up wealth (e.g. property ownership and endowments), name recognition, an alumni network, stable club recruitment and turnover procedures, and even "prestige." According to a report by the Undergraduate Council and the Women's Center, the five most "prestigious" clubs on campus are: the Crimson, Undergraduate Council (UC), Institute of Politics (IOP), Lampoon, and Hasty Pudding Theatricals.
See the Gender and Leadership Report for the full list of 30.
There are a myriad of factors aside from the ones mentioned above that will influence your decision. The best thing to do is go to a few info sessions, commit to joining 1-2 new organizations a year, and ask upperclassmen about their experiences.