Growing up we all learned about powerful leaders and the fearless work they accomplished throughout history. Sitting in that classroom, that type of impact maybe seemed quite distant and unreachable. However, there is no better opportunity for you to become a leader than while you’re in college! It is the perfect environment for students to cultivate their leadership skills and start a movement or initiative, no matter how small.
With most large universities being home to hundreds of clubs and organizations, there are multiple ways for you to lead others while expressing your identity, values, and vision. And though becoming a leader is no doubt beneficial for reasons I’ll explain, the task of doing so alongside juggling school, work and other activities is no easy one. Here’s how to be an effective student leader all while balancing it with your busy college life.
Leadership is defined as “the ability of an individual or a group of people to influence and guide followers or members of an organization, society or team1.” This skill will be invaluable for your time at college, career, and overall future. Therefore, it is important to start learning how to become a leader as soon as you can. To do so, start by finding the organizations on your campus that you are interested in and could develop a passion for. Most colleges have activities fairs each semester that exhibit the clubs that are available for you to join, which is perfect for finding your niche.
In my case, I joined the Bengali Student Organization (BSO) at the University of Virginia to stay connected with my culture and be part of this community. My influence started small; I was the first-year representative during my freshman year. However, now two years later, I am vice president, and my responsibilities have grown much larger! I take part in all sorts of activities to help run this club such as planning events, managing finances, and overseeing others on the executive board. Furthermore, I’ve developed several skills, including effective communication and organization, that I not only apply to BSO, but also my classes, job interviews and other situations. I also feel proud knowing my work has had an impact on others and facilitated my club’s mission to showcase Bengali culture. The main takeaway is once you find a voice you are passionate about and want to amplify, the work you do to influence your community becomes ever meaningful and exciting to do.
I won’t lie and tell you being a student leader is an easy role. It comes with many responsibilities that require a large part of your time and effort, depending on what kind of position you have. When you have multiple other time commitments such as classes and jobs, your plate can get quite full. To avoid becoming overloaded with work, I have a few key tips. Firstly, you most likely have to plan events or activities to execute your organization’s mission or purpose. For these reasons I recommend planning the details and logistics reasonably early. For example, BSO’s signature event of the year was our charity bash, and we began planning the bash around 3 months ahead of time. With an early approach, you can avoid unnecessary stress closer to the date of your event and be prepared for any sudden changes or complications.
Additionally, if your organization does have an executive board, set a weekly meeting time to discuss what activities you will be doing and set a schedule. In doing so, you can also maintain thorough communication with your team, making the process of running your organization more effective. And by making your schedule more structured with these tips and eliminating time inefficiencies, the task of being a student leader alongside your other activities becomes less stressful and more manageable.
With these pieces of advice, I hope you are inspired to become a student leader, steer others in a positive way, and use your voice to express whatever it is you are passionate about, whether its chess, soccer, or food inequality. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be the next Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, or Martin Luther King!
1 Barney, Nick, and Mary K. Pratt. “What Is Leadership?: Definition by TechTarget.” CIO Strategy, TechTarget, 22 Mar. 2023, https://www.techtarget.com/searchcio/definition/leadership.
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