From beekeeping to ghost-hunting: There are hundreds of extracurricular activities to choose from, which could not only spark a new passion but also impress future employers.
When Harriet Owen arrived at university, she made the unusual decision to join the beekeeping society, despite having no previous knowledge.
“I looked through all the societies online, saw beekeeping, and thought, ‘Oh interesting, bees are cool,’” she says.
Owen, 21, who studies biomaterials science at the University of Sheffield, decided to get stuck in. She’s since learned to do hive checks and to spot the queen (she’s much bigger) and has made wax candles and honey cakes.
“Bees are so good for the environment,” she says, adding: “I think they’re quite cute.”
Going away to university isn’t all about academic work, and many students value the activities they get involved with outside their course. This could be volunteering, sports, or joining student societies.
“Not only do you meet a wide variety of people, but you gain valuable skills in leadership and teamwork, and it builds your confidence,” says Iwan James, a wellbeing and sports officer at Sheffield’s student union.
Going along to events and meetings can also help you settle into your new environment. “Starting university is a transition,” says Paul Dodsley, student health development officer at Nottingham Trent University (NTU). “It’s a great time to try new things.”
Most universities will have hundreds of societies to choose from, covering academic specialisms, cultural and faith-based societies, media and creative groups, and those that are hobby-based or just for fun.
From knitting to Harry Potter, there will most likely be a society for every interest, as well as some you’ve never heard of.
Most universities will run a society fair at the beginning of the year, where you can see what’s on offer and ask questions – as well as collect a few freebies.
Pick one activity you feel comfortable with and one you know nothing about but that you’re intrigued by
Dominique Thompson, GP and author
With so much choice, it can get overwhelming, Dominique Thompson, a GP and author of the Student Wellbeing series, says.
Especially when many of us have had our social lives limited by pandemic restrictions. Thompson says not to worry if you feel overwhelmed with the options available. “I suggest people just pick two activities,” she says.
“Pick one you feel comfortable with, then, If you feel up to it, I strongly suggest you pick one you know nothing about but that you’re intrigued by,” she says.
“It’s OK to just take little steps. You don’t have to spin many plates initially. But trying new things is so important and helps rebuild confidence.”
It’s also a good idea to keep costs in mind. The skiing society is likely to be more expensive than the cake-making club, for example.
While it’s probably not wise to choose your university entirely based on the extracurricular activities on offer, it is something to take into account when weighing up your options, especially if there’s something you’re really passionate about, such as a thriving theatre scene or a topflight sports team.
“I got into both Nottingham and Nottingham Trent universities,” says Benedict Wills, president of Nottingham Trent’s student union.
“I saw there was more social activity on offer at NTU [and chose to go there]. So it’s important to take this into consideration as it’s three whole years that you’ll be there.”
Getting involved in extracurricular activities can also impress future employers. “All the skills you gain can really help your CV,” says Maisy Neale, 21, president of the LGBTQ+ society at Birmingham City University (BCU).
Regardless, it’s always a good idea to give things a go. “It’s something interesting you can say you were involved in,” says Owen, who has found the bee-keeping society to be a highlight of her university experience. “It’s something a bit unique you can talk about.”
There’s also no pressure to go to every social possible. As Owen explains: “For example, if you join the bee-keeping society you don’t have to go in the hive if you don’t want to. You can just come along and eat honey cake.”
Five weird and wonderful student societies
Assassins’ Guild, various universities. Not actually a professional association for real assassins. Members take part in mock assassinations across the city or university. Players are assigned targets to “assassinate” using pretend weapons such as water pistols or cardboard knives. Every player is also a target themselves. Long games can last for four weeks, by which time most of the society will have been eliminated.
Students of a Jane Austen Persuasion, University of Glasgow. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a student going to uni will be in want of a good society – and this one doesn’t disappoint. It runs events throughout the year, from book groups to bonnet making, as well as trips to Regency houses and film sets. If you’re a Mr Darcy fan, this might be the one for you.
Swift Soc, various universities. A society that’s all about a shared appreciation of Taylor Swift. Open to both hardcore and casual Swift fans – known as “Swifties” – they organise listening parties, singalongs and film nights.
Jailbreak Society, various universities. As part of a charity event, groups of players must get as far away from “jail”– the university campus – as possible within 36 hours. In previous years, some students even made it as far as New York.
Ghost Hunting Society, University of East Anglia (UEA). Described as “a society for students who need a little bit more of the strange and bizarre in their lives”, members go on excursions to haunted locations to look for evidence of the undead. If that sounds too scary, they also organise spooky film nights for the less adventurous in the group.