If you look up the word “success” in the dictionary, you will see it defined as “the accomplishment of one’s goals,” so obviously success has different meanings for different people because everyone has their own goals; it is a subjective and ultimately immeasurable thing.
In the formative years of college, the idea of success will be tossed around quite a bit, but it will mean something different for every student. For one student, it may be earning a sports award or becoming MVP. For another, it may be earning straight A’s, and for another it could be becoming president of a fraternity. It varies from student to student.
Many students will be content with working hard in their classes to earn good grades without feeling the need to become involved with extracurricular clubs and organizations, and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that, but if there’s one indicator of long-term leadership success, it’s taking on a leadership role while in college. As many chances as one may get later on in life to step into a leading role, serving in a leadership position in college lays the groundwork for a successful career and teaches invaluable leadership skills.
A lot of research has given insight into the value of college internships, with a 2010 study finding that 75% of students complete an internship before they graduate, compared with just 3% in the early 1980s. There is a strong correlation between internships and finding a job after college, with most employers nowadays favoring applicants with internship experience. Less research has been conducted on the significance of college leadership roles in influencing long-term career success, but there is no denying that they teach highly-relevant leadership skills and look great on a resume.
According to a recent post from InternQueen.com, leadership roles in on-campus organizations, such as extracurricular activities, departmental clubs, and Greek life, are highly regarded by potential employers. Many clubs will offer countless opportunities to get involved, not only as a member, but as a leading member in charge of managing other students and organizing events. For instance, Greek life typically features a whole hierarchy of leadership roles, from executive positions like president, secretary, or treasurer to chair positions like social or philanthropy chair. Student-run publications offer leadership opportunities in the form of editors and staff writers. College radio stations require producers and hosts. Sports teams have team captains and managers. The list goes on and on. Basically, college organizations run like mini businesses, and as such teach students business skills such as management of time and resources, public speaking, and how to work with other people. Clubs need order to run effectively, and that’s where student leaders come in.
Will Sisskind, a student at Ithaca College, claims that club leadership positions can be just as important, if not more not more important, than internships, regarding a student’s employability. “I think that in both club leadership roles and internships, it depends on the responsibilities the person assumes during their tenure,” said Sisskind. “An internship might only ask [interns] to push papers around and answer phones, and a club president might have to deal with logistics and inter-organization crises.”
In a panel discussion at Dartmouth College in 2009, Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter spoke on the value of student leadership positions- how one leadership position influenced the course of his entire career. Porter took a job in Princeton’s dining hall while an undergraduate there, starting as a dishwasher and eventually overseeing hundreds of students. “That is the only reason I got into Harvard Business School,” he claimed.
Later, while going for his engineering degree at Harvard Business School, Porter learned the value of being a leader both in the classroom and out when his strategy professor handed him a note encouraging to speak more in class because he had a lot to contribute. This note was transformative for Porter, turning him into the leader he is today. “When you have an opportunity, you have to let yourself go with it, and I was able to go with it, and ultimately I set out to be a professional engineer and ended up being an academic,” Porter said.
Success may be subjective, but the value of leadership positions is not. Yes, some students may value leadership experiences more than others, but employers will almost always look favorably upon them, and they are often attributed with a successful (whatever that means for you) career.