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The Dartmouth
April 16, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Elias: ​Elitist Extracurriculars

The allure of selective extracurriculars deters freshmen from creating their own community experience.

“Thank you for trying out … unfortunately, we are unable to offer you a place this year.” Over the past few weeks, such blunt statements have had a dominant presence in my inbox. Yet despite experiencing so many rejections in my first month on campus, I couldn’t be happier. 

I, and several hundred other members of the Class of 2022, have experienced the freshman reality check. This can be described as the time during which new Dartmouth students come to realize that the idealized “find your match” extra-curriculars process is a distant utopia. Our first weeks on campus are filled with propaganda about the importance of finding the group that will give us community and purpose outside of academics. That all sounded enticing, and I, like most, was anxious to hit the ground running and try out for just about any group that would allow me to. 

But what happens when the majority of freshmen get rejected from these groups? Where do freshmen go when they realize they just don’t make the cut to pursue their passions? Welcome to the reality of the “group” obsession. Although I’ve only been on campus for just over a month, it is clear to me that Dartmouth students have a problem of pigeon-holing themselves into selective groups — a problem, I would argue, that is detrimental to the pursuit of a true liberal arts education. 

A capella, Parliamentary Debate, Glee Club. All three activities formed the backbone of my high school experience. I knew I wouldn’t be the best at Dartmouth, but did I ever think I would be flat out rejected from all three? Definitely not. And yet I have now had the opportunity to calculate the amount of time it takes me to get over a rejection: 28 minutes to the tee. At the risk of sounding bitter, let me share how I am feeling today about all of this: extremely content. It turns out that my inability to gain admission into these competitive groups has offered me a chance to wade into unfamiliar territory. For fear of becoming unengaged in campus life, I wrote my name down for just about every club possible. Without one activity dominating my time, I have been able to join The Dartmouth, Model U.N., Club Basketball and World Affairs Council.  

I’m not going to lie — the security of being in a selective group still entices me. The feeling of being wanted, the stability of having a set group of friends — these are normal desires for any new college student to have. Yet this reality is true for so few freshmen on campus. It is challenging as a freshman to see that the tight-knit groups strolling around in packs are not representative of all the extracurricular options available. Everyone here excels at what they do, and that comes at the cost of rejection for the majority. 

Reflecting on where I am now, I am able to view myself as a true college student rather than an aged high school student attempting to mirror the exact same extracurricular portfolio. So perhaps being in that one group isn’t always the way to go. My failure to be admitted into one has pushed me to try new things and experience Dartmouth with a fresh pair of eyes. The friends I have made come from different walks of life, with various passions and experiences. If I didn’t have the chance to interact with this assortment of people, I would surely be questioning my rationale behind coming to a liberal arts institution. 

So do I think that extracurriculars at Dartmouth might be slightly idealized? Definitely. Am I bitter about it? Not at all. My experience is not unique — but it brings to attention the need to reduce the pressure put on new Dartmouth students to find one community that feels like home to them. Experiential learning is half the battle, and encouraging students to choose one sole activity erodes the true value of this school: its diversity in people, activities and experiences. Looking back on my first five weeks at Dartmouth, I can confidently say that community is not prescribed, and half the fun is the journey to find it.