Working in the field of Student Affairs offers many opportunities to interact daily with some of our campuses most influential student leaders. Many of our students are known for being involved in residence life, Greek letter organizations, programming, campus tour guides, orientation programs, student government, academic clubs, and all the other 500 organizations offered on campus. Yet, some of the students we work with are involved in multiple of these groups, sometimes upwards of 10 or more. When I talk with students and hear their afternoon consists of four more group meetings, two papers to write, three tests to study for, and hope to sleep a few hours that night, I wonder how they do it. How do they do this week after week, semester after semester?
Students today have many reasons to be overwhelmed, especially when they are hearing messages from many perspectives to get involved. Involvement opportunities benefit their resume, social and professional network, leadership development, personal interests, or assist with financial and academic obligations. Many employment positions or leadership roles have some sort of requirement of previous campus involvement or leadership. Does our encouragement of students getting involved, gaining leadership skills, or building their resume, lead to students burning out too quick? Are we as Student Affairs Professionals leading students in a direction to become overcommitted, overinvolved, and overwhelmed? How do we help students recognize when they are getting in over their heads?
The great opportunity in working with college students is their ability to bring many new ideas, unique perspectives, learning moments, and challenges to our everyday work. However, I have found a common challenge is finding a meeting. It can be intimidating, and sometimes even nerve wrecking, to open a Doodle link from a student group wanting availability between Monday-Sunday from 6:00am-11:00pm. When talking with students involved in so many organizations who are seeking to join another organization, I ask if their current schedule has an extra three to seven hours to add additional meetings. Then, we explore if their schedule aligns with the current schedule of that group. This can sometimes be a good recognition moment for a student to recognize their current commitments and involvement. Although a small component of working with students involves scheduling meetings, the lack of availability for students to meet for a mere 30 minutes can sometimes be a hint that revisiting their current commitments and involvement may be needed.
Working with overcommitted and overwhelmed students leads me to ask if conversations are happening about how to encourage students to get involved with one or two organizations and become invested? Rather than continuing to add organizations on their plate so they can have a 12 line email signature, how can we contribute to students recognizing the differences in involvement, leadership, and when enough involvement is enough? Maybe it starts with us. When we look to hire or recruit students for a role in our specific functional area, we see both the student who has an extensive resume of many organization and leadership roles, but we also often see the student who has maybe one or no organization affiliation. Students who have more campus experiences on their resume may have a further developed sense of self and knowledge of campus, but a less involved or inexperienced student may provide our organization an untold and undiscovered perspective. When students are looking to be a part of our organization, they may be gaining more from their college experience by committing themselves to fewer groups which allows them to focus their commitment and attention. Additionally it is important to consider the impact our groups can have on a student looking to find their place, connect with something or someone, and how our individual communities might be a prime reason for their return to campus the following semester.
Sometimes asking a student what they are committed to, or what they want to get out of an experience, can help a student recognize their priorities. Organizations gain something special from each affiliated student, but is our organization on their list for their own development and experience, or just to fill another space on their resume? I have used a USA Today article titled “How to avoid collegiate over-involvement burnout” in conversations with students about overcommitting themselves and exploring what it means to be well-rounded, rather than joining everything that is offered (Haenn, 2011). Some students want to get experiences doing as much as possible, but does that offer them the opportunity to fully experience each commitment? Our organizations provide opportunities for students to challenge their current paradigm. However, it is also important to consider if being a member on the roster is what the student sought when joining the group.
Many of us working in Student Affairs may have been these students which I reference. I know I was one of these students. I remember finding myself struggling to fit everything in my day, and I hear students asking for more hours in the day on a weekly basis. Of course there are the students who can handle an over involved schedule and enjoy this lifestyle, but what about the students who don’t know how to balance their time? I do not think our role as professionals is to disqualify a student from an opportunity which may benefit their development, but it may be our role to help students explore the benefits of holding back from expanding an email signature to 12 lines and find the value or feeling of accomplishment with just a 4 or 5 line signature.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Kevin Kruger on Avoiding Burnout in Student Affairs