Applicants may find no middle ground in the ways people view the student government experience
As president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 's class of 1983, Steve Silberberg remembers that the residents of one dorm elected a bag of popcorn as its student government representative. "MIT students inspire themselves and pride themselves on independence and take a cynical view of politics," says Silberberg, who runs a Boston-based weight loss backpacking company.
MIT student governors' portfolios earned them invitations to social functions with free food and access to faculty and administrators, Silberberg says, but notes that his campus political experience has had "extremely little impact" on his life since graduation.
It's a matter of controversy whether college applicants and students, who may be giving particular consideration to student government in this primary season, can benefit in school or afterward from serving as student leaders and representatives to their respective school administration.
Many former student governors suggested their organizations did not have any actual power, while others said that applicants and students can reap a lot of benefit from serving as student leaders.
"I think that student governments -- even supposedly 'powerful' ones like Cornell's -- are close to useless," says Eli Lehrer, a former member of Cornell University 's Student Assembly in 1996.
As vice president at The Heartland Institute , a conservative research organization in Chicago, and a former speech writer to a U.S. senator, Lehrer is the kind of person one might expect to be a poster child for leveraging student government experience into a position on Capitol Hill. But just about the only thing that makes Lehrer thankful for his experience in Cornell's student association was his interaction with liberal students, which he says turned him into a Republican.
"They aren't real governments," he says of student associations. "I can never remember hiring anyone who put student government on their résumé, and I would probably look down on it despite having done it myself."
But some former student leaders reject what they say is a false differentiation between "real" governments and student governments.
"There's a lot of similarities," says Alex Torpey, the 24-year-old mayor of South Orange, N.J., and a former president of Hampshire College 's student government. "Anyone that's thinking about political science or political activism or social change or anything like that, I would highly recommend getting involved."
Student leaders can develop a variety of practical and transferable skills, such as time management, how to run a meeting, managing a budget, and event planning, Torpey says, who notes that Hampshire's student government was disorganized when he took over the helm.
"If someone really wants to learn how the process works, find the most disorganized student government in the United States and go to that school, because then it's only on you and the people you can recruit in your cause to make it better," he says.
Applicants should consider a smaller school to maximize their chances of being able to get involved in student government, says Jimmy Knowles, president of the senior class at Ithaca College , a school in New York with approximately 6,500 students.
"I know for a fact that if I would have gone to a larger school, either [I] wouldn't have had the confidence or it would just have been so competitive -- with so many people -- that I think I would have almost been discouraged to get involved," says Knowles.
While he thinks it's "going a little too far" for applicants to weigh a prospective school's student government, Patrick Gotham, a 2011 graduate of Salisbury University and former president of the Maryland school's Student Government Association, says a school's size does make a difference.
"From my experience with other schools, larger schools have more red tape to go through but also have larger budgets to work with. Smaller schools have more freedom yet less resources, so it's a trade off," he says.
Another difference between larger and smaller schools can be whether student governors are compensated. According to the American Student Government Association , 30 percent of student governors at schools with enrollments of up to 1,000 get paid, compared to 87 percent of student leaders at schools with more than 30,000 students.
Torpey remembers some Hampshire students felt student leaders shouldn't be paid, but once calculated that his stipend came out to just 21 cents per hour. It took being elected mayor to appreciate that low rate.
"I got compensated more when I was student government president than I do as mayor of a town," he says.
- Avoid 5 Assumptions About College Financial Aid
- Engagement Is Key to Community College Success
- Computer Science Transitions From Elective to Requirement
- Future in Politics Less Desirable Among Today's Pre-Law Students
- College Student Leaders Divided on Benefits of Student Government
- 6 Resume Writing Tips for Business School Grads
- LinkedIn Transforms Job Search for M.B.A. Graduates
- Some Teens Start College Work Early Via Dual Enrollment
- How to Get In: Georgia Institute of Technology College of Management
- How to Get In: Purdue University Krannert School of Management
- How to Get In: Tulane University A. B. Freeman School of Business
- How to Get In: University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business
- More Schools Debut Tuition Guarantee Programs
- New Three-Year Degree Programs Trim College Costs
- Free Online Classes May Help MBA Students
- Avoid Social Media MBAs, Some Students Say
- Starving Public Universities Shrinks the Middle Class
- 5 Shocking Facts About Student Loan Debt
- 7 Steps to Success at Community College
- 4 Tips to Finish Community College
- 5 Tips for Choosing an M.B.A. Concentration
- 3 Steps to Take if Your College Student Fails a Class
- Information Security MBA's Teach Business Side of Cybersecurity
- Obama to High-Priced Universities: 'You're on Notice'
- Tips to Overcome a Bad Grade in College
- Look Out for These Federal Aid Changes in 2012
- The Evolution of American Higher Education
- Consider This Before You Pay for an Online Degree
- Time Management Tips for Online Students
- Weighing Costs of an Online Master's in Nursing
- 3 Career Reasons Why Students Get Online MBAs
- Waste Of Time For Business Students to Take Courses on Government
Copyright © 2012 U.S. News & World Report