07/16/2014 12:02 pm ET Updated Sep 15, 2014

How to Make the Most of College as an Activist


Around this time of year, you're going to start seeing a slew of articles, news segments, and advertisements reminding you that a new school year is on the horizon and that you'd better prepare for it now by buying a new backpack, finding that killer first-day outfit, and learning how to channel your inner book nerd.

But when you're going into college (whether you're a freshman, senior, or somewhere in between) as someone who is, or aspires to be, an activist, the amount of preparation involved can seem overwhelming or even impossible to navigate.

Believe me, I've been there.

Since there aren't many outlets that are created with this young activist community in mind, here's my how-to guide that you can use as a stepping stone. As with anything, feel free to modify, throw out, or use this advice as you see fit!

Start to social network.

Usually your class (like the class of 2018 at the University of Arizona, for example) will have a Facebook group that you can join to connect with your fellow college comrades. If you're living on campus, your dorm will likely have one as well, and if it doesn't, create one! A lot of student groups and organizations will also have groups or pages that you can join. A great way to find out what kinds of groups already exist on campus is to check out your college's official website, or even do a Google search. Oftentimes Facebook will let you search for open groups, so that would be another way to find organizations to join. The sooner you get to know others with similar interests and find ways to easily slide into existing groups, the better. Then you won't feel like a small fish in a big sea once you get to campus, since you'll already have connected with others!

Even if you're not a freshman, you can still do this sort of networking over the summer. If you're already a student, it will actually probably be easier to find networks to join, since you'll have already built somewhat of a network. Never be afraid to branch out!

Find your passion.

You might be an aspiring activist who has no clue where to start because you have so many interests and passions that you can't commit to just one cause. College is a great time to figure out who you are and what your purpose is in this world, so don't freak out if this describes you. Everyone's journey is different, and like my friend Melissa A. Fabello says, "never compare your chapter 2 to someone else's chapter 10."

Start taking courses in different areas of study that might ignite your passion for social justice (women's studies, minority studies, African-American studies, and sociology are all great places to start), go to meetings of various student organizations, attend conferences, start a blog -- in short, get out there and explore!

Find employment (that will actually give you skills).

Having part-time employment while in school can give you not only a taste of the real world and a great opportunity to learn time management but valuable skills and experience in the career path you're interested in.

It's no secret that nonprofit work, grassroots organizing, and campaigning are not very profitable fields of work, but you can find ways to make it work financially. It's always best to prepare for the job you want after college while you're still in college, since this will give you a leg up on the rest of your peers.

Consider doing an internship (there are many that will give you college credit or will pay you a stipend or modest hourly wage), finding a professor to conduct research under, or even contributing to a newspaper, blog or website. If you don't know where to start, Idealist and The Feminist Jobs Board are great places to start your search.

Your campus might also have a women's, multicultural, or LGBT center (my college, Ohio University, proudly has all three), which often employ student workers. If nothing else, stop by (and bring your résumé!) and check them out, since there are almost always open positions for volunteers.

I can speak from my own experience and say that all the projects and internships I've done have given me so much in return. Now I feel that when I graduate in December, I'll have the confidence and the background to get the job I want. Not only that, but I've learned so much from each one of my jobs, probably more than in all my college coursework combined. Trust me, it's worth it.


Of course you should be learning while you're in school! If nothing else, try to study as much as you can and learn about the issues that are affecting our planet and its inhabitants. Then use this knowledge to change the world and educate others as well. Education is a privilege, and you should not ever take it for granted. Be exited to learn and take every opportunity you can to push yourself further and expand your mind.

How do you plan to be an activist on your campus? Share your thoughts in the comments!