January 28, 2018

WANG | New Club! Application Required.

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My friend and I are half-heartedly considering starting a new club at Cornell. One matter we stumbled upon was how selective we wanted the club to be.

Personally, I wanted it to be open to anyone, so we could attract the most students. She wanted it to be capped at a certain amount, so we could maximize our time with each member. Who was right?

This isn’t a fresh debate. There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about the exclusivity of clubs at Cornell. The Sun published a piece published last semester in which the heads of each of Cornell’s finance and consulting clubs talked about their incredibly selective and rigorous application processes.

The processes are born out of necessity. A common talking point among the presidents in the article was that despite accepting fewer than 10 applicants per semester, the clubs’ information sessions still attracted hundreds of people. And so, making the application process as selective as possible had become the new trend.

The strongest argument for capping any club’s membership is that if you don’t, popular clubs would hold too many students, making them unwieldy and difficult to manage.

Specifically, clubs that were meant to train students would suffer from a dilution of resources and time, and their quality of the club would suffer as a result. In a large school like Cornell, open membership could pose a litany of problems for the day-to-day operations of a club.

It brings me back to a conversation I had a while ago with someone who had gotten into one of Cornell’s selective business clubs. It was a huge boost to his résumé — this was the kind of club on campus from which top-end companies recruited. He seemed happy about his membership, but he took a minute to lament about the students that weren’t quite as fortunate as him:

“I mean it would suck if you didn’t get in these clubs. What could you do, then?”

What could you do, honestly? It wasn’t the end all, be all, but there was a certain emptiness that followed. If you couldn’t get into clubs, you missed out a on a lot of things of what the club offered — networking, work experience, a chance to make new friends, a more attractive C.V.

In hushed tones, my well-connected friends will fervently talk about what big-name companies recruit from what big-name clubs on campus.

It’s why these clubs are heavily sought after, and why the idealistic phrase “any student, any study” rings a bit hollow at times. For a lot of people, it is as if college admissions day never ended and they are perpetually waiting on pins and needles for another acceptance letter.

Quietly, some grumble about this exceptionalism. It’s why I wanted my club to be open to all Cornell students. But as we considered that, we started running into some problems.

Say if we wanted to rent a room for our meetings, but made it open to everyone. How could we predict the number of students that would show up to each meeting if we didn’t cap the number of members?

Then there were the costs. How much would we have to spend on membership materials if we simply allowed anyone to walk in? And most importantly, as a new club, could we do the best job if we spent much of our time trying to manage a free-flowing organization that had no bounds? The logistics were brutal, even if our idealism was well-founded. And at some point, it became too much of a hassle.

And so, during our initial meeting to plan for the yet-to-be-named organization, I came up short defending my position. We bantered back and forth on the matter, but it would simply be too much to cater to everybody. It was better to restrict and let the free market dictate what was best for the club. It’s no wonder by the end of our meeting, there were only a few words typed up on our sheet.

And at the top, in bold letters: “Application Required.”
William Wang is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at wwang@cornellsun.com. Willpower appears alternate Mondays this semester.