Hyper-Stacking: Is it worth it?

By Chloe Murphy

When college application season hit, I didn’t check my transcripts, or scan over the prompts. Instead, I headed towards a dusty drawer next to my desk and dumped out all the club memorabilia and awards accumulated over the past four years. I asked myself a question: What’s the pattern here, and how can I shape it to my application? I wasn’t the only one.

According to Dobler College Consulting, “a situation like this is typical. High school students feel they have to be involved in so many different things so that they stand out in the college application process.” College advisors have transitioned from encouraging students to become more involved overall to encouraging them to find a spike – a specific area that will make them stand out.

Flash forward a year later to the UCLA Activities Fair. Over 1,000 undergraduate clubs crowded onto North Campus, actively recruiting naive freshmen. If my overachieving-self thought my options were varied before, here was an even bigger monster. With an overwhelming number of options, freshmen often fall into the common trap of joining a bit of everything. Unsure about what clubs to join, they do what I did in high school: engage in “hyper-stacking.” Hyper-stacking is highly common, especially in the UCLA community, where one stacks their resumé with multiple clubs and activities while their level of involvement remains low. It’s a form of “fluffing up the resume”, and the truth is, employers despise it.

As it stands, the American system is set up for hyper-stacking. Since the moment we learned to crawl, our parents have packed us into activities such as daycare, junior ballet, youth soccer, private piano lessons, robotics club, cheer team, and Kumon, all before bedtime. The system has only gotten worse. In 2018, a study found that over 88 percent of kids participate in activities four to five days a week, leading to less quality time spent with their family and to themselves. Free time could have given students an opportunity to organically develop their own passions, rather than forced to participate in activity upon activity. Many of the great geniuses did not have an after-school club or team for their talent. For example, Steven Spielberg started out as an average student who spent quality time recording family videos on his video camera.

In high school, the pressure only increases thanks to college applications. Then, after 4 years of stacking our resumés, we finally get our acceptance letter to UCLA. For a moment, we think it might be over. Nevertheless, once on campus, we assume the same pattern we’ve followed since we started to crawl.

What distinguishes your college years from those before, however, is what follows – the ever-looming threat of the “real-world” that sends seniors quaking in their boots. Since college does not have an excellent track record of setting up graduates for jobs (2008 Recession, anyone?), students today must take matters into their own hands.

To be clear, the solution is not to disregard clubs entirely. Nor is it to choose one organization and sacrifice 80% of your energy to it. The answer depends on what you want to do once you graduate; quite honestly, most of us are still figuring that out. The best way to sort through the clutter of clubs is by taking a quality over quantity approach. Freshmen: Don’t believe that the first club you join at UCLA will be your number one commitment these four years. Juniors: Don’t give up on ALL clubs because internships are now your life.

Clubs are an integral aspect of college life because of the connections. UCLA consists of a diverse mixture of dreamers, innovators, and go-getters. We thrive in community and clubs are the perfect platform to experiment and develop intrapersonal skills. Additionally, clubs are increasingly bridging the gap between the “real world” and student life. Take, for example, UCLA’s wide network of business organizations. They frequently collaborate with corporations like UPS, Oracle, Accenture and L’Oreal for case competitions, career fairs, and other undergraduate competitions. LA Hacks, sponsored by companies like WIX, Google, Honey, and SAAP, hosts over 1,000 hackers from different corners of the United States and guarantees admission to UCLA students.

Go ahead. Join that club. But before you fork over the membership fee, think about your reasons. Don’t fall into the trap of hyper-stacking your every move, listing 5 different clubs on your resume whose past 4 meetings you’ve missed. Instead, feel it out, do a 2-4 week “trial period” where you’re all in. Get to know the members and see if it clicks. Understand the message. If it’s a fit, go for it.

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