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"Set your priorities straight." | A UNC Chapel Hill Student's Advice on Extracurriculars

Updated: Mar 13, 2022

We had the privilege of interviewing Erin Lee,

  • a student at top public university, UNC Chapel Hill, North Carolina

  • the co-founder of Model UN at her school, now with 50+ members

We asked her some advice on: Extracurriculars

Here are some main points she stresses:

  • "that sense of trying to be innovative... taught me a lot about asking for help and being a leader."

  • "communication is key."

Q: What would you say were your priorities and do you think they helped you stay focused?

A: I definitely feel my priorities were extracurriculars. I was good at school, but I never cared that much about having the highest GPA. And that was just because I wanted to take classes that were interesting and that I enjoyed. Those classes aren’t really going to help your GPA, but I didn't want to struggle or not have fun in classes that weren't adding value to me. Since I wasn’t looking into STEM and still aren’t, it made more sense for me to focus on AP World, for example, than those classes.

I’m not sure if I scored in the top 10%, but I ended up going to the same school as the people did, so it didn't matter if I didn’t take classes that would add much to my GPA.

Q: If you weren't able to make all these commitments, which one did you choose to give up and why?

A: By the time I had graduated high school, I was mostly involved in three main activities. And when I felt my passion for one activity was lowering and felt that I had taken from it all that I could, I just naturally stopped. I redirected all that energy towards activities that I enjoyed more as well as the college application process. I wouldn't do stuff just for the sake of putting it on my college applications, because there's only so much space for extracurriculars on your common application. So I think you will know when it’s time to quit things.

Q: We know you were really involved in extracurriculars. Besides Speech & Debate and Model UN, were you involved in any other extracurriculars?

A: I started DECA as a sophomore and I attended international DECA. every year that I was in DECA.

Q: When preparing for these clubs or practicing, about how many hours a week or how much time did you dedicate to them?

A: It was a full time job because I dedicated more time to it than I did school. At least one hour a day for each activity.

Q: Are these clubs/extracurriculars related to your major in college or have they helped you in college or your adult life?

A: I would say for sure, because Speech & Debate really got me interested in the idea of communication and argument; it also exposed me to a lot of topics that I wouldn't have been knowledgeable about otherwise. And looking at the political atmosphere now and how much discussion there really is on a lot of these things that were just theories, it has been really helpful.

I'm really grateful that I had the active opportunity to engage in research and writing skills that early on (I did S&D all four years of high school). I would also say that those are skills you’re not going to get outside of Speech and Debate and Model UN, because in both of those clubs, you have a very active duty, even if you aren't a captain, to gain seniority and experience. It's a very individual activity, even though there is a sense of camaraderie in the people that you're working with. And I feel that's really valuable for working in professional office spaces, or just even talking to other people on a day to day basis.

And in terms of Model UN, that definitely changed my life, because it was such a fun thing to do. It taught me so much about what it means to really want something to go well, and how much preparation it takes for something. Because when you host events or you run a club or you're doing practices, there's a lot that goes behind the scenes of such an operation. I was relatively lucky, because we had a small team while I was in high school so it wasn’t something impossible to handle.

I think that sense of trying to be innovative, trying to be creative, trying to figure stuff out for the first time is so helpful, and definitely taught me a lot about asking for help and being a leader.

Q: As the co-founder of your school’s biggest Model UN club, how did you bring it to fruition and what challenges did you experience along the way?

A: The challenges were everything.

Model UN is based on attending very expensive conferences; they're really long, and they're hard to attend. So, in terms of challenges, we are dealing with a lot of logistics. Getting around those challenges was just sending out a lot of emails to different schools. (This is the spring semester of my sophomore year of high school.) Then eventually, someone wrote back and we attended a simulated conference, and it was really low-key. Now how are we going to take that to the next level? So we went to a camp that summer and learned how to do Model UN. And now we knew how to teach Model UN effectively. I also was lucky enough to know someone at another school who was starting a Model UN club, so we could rely on each other. I ended up chairing a conference, and that gave me even more experience doing it.

Overall, it’s just important to be consistent about it. Our club meetings were once a week and our PowerPoints were very intense. It was a very democratic system. By the time we graduated, there was a very strong sense of community and having a team because we were all used to depending on each other.

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