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How Virtual Clubs Can Enhance the Online College Experience

A big part of the traditional on-campus college experience has always been meeting new people, including other students, faculty, and staff. For freshmen and students new to campus, an easy way to establish community and find friends has been to join a club or student group that meets on campus. Often, students in online programs can miss out on this valuable part of college, but more and more schools are offering virtual clubs and associations to help students feel connected when engaged in distance learning.

Joining a virtual club or student organization can enhance the online college experience. Distance learning can feel isolating at times, so networking with students and faculty advisors can promote a feeling of connection.

Some groups, such as student government or academic societies, offer opportunities that can be beneficial when applying for graduate school or work post-graduation. Diversity and cultural groups can help students find others like themselves and foster a sense of camaraderie.

Online learning is becoming more prevalent. A survey completed by online education blogger Phil Hill of Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data, found that 51.8 percent of students took an online course during the 2019-2020 school year versus only 37 percent in the fall of 2019 exclusively. While this period does encompass the pandemic’s start, the data explicitly excludes classes that were moved online on an emergency basis.

With a rise in students engaged in online learning, the need for ways to connect to campus virtually has increased. There are several kinds of virtual clubs students can join. Continue reading to learn about the different types of clubs and where to find them.

Types of Clubs for Online Students

Student Government

Participating in student government can help students feel connected to campus and help them feel like they influence what happens at their school. In addition, participating in student government can provide valuable opportunities for students to gain experience in running meetings, making decisions, talking to constituents, and more.

While student government may seem like only an in-person option, more and more colleges and universities are adding virtual options. Washington State University instituted the first online student government in 1998 with the creation of the Associated Students of Washington State Global. Many other schools offer online executive boards to complement their on-campus boards, such as Post University in Connecticut.

Social Groups

Socially inclined online students can join everything from a book club to a knitting circle or a gaming group through their college or university. Spending time virtually with peers from the same institution can be an invaluable experience to help students develop their talents, unwind, or make friends.

The American Public University, a completely online institution, offers 14 social student organizations. Options include political groups such as the Campus Republicans or Democratic Society, a writing club, an e-sports group, a Spanish club, and a group for military spouses.

Career Development

Student clubs can help students prepare for their future careers by providing them with other experiences such as participating in competitions, producing work samples for clients, and interning with businesses. Popular options for career-focused clubs include Model United Nations, American Advertising Federation, STEM groups, and Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity.

Online MBA students, in particular, can benefit from participating in career development clubs. Many students in MBA programs choose their schools because of the networking and experience career clubs can afford them.

For example, at the University of Arizona, students enrolled in the Global Campus MBA program have access to a full array of business-related student clubs, including the Project Management Club, Society for Human Resource Management Chapter, Marketing Club, and the Business Administration, Operations and Supply Management Club.

Academic Societies

Many online campuses offer students who display exceptional academic ability the opportunity to join prestigious academic societies. These societies can help students network, boost job applications, and make applicants stand out in graduate school applications. Some honor societies can be degree or career-specific, illustrating a student’s specialized excellence, while others may be more general and demonstrate all-around aptitude.

For example, the Order of the Sword & Shield is an academic and professional honor society for all homeland security disciplines and accepts online students. On the other hand, Omega Nu Lambda is a general academic honor society exclusively for online students.

Benefits of joining a society include networking opportunities, listing in the online registry, and an acknowledgment of academic excellence. Another advantage of academic honor societies is they can offer students scholarship opportunities. For example, the National Society for Collegiate Scholars is open to online students and awards $750,000 in scholarships annually.

Diversity and Cultural Groups

Diversity or cultural groups can be centered around ethnicity, language, nationality, sexual orientation, or interest. Students who join a club that celebrates part of their identity can find belonging and increase self-awareness. Networking with students who have a similar background can foster strong connections that may extend past their years in college.

Colleges across the country offer virtual clubs to diverse students, including the Global Black Community and LatinX Club at the University of Arizona Global Campus and the LGBTQ+ Club at American Public University.

International students can find diversity and cultural groups particularly beneficial as they can talk to students who are going through similar experiences and culture shock while attending a foreign university.

Where to Find Virtual Clubs

There are many places that students can look for virtual clubs to join. However, online students may have to be proactive in locating and joining these groups. Places students can search for clubs to join include:

  • Individual departments within a college will sponsor and host various clubs and can be a resource for locating groups to join
  • Academic advisors can offer recommendations for virtual clubs or in-person ones with an online component
  • Career Centers often compile lists of student organizations that can be advantageous for job searching
  • Multicultural centers are the hub for diversity and cultural groups
  • Student government websites offer a host of information on how to join virtually for online students
  • National honor societies and clubs have listings of school chapters
How Virtual Clubs Can Enhance the Online College Experience

Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.