written by
Lucas Woodley

How to Start a Club at Harvard

Advisor Tips 5 min read

Harvard has over 450 officially recognized student organizations, alongside numerous casual and unrecognized ones. Despite Harvard’s many clubs, however, students may not find a specific organization that fulfills their individual goals or mission.

Jonny Shaw | CC BY-NC 2.0

The process of starting clubs at Harvard can be more difficult and intensive than one might initially expect. There are a lot of steps students need to rapidly go through to begin the process. This article will guide you through the necessary steps to starting your own club.

This informational essay was written by Lucas Woodley, Harvard ‘23. If you want to get help writing your Harvard application essays from Lucas or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

Defining Harvard Lingo

First, let’s go ahead and define a couple of key terms: Independent Student Organizations (ISOs), Department Sponsored Student Organizations (DSSOs), Recognized Social Organizations (RSOs), and Unrecognized / Non-Harvard Organizations. These are the four broad categorizations that apply to every undergraduate student organization.

The Two Main Types of Harvard Clubs

Independent Student Organizations, or ISOs, will be the focus of this article. These will make up the bulk of the organizations you’ll likely run into and are what most students envision when they think of “clubs” at Harvard. ISOs are officially recognized as organizations by Harvard, and, as such, gain access to a number of different benefits ranging from funding to advising support to the ability to reserve rooms on-campus.

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Department Sponsored Student Organizations, or DSSOs, are similar to ISOs—both types of organizations are officially recognized and gain access to rooms, auditoriums, etc. from Harvard College. However, unlike ISOs, DSSOs are not independent. Rather, they are closely tied to specific Harvard departments; e.g., the Economics department sponsors the Harvard Undergraduate Economics Association.

What About Other Clubs At Harvard?

Recognized Social Organizations, or RSOs, operate somewhat differently from our last two organizations. These groups are primarily social, functioning at Harvard in a similar way to Greek-life on other schools’ campuses. This means that RSOs are unlikely to fulfill a specific niche interest that you may wish to pursue and should be considered a separate entity from the conventional notion of a “club.”

The last types of organizations on our list are Unrecognized and Non-Harvard organizations. These basically include everything not already mentioned. The good news is that if this is the type of organization you want to create, then you’re done! There is no application process or formal procedure because Harvard does not recognize these organizations as official Harvard clubs.

However, it’s important to note that these organizations do not gain any of the benefits recognized organizations receive. The bulk of these organizations are “Unrecognized Single Gender Social Organizations,” and this category is where Harvard’s somewhat-infamous “Final Clubs” reside.

Phil Roeder | CC BY 2.0

Starting A Club at Harvard

So, now that you’ve identified what type of organization you want to create, it’s time to focus your vision and plan out exactly what you want your club’s mission to be. Do you want to start a new public service initiative providing Boston’s homeless with warm clothes during the freezing winters? Or are you envisioning an academic club for Harvard’s Physics and Engineering majors that focuses on designing model rockets?

This vision will help drive your mission statement, which brings us to the first formal step in applying for a club’s recognition: TheHub. This website is where you will find the full-length form required to apply. You’ll need to submit all of the required materials by October 1st, otherwise you’ll have to wait until next Fall to submit an application. To provide a broad outline of what you’ll need:

  • Application Form (Q&A)
  • Constitution
  • Advisor
  • Budget
  • Member List

Writing your application form

The application form is the most writing-intensive part of the application process. You’ll have to answer a long series of questions centered around the following information:

  • Your organization’s goals
  • How the mission statement of your organization fits within Harvard’s mission
  • How your organization is sufficiently different from those already on campus
  • Why your organization offers a necessary contribution to students
  • How your organization would benefit from becoming recognized as an ISO
  • Plans for future development of your organization
  • Any anticipated risks that might manifest throughout the conduct of your organization’s activities

In filling out the application form, it’s important for you to be as clear and communicative as possible. The written application is your most substantial opportunity to articulate what your club is, what its goals are, and why it should exist.

If you feel the desire to write a book, what would it be about?
Glenn Carstens-Peters | Unsplash

Your constitution will outline exactly how your organization intends to operate. It provides guidelines on issues of determining membership, leadership structure, when and how new leadership may be elected, and making any constitutional amendments. This is the other major part of the process that is heavy on written work.

Finding a club advisor

All Harvard ISOs are required to have an advisor in order to obtain recognition. These advisors must be university employees (Note: this is different from “faculty,” which would be strictly limited to professors and teaching fellows), and it is generally recommended that your chosen advisor has adjacent interests.

Say you were starting clubs at Harvard focused on debating climate change policies. You may then want an advisor who specializes in either environmental science or government.

It is also best to approach potential advisors early on in the school year. The deadline for submitting club applications happens less than a month after classes start. So, starting early gives you the best bet of having all your materials put together in time.

Mimi Thian | Unsplash

The Final Steps of Harvard’s Club Application

By this point, the worst is behind you. You’re almost done going through the process of starting clubs at Harvard. The final two components are relatively straightforward: the budget and the member list. The budget is simply your club’s anticipated costs and revenue (read: income), while the member list provides a bit of information about the individuals currently in or planning to join your club.

After you’ve submitted all of this information, congratulations! The hard part is done. In about a month’s time, your presence will be requested for a brief meeting with Harvard administrators as well as the Harvard undergraduate council. Then, you’ll find out whether or not your club has been approved!

One final note: if your club is approved, you will technically be “provisionally approved” for one year. This does not place any restrictions on the benefits your club receives, but it means your organization will be reevaluated in a year’s time to see how effectively you’ve met your originally stated goals.

Good luck!

Phil Roeder | CC BY 2.0

This informational essay was written by Lucas Woodley, Harvard ‘23. If you want to get help writing your Harvard application essays from Lucas or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

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