Should Breanna Join Some Clubs & Go To China?

Welcome back, m’friends. We talk a lot around these parts about extracurricular activities (although we haven’t in a while). And when we do, we’re almost exclusively referring to high school students and the extracurricular activities in which they participate in order to shine up their resume for both the admissions and financial aid offices at the colleges they want to attend.

But what about extracurricular activities when you’re already in college? If you want to keep getting new scholarships while you’re in college, how necessary is it to fatten up your credentials with those same kinds of extracurriculars?

One thing we don’t talk about enough is studying abroad, which can be an excellent experience in a lot of ways. But for me and my advice, it always depends on the entire situation. Going abroad for cultural exposure is great, but one need not pay big bucks to a university to do it. You can pretty much do it anytime you want to.

Look out for the pollution, Breanna. Bring some of those mask thingys.

On those two notes, we go to Breanna:


My name is Breanna and I’m a junior Chinese major at UCLA. I’m planning on studying abroad after my senior year, but I’m not sure how to pull off the scholarships that I’ll need to even afford to go.

Hmmm. I’m all for studying abroad, but usually earlier in the process of getting your degree. I’m not sure I understand — wouldn’t “after your senior year” be when you’ve graduated? Let’s keep that in mind going forward here…

I talked to my counselor, who seems to think it would be a good idea for me to hold off on graduating by saving one class for studying abroad, so that I will still be able to get financial aid.

It would be a great idea for UCLA, since they’ll get another year of tuition out of you that way. 🙂 I don’t know the particulars of the courses you have left to take, but one course would only be part-time and then you’d qualify for less financial aid than you would if you were going full-time, although I suspect you know that already at this point.

However, financial aid is not going to cover $22,000 in (estimated) expenses. I’ll need some good scholarships to knock the rest out. I’ve found quite a few different scholarships that I can apply for, but I’m afraid I have one thing missing, and that is extracurricular activities.

OK, let’s jump over to the issue of extracurriculars before we go back to our issue of whether you should study abroad or not. In this regard, I have good news — extracurriculars generally aren’t expected by a scholarship committee in nearly the same way they are in high school.

Here’s a quick-and-dirty breakdown of how we, the scholarship committee, view high school and college differently. In high school, we believe that even if you’re a student who really studies hard and excels, you’ve still got time on your hands. Your parents are housing and feeding you for free in all but the most extreme cases, so you’re not having to work to pay for basic needs.

In terms of your education, it’s “education” with a lowercase “e,” it’s preparatory — important and perhaps rigorous, yes, but not the capital-E “Education” you’ll be getting in college.

In high school, you’re legally a child for most of the time you’re there, while in college you’re an adult from the word go.

All of the above is why we expect high school students to have more extracurriculars on their resumes if they want scholarships. They simply have more time and means to do so. College students are different — you’re in the middle of the most serious and rigorous studies you’ll ever undertake in preparation for your chosen career, and you’re doing it all while working to support your basic needs — or you’ve taken out a fat loan to temporarily relieve yourself of that obligation. (I know that others have their moms and dads write a check for all that, but I assume not many of those students read this site anyway).

In light of that, if you don’t have the time or the inclination to join up with any student clubs on campus — well, we understand. Not a big deal.

I’m a commuter student, and I am on campus from 6am-3pm, but most of the clubs don’t get together until later in the evening. I do participate in a language exchange through the international student center though. I work about 20-25 hours a week locally, mostly on the weekends with a few short weekday night shifts. I don’t have much time for anything else, considering during the week I get up at 4am to catch a van pool down to UCLA, and I don’t get back into town until around 5pm (it’s a long commute).

The foreign-language exchange is a good thing. Remember, club involvement just for the sake of club involvement is, frankly, worthless at this point in your career. I don’t believe that participating in student clubs will move the needle on your viability as a scholarship candidate.

If you’re going to be involved in clubs, it better be because you’re deriving some solid educational or experiential value from participating in those clubs. And that value must outweigh the practical costs of joining and participating in the clubs — and in your particular case, those costs seem a bit high.

Despite my schedule, I know that it would only take one or two hours out of my busy week to participate in something and I certainly want to get involved in something, but what? Any advice would be appreciated!


OK, just to wrap up the extracurriculars issue, I’ll say this — if you CAN actually carve out a couple of extra hours in your week, then sure, let’s put those hours toward good use further your education or expanding your resume — but I highly, highly doubt that joining a campus organization is the most productive use of those two hours.

I’m not sure exactly what your goals are (that is, “what you want to be when you grow up” 🙂 so I’m gonna have to freestyle a little bit here. But, let’s say you’ve unearthed two hours per week to spend on furthering your career: You could get LOTS more experience/credentials online during those two hours. Go to or and find yourself a Chinese employer. Agree to virtual-assist for him/her for two hours a week, for free (you weren’t gonna be paid at the student org anyway, right?). In doing that, you’ll actually start to get some work experience with a Chinese company and a resume entry to boot.

Or, go to and sharpen your written and conversational Chinese with some actual Chinese people. Get some vernacular under your belt. Or, if you’re looking for scholarship fodder, just do something public service-oriented completely unrelated to your studies. You know, feed the homeless, be a Big Sister, literacy project, etc. We judges still, and always will, dig people who are busy yet still take time to help less fortunate people.

Now, back to studying abroad in the first place. My point here was that, if you’re about to graduate and you’re just holding back a course or two so that you can study abroad, my advice is to just go ahead and graduate and then go to China on your own for a year if you want to. Here are my assumptions and line of reasoning:

You want to study in China for some combination of the unique educational, cultural and professional exposure that it would give you, right? You can get that from just going to China on your own. Just go. And you won’t have to come up with $22,000 to pay UCLA for the privilege, either.

Mind you, I’m not advising you rush to the airport, grab the cheapest ticket to Shenzhen and hop on. But with a bit of research, I’m certain you could find yourself at least a temporary job there that’d finance your own one-year learning experience in China. Note that, in my scenario, you actually get paid to be there (via your job) instead of having to pay UCLA for the privilege of going. Really, you don’t need to do that — you can just go. 🙂

Anyhow, there’s some food for thought based on the sketch you gave me. What about you guys? Any of you done a study abroad AFTER your senior year? How’d it go? Any advice for Breanna? Let us know in the comments below.

25 thoughts on “Should Breanna Join Some Clubs & Go To China?”

  1. How about one of the “teach English abroad” programs that seem to proliferate these days? Most require ANY bachelor’s degree, and, though the pay is not usually very impressive, the experience may be priceless.
    I think it’s worth a look.

  2. As long as Breanna understands the volatility over there, and isn’t leaving behind a disgruntled husband and child, I say have at it, and wish you all of God’s blessings and traveling grace.

  3. A couple of things:

    1) Why not look for fellowships rather than scholarships that stipend you to study abroad? Sure, you may have to compete a little (I assume GPA isn’t an issue) but then you won’t have to worry about loans that are adding on interest while you’re having fun abroad.
    2) Does UCLA not have any commuter clubs? If so, join one. If not, MAKE YOUR own. That’s a way to have leadership AND a club under your belt. I know where I am (NYU) we have a very strong commuter network and despite the 8 p.m. clubs, we make our own arrangements to be heard.
    3) In applying to the scholarships for abroad that are asking for extra curricular, if you plan on applying to them, you may want to just add an attend um to explain. My pre-law advisor explained that people (if you keep it brief) will actually read them if you clearly explain why it is you were environmentally unable to take part in extracurriculars. Just a suggestion.

    Lastly, I want to note to the judge that I respectfully disagree with his comments about commuting students; I commuted in high school AND participated in clubs until 7-8 p.m. some nights and still took a two-hour train ride home, and so not all high schoolers are spoiled, non-self-reliant kids. Just remember that next time you read an application from an inner-city kid. Not all of us get pampered through the tough years.

  4. Honestly, UCLA would need to offer a mind-blowing experience for that $22,000. As was already said, you can independently enroll in Chinese language classes at a vast number of different universities in China for a fraction of that. If you think you’ll miss the social aspect of studying abroad with peers, you can always go to a university with many other foreign students (BLCU in Beijing comes to mind). Finding a part-time job teaching English is not difficult (though if you are Asian-American it will be more difficult), and although the pay is mediocre by American standards, it is good compared to local wages.

    The only reason I can imagine to pay UCLA’s fees is 1) if their study abroad program gives access to talented China-focused faculty (which you probably have access to at UCLA anyway) or 2) if the program offers some incredible and unique experiences. Remember that homestays in villages, etc. are awesome but not necessarily unique. Make sure that what they offer is something that you won’t be able to find elsewhere easily.

  5. I lived in Asia for two years, and made several trips to China. I did not experience, or even hear about the volatility Coro mentioned. It was far safer than any US city I’ve lived in or visited. I went as a teacher. Working abroad is one of those things that is harder to do if you don’t know somebody to start you out. First, narrow down your options to the field(s) you are interested in. Then start sending emails. Asia, in many places, is more digital than the US, so email is great. It also helps with the time difference problem. Keep in mind that there are plenty of scams. Know the rules and regulations of the country, and employers who ask you to break the rules probably aren’t a good idea. Scams usually assume the applicants don’t know anything. As a junior, you have plenty of time to look around and educate yourself. It will serve you well time and time again. It’s not a waste of time.
    As Josh said, UCLA will charge you for what you could be paid for. The biggest decision factor is personal independence, flexibility, and character. No matter how you go, the best ticket to success is a genuine smile, sincere interest in those around you, and the ability to roll with the punches. When you get knocked down (culturally) just get up and laugh. When you make mistakes (which everyone does) apologize. It’s the hardest, yet easiest and best way to fix nearly anything.
    Best wishes.

  6. I would not suggest going to China to study abroad in connection with UCLA, as it might be cheaper on your own. If you go to China, the best thing to do would be to have housing and a job in place before commiting yourself to a year living there. Because you already know the language and the culture, all you will need to worry about is those things, along with such things as accessing your bank account, getting internet service, making sure the utilities work, etc. As I said, all of those things should be taken care of before gooing there.

  7. As a study abroad coordinator (yes, I’m likely biased); let me throw my two cents in to the discussion:

    First off, I believe it is imperative that you have an international experience in China, whether before or after graduation. As a Chinese major, this experience will compliment your academic experience nicely and make you a more competitive applicant for future jobs. If you choose to build your experience after graduation, just make certain that you heed Judge Josh’s advice and get a job while in China. The nice thing about a study abroad experience (before graduation) is that it naturally communicates an academic, intercultural experience. This experience is entirely possible outside of a study abroad program, you’ll just have to be prepared to explain why your experience in China was more than some exotic vacation.

    If you choose to go the study abroad route, $22,000 seems exceptionally high for an experience in China. Just like looking at colleges, make sure that you are exploring your options as I can tell you that there are most definitely programs out there that you can study abroad for significantly less than $22,000.

    Lastly, look in to Fulbright and Boren for additional study abroad funding. Both provide scholarships as well as fellowships.

    Best of luck!

  8. I know someone who did what you’re planning on doing. Then again, he is going to Germany, taking grad classes as well, and the school he’s attending is paying his tuition. I’d imagine China would be cheaper than Germany (completely uneducated guess here) but just for *one* class, and if you still have to pay UCLA tuition, it seems silly. I understand your passion–I myself am an International Studies major and am wanting to go to France. But I think Josh is offering some good advice. If you’re just taking one class, and if UCLA is making you pay their tuition…graduate, then go on your own. Having a job/paid internship there will give you more of a real-world experience, as opposed to the more “sheltered” university experience, and yes, it would probably be way cheaper. Best of luck. =]

  9. I studied abroad in Jordan last summer for two months at a total cost of less than $3500, so hearing $22,000 for a country with a weaker currency is surprising. I don’t know what costs are going into the $22,000 figure but assuming that’s tuition, Josh is totally right, just graduate and go for way cheaper. It’s very doable.

  10. geography grad student

    So many options! Why not add a minor? It provides you classes to take abroad and you may have already completed some of the prerequisites and classes with your major’s course load. Some can be finished in a year or so.

    Also check with the study abroad office and your department office for scholarships (Chinese was it? So modern languages and literature?). I have seen so many scholarships go unclaimed each year, especially for a language in such high demand like Chinese. Ask your professors and campus administrators for advice. Just my two cents…

  11. I did not have the time to study abroad during my undergrad career. However, I am going straight into my master’s and I will be including a term abroad in that program. Since I was able to get a full scholarship for the master’s, my time in China will be covered as well. I don’t know if Breanna is considering graduate school, but there are many opportunities to study abroad with funding, especially since she is studying languages.

    This website above is for a TESOL program in China. This website will give you more information, but for $200 (if you get sponsored by a local chinese school–not hard to do) you can stay in China for more than 6 months (I have looked more at the program, and not much of the “after-effects” because I’m not quite at college yet!) and you get your mandarin, your TESOL, and free meals and accomodations. Its a great program and its A LOT cheaper than what your college is offering. I’d look into it.

    good luck!

  13. I would definitely look into teaching English abroad! As others have mentioned, there are many ways to go about it, so it will take some time to research – but it’s something I might do after I get my bachelors (in a completely unrelated major – Parks & Recreation management!). I’ve always wanted to go to Japan, so I’ll be taking classes in Japanese next semester. Plus, Japan has many beautiful shrines and national parks that I’ve been wanting to see! =) There’s always a way to make something work into your resume!

    And since your major is Chinese, it’s very fitting and almost expected for you to have some cultural knowledge and experience there. Knowing people is also very important, so it would be a priceless opportunity to create and expand your career network!

    I suggest you wait until after you graduate though. Through teaching English abroad, you can make roughly $15,000-$20,000 yearly – which isn’t great pay, but it’s better than owing that to a financial institution! And even if you decide not to teach English and do something else entirely, if you research your options and save up a few thousand, you can be in China for a few months with a lot of free time to learn and explore.

    Good luck on making the best decision!

  14. GO! But keep your budget in mind. There are numerous organizations that is willing to fund your trip. You just have to do some research to find them. I attended a study abroad through UCLA (I am a Ohio State University student) and my trip was completely covered with scholarship money…the trick is, I received scholarships from various sources. I did my homework and prepared well in advance, so should you.

  15. I suggest Breanna asks her parents to put up with the financial strain to get her abroad and she work hard for a scholarship in her first year. She could take on a job as a tutor and another small job to make ends meet but taking into consideration that the jobs should not compete for her time more than her studies. I believe everyone has many extra co-cirricular activities in this dynamic world of today.People try so hard to keep fully balanced. Personally weighing the pro’s and cons of studying abroad and not i would then make a decision.

  16. Hey, I grew up in Europe, so I’m going to give you some advice from my European background that Americans seem to overlook. China, as well as all the European countries and many more, offer what is referred to as the International Masters degree. Often, it is a one or two year masters program that yields a degree which is completely equivalent to a U.S. masters degree. Most of these programs are heavily compensated by the government of the country you are visiting to encourage international students to learn/ ground themselves in the language, culture, and customs and further their countrie’s linguistic integrity. Often times they will also find you a job as part of the program to earn you pocket and food money (and it gives them cheep labor).

    These programs often begin in late May or early June, and the first summer is spent in emersion language programs. During that time, the school will evaluate your language skills, and then, depending on your field, create a schedule with a combination of classes taught in the native language and in English. Some fields like the hard sciences/ engineering will be taught almost completely in English because it is the current lingua franca of the field, whereas others (i.e. ancient Chinese literature) will be taught almost exclusively in the native language.

    If you are still concerned about money, see if you can land a school near a military base. There are military bases all over and, assuming you are not in a war zone, they need transients (mostly American students going to local colleges) to teach or tutor their children in the native language, to work as tour guides, or to keep local infrastructure (library, commissary, soccer teams, etc.) running. Generally, they are very flexible, and understand you will be attending school and are willing to work with your schedule. Working on base will also give you a support system of families who have been living overseas for years, as well as a military ID which can get you everything from cheep gas to access to the commissary (tacos and peanut butter anyone?).

    So you would get a masters degree that is paid for, enough money to live on, and one to two years of experience overseas.

    There are masters programs for just about anything, you just have to find the program that is right for you. I saw one program in China, which gave an MBA with a specialty in cross-cultural engineering enterprises which tracked their students directly into management positions at international engineering firms. There is another that focuses on using ancient Chinese literature to locate possible archeological dig sites, and another which focuses on the Chinese language and advanced translation techniques with Chinese history for tourism purposes. There is a program for everyone.

    Go to China, but do yourself a favor and get the most bang for your buck. Do some research and find a program that sings to you and you will not only have more fun, but you will also get more higher paying job opportunities when you are done.

    Good Luck.

  17. After I graduated, I came to Belgium for a second masters. I only had to pay 500 dollars for (the entirety) of my graduate program. I had considered paying my undergrad university 28k for the privileged of going to Germany to study for 5 months (where I would be hanging out with other Americans, speaking English and ignoring the culture around me – like all the exchange students i see in Belgium).

    Coming to Belgium on my own terms ended up being 1) cheaper, 2) more educational, and 3) a much more self-expanding experience (learning to depend on myself).

    …. And I am still here! After my MS, I stuck around and worked for a couple years, and now I am 2.5 years through my PhD with upcoming business prospects on the horizon.

    Do it on your own terms!!! Good luck!

  18. I agree with the other girl, teaching english abroad is prob your best bet, you wont put yourself into debt because the money you make back while youre there will cover the course(tefl course) and its the best way to travel wherever you want for a low price. I studied abroad last semester and thats the way I’m going to go back in a year or two so I can make money while im there and still get the full experience. ALSO if you really want to get the real experience stay with a host family if possible, it makes a worrrllllddd of a difference.

  19. Breanna if you go online and do a search you can find alot of scholarships for study abroad programs and through financial aid.That’s the way I find some of my study abroad trips and most of them provide scholarships. Usually financial aid does take care of most of it, I think you should take your counselors advice.

    My next study abroad trip will be financed by financial aid. Some study abroad trips pay you for your services but that is very hard to find. After I left undergrad I was going to take a year off and was going to South Korea to teach English in either elementary, middle, or high school but ended up going directly to graduate school. The salary was excellent and the benefits were great as well. Next year I plan to go to Germany, Ecuador or Denmark. The study abroad trips that will be the longest will be during the summer term, so I don’t have to worry about taking all my couses abroad in the fall or spring.

  20. Rachel Richardson

    no they have scholarship to help you study aboard. you can look and find scholarship it will be safely

  21. The schools that I’m applying for offer study abroad lengths of 1 year or 1 month during summer or winter break. I plan on doing the month option because it’ll look good on a resume. You should talk to your school’s academic adviser and study abroad program director for the best choice and payment options for you.

  22. may i suggest a book i read recently called “delaying the real world”? i forget the author (on my cell so itd be a pain to look it up) but it had a lot of suggestions for recent grads who would like to spend a year abroad after graduation, and stories and advice on getting a job teaching english or translating in other countries. check it out!

  23. I have never travelled abroad to study. After reading your comments, I begin to wish I had considered such things. I think I just led too sheltered a life way back then.

    However, my nephew was very fortunate that he did everything only after he planned each move. He dated with the expectation that he wanted to become upwardly mobile (no accidental babies or other distractions). He finished his education in electronics and then worked for a couple of years (according to his plan). He began to study Japanese and applied to teach English as a second language. He prepared well.

    He and his mother checked out ever detail, I kid you not! Right down to the difference it made according to the size of the living quarters he picked (living quarters were part of the contract–the size meant you had less $$ left over). It helped to have someone to check that each aspect of the trip had been properly heard and understood for rehashing details.

    After spending time teaching within the constraints of his contracts, he eventually found himself tutoring the children of diplomats. He married over in Japan and has now a 1 yr old daughter. According to his plan, he is now working for himself over there and has made his own opportunities. He began a Montessori School and still caters to the children of diplomats and loves it. Oh, and did I mention that he is a visible minority in Japan?

    His Mom gets to visit them once each year now–she has not yet learned any of the language and refuses to let that stop her from becoming acquainted with her son’s in-laws (she makes them take her shopping and uses lots of sign language). I have never heard them utter any words of remorse because he had to borrow in student loans to accomplish his goals.

    I guess I am saying all of this because sometimes, everything is about looking at what you want out of life and then developing a good plan. He and his mother researched well. For the moments he doubted any of the steps he took, his mother could remind him of the original plan and how closely they had followed it. Although she has tracked the steps of each of the children in her family–she has attended probably every office visit for information for even the nieces and nephews; she could never have financed any of her own 4 children’s schooling. The $$ were just never available. But it has not limited how each of her children has pursued the career path of their choosing. She is not herself a highly educated woman. When she had her son, she was very young and single as well as very broke. One of her 3 younger daughters is now studying law and travelled to England this summer as part of her educational goal planning. That trip would have been scholarship funded.

    I have learned so much from being exposed to things said here in this site as well as from watching people and from questioning them on their experiences. Most have no problem sharing. In my classes for the most of 2 years, I was not only older than most of my classmates, I was usually older than many of the instructors. I have acquired huge debt to redefine my career direction. I run circles in my sleep to consider how to earn $$ to begin repayment prior to completing this program. I have done several thousand dollars of scholarship funding in the last year (after I learned from the mistakes of the first year)!

    Of course it did help my morale last summer to have one male fellow student for a week of classes who arrived in a wheelchair; had to leave early each day so that he could go home for a nap–he was about 80.

    I cannot go back in time–I am paying for many of the not so brilliant choices of my youth; but many of you have your lives ahead of you. Don’t sit too long on the fence scratching your heads (or other body parts) in confusion! Some of the readers here contribute links to help with things we can do to help ourselves kickstart our incomes while we study. I have begun to check into the links provided. I am such a novice to many of the features provided by the internet (it might take me a while to provide feedback on my research). I am willing to learn and to earn my independence by absorbing as much as I can. Y’Know? Do thorough research and then get on with the business of doing! I am so looking forward to reading about your success stories!!!!!

  24. Breanna… Definitely don’t go study abroad through UCLA. The comments and author’s response sound like good advice…

  25. I know this is an old article, but for anyone else who stubles across it I thought I’d share my experience.

    I’m currently doing a ‘non-degree’ (ie not part of my degree) year in China, studying the language. There are SO many scholarships from the Chinese government for students to come to China, either for language studies or for undergraduate/ postgraduate courses. The scholarships cover all tuition and living costs, and are very easy to get – particularly if you can already speak a bit of Chinese. Seriously, definitely don’t pay your home university crazy amounts of tuition if you want to come to China, come after graduation or as a gap year. Yes, you generally can’t then use the credits towards your degree at home, but employers are really just interested in the fact you have international experience not whether your home uni mothered you through the year abroad process.

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