Dear Honors: How to Get Involved Without Getting Overwhelmed

This advice column goes out to all of you Honorables who haven’t quite found your niche and need a push in the right direction. My own unrequited advice to preface Marina’s helpful answer? IT IS OKAY TO TURN DOWN AN OFFER. If you get involved in too many things, your efforts in each activity can get watered down and/or your lil’ motivational flame can burn out. Choose your experiences wisely, and only follow through if you see some personal, academic, or professional benefit at the end. *Passes mic to Marina.*

Dear Honors,

There is so much to do on campus. How do I decide what to get involved in?

Ambitious Honors Student Who Wants to do All the Things

Hey you! Yeah, you!

You overachieving, heavily involved, multitasker-of-the-century, honors student extraordinaire. You want to do all of the things, right? You want to be president of a student org, conduct groundbreaking research, tackle two majors, maybe add a minor and certificate (because why not?), be that friend who remembers to pick up birthday cupcakes, and get enough sleep to remember where you put your car keys last night. Welcome to being an honors student.


Many of us are ambitious by nature; we are always looking for the next opportunity and how to take advantage. But, if you are like me and so many of our fellow Honorables, you want to get more than four hours of sleep each night. So, I’m here to give you some advice on how to do all the things without losing sleep or your sanity. I’ve got your back—don’t you worry.

Now, here is my unfiltered advice: This four year run that you’ve got here at Iowa is going to go fast. And not the cliché kind of fast, but the real, heartbreaking kind of fast where you are too busy studying and over-consuming caffeine to notice the semester is almost a third of the way over. I mean the kind of fast that requires one thing: purposeful choices. You have to be purposeful, friends. You can’t sign up for every student org that sends you a mass email. You can’t join something just because your BFF did. You can’t get involved with research just because it fulfills Honors credits. You can’t just go through these four years checking boxes.

Who cares about those dang boxes, anyway? What you should care about is actually caring about whatever it is you decide to get involved in. Do you know why? Because your future employer, or the medical school admissions board, or the fellowship selection committee isn’t going to care how many orgs you were in or how long your “activities” list is. They’re going to care about the things that you put your heart and soul into, the things that you were excited about, and the opportunities that you created for yourself through the experiences you pursued. Because that, my friends, is what shines through. Half-assed involvement gets you nowhere. So dig deep, and figure out what drives you; figure out what is your passion. Start there. Start there and the rest will come, I promise.

Don’t just take my word for it! Because I love you dearly, I solicited some advice from a couple more esteemed peer advisors to give you a well-rounded perspective—you’re welcome, lovelies. My dear friend Monisa wants to remind you that you can and may have to say ‘no’ at some point. You aren’t going to be passionate about every single student org, cause, research theory, or group on campus. It’s just not possible. And that, my friends, is okay. A time turner has not yet been invented (bummer, I know), so you don’t have an endless number of hours to fill each day. Which means one thing… you are going to have to make conscious choices about how to use your time, and sometimes those choices include turning down an opportunity.


Just take it from the wise, experienced, Monisa: “It is really important for students to know when something isn’t working out, but also have the courage to say no if they don’t like it.” Be courageous, be forthright, be purposeful, my fellow Honorables, because there are only a limited number of hours in the day and you can’t commit yourself to everything. You can be purposeful. I believe in you. Honors at Iowa is here for you, every step of the way.

And one last thing from Navya Mannengi, “Here’s some simple advice from a senior: take a step back for a while, and breathe. When you can think, make a list created by you and only you of values that are important to you. Then find two, yes I said two, student orgs/experiences/causes/whatever that match your list of values. Start looking into that, but add to your list of pursuits if you can handle more, and take away if you can’t!”

See!? Navya, Monisa, myself, and the whole rest of the Honors at Iowa community have your back. So don’t you stress–go look at some cute dog pictures. (I recommend WeRateDogs on Twitter and the #petsofhonors on the Honors Twitter… just saying.) We’ll figure it out together… and all that other cliché happiness. ‘Til next time!

Your friend and peer advisor,


By: Marina Gibbs

Majors: Human Physiology & Chemistry

Hometown: Chandler, AZ

Quote Contributions:


Navya Mannengi

Majors: Finance & Management

Hometown: Iowa City, IA


Monisa Saravanan

Major: Human Physiology (Pre-Med)
Minors: Psychology & Global Health Studies

Hometown: Iowa City, IA

Edited By: Katie Kiesewetter, Blog Manager

Do you have a question about the honors program that you want answered? We want to hear from you! Email your questions to with “Dear Honors” in the subject line. Questions can remain anonymous if you’d like.


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