Thinking about joining student council? You should be! It's a great way to make friends and gain leadership experience, especially if you're interested in politics. However, it can also require a significant time commitment.
What is student council and what duties will you have as a member? How do you join? Should you join? I'll answer these questions and more below!
What Is Student Council?
Student Council, sometimes called Student Government, is the elected governing body at your high school. The group is composed entirely of students; often they have a faculty adviser.
Typically (though this may vary slightly by high school/region), each grade level has its own grade-level council (i.e. freshman student council, sophomore student council, junior student council, and senior student council). Usually, each grade-level council has their own faculty adviser. The grade-level councils typically plan and execute grade level specific programs (such as creating a class t-shirt, organizing a class fundraiser, planning the class float for the Homecoming parade, etc.).
Additionally, there is usually a school-wide student government that plans and executes programs for the entire school (such as Homecoming Week or a school-wide fundraiser). The school-wide council typically has its own faculty adviser but still gets assistance with its events from the grade-level councils.
Think of the individual grades as individual states with their own governments, but they all fall under one country (school) and one federal government (the school-wide student council). I’ve created the chart below as a visual reference of this hierarchy. Additionally, I’ve listed the typical positions available on each council.
What Do Student Council Members Do?
In this section, I’ll discuss the general responsibilities of all members. I'll then go on to discuss the duties of specific officers (President vs. Secretary, etc.).
Duties for All Members
All student government members are responsible for attending meetings (usually weekly, though the specifics will vary from school to school). If you’re on a grade-level council, you’ll likely have meetings both with your grade-level council and the school-wide council. These weekly meetings include all members of the council as well as the faculty adviser. At these weekly meetings, members brainstorm events they'd like to plan and divvy up the tasks. Occasionally (typically once or twice each school year), the grade-level student councils will hold an open meeting to allow their classmates to come and voice their concerns or suggest ideas.
As I said above, members of the grade-level councils are responsible for planning and executing grade-level specific programs (such as creating a class t-shirt or organizing Junior Prom). Members of the school-wide council plan and execute programs for the entire school (such as Homecoming Week or a school-wide fundraiser).
In addition, members of grade-specific councils are responsible for assisting the school-wide council in planning and running major school-wide events such as the Homecoming parade, Homecoming dance, and pep rallies.
Typically, senior student government members have an obligation after graduating from high school: planning your high school reunions.
What Are the Position Specific Duties?
I’ll go down the hierarchy. The duties of each position remain the same whether it’s for the freshman council or school-wide council. As I said above, every member is responsible for attending meetings and helping make school events happen. The duties listed below are the additional duties for each position.
President: Responsible for planning and running meetings (i.e. creating meeting itineraries, facilitating discussions), delegating tasks (i.e. deciding who on the council will be in charge of finding someone to design the class t-shirt, who will be responsible for finding a company to print the t-shirt), and for holding people accountable (i.e. making sure people complete their assigned tasks).
1st / 2nd Vice President: Responsible for assisting the president (i.e. running meetings in their absence, making sure people are completing assigned tasks, etc.)
Secretary: Responsible for taking notes at all meetings and emailing those notes to all council members.
Treasurer: Responsible for budgeting and managing money (i.e. collecting money when selling tickets for Homecoming, depositing that money into the proper account, keeping records).
How Can You Join Student Council?
To be in student government, you need to be elected. Elections for freshman student council typically happen at the beginning of the school year, in the fall. Elections for sophomore, junior, senior, and school-wide student councils typically happen near the end of the school year before summer vacation. You usually have to sign up to run. Make sure to talk to the front office at your school and ask how to sign up to run for student government.
If you’re trying to run for a position for the first time (i.e. you’ve never held a position on student council at your high school before, whether as a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior), I recommend first trying to run for what are considered smaller positions: treasurer or secretary. There is usually less competition for these positions, which will make it more likely that you’ll be elected. Additionally, while these positions are considered smaller, you have the same responsibility as the president or VP, to help plan and execute great events.
If you hope to be class president someday, you can prove yourself in a smaller position and then run for bigger positions in future elections. I started as my freshman treasurer, then became sophomore VP, then junior class president, and I became Student Government President my senior year. No matter what position you run for, how you campaign is important. You only need one tip to win your campaign...
The Most Important Campaign Tip: Make Sure People Know (and Trust) You!
Plain and simple, you will not win your campaign if only ten people know who you are. You will also likely not win if your entire grade knows you, but only as the person failing all of your classes or the person who doesn’t take anything seriously (aka class clown). To win the campaign, you need to make sure people know you and trust you.
How do you get people to know you? If your school allows it, make posters, stickers, pencils, etc. with your name on it. The size of the posters doesn’t matter, but the quantity does. It’s better to print 50 posters on printer paper than to make 10 on fancy posterboard. You want people to see your name so that they can talk to their friends about you and try to figure out who you are before election day.
Next, start to develop your campaign platform or main focus. Why do you want to be on student council? Do you want to improve school dances? Do you want to have a wider variety of school lunch options? Create a class field trip? Start a fundraiser? Having a focused platform will help you seem trustworthy and will help you stay motivated.
Now you have to spread your message. During your lunch period, you should not be sitting down; instead, walk around the cafeteria or campus. Introduce yourself! Hand out pencils and stickers. Talking to people is your best weapon. Tell them about yourself and why you want to be part of student government. Ask them what events they’d like to see planned this year or what ideas they have. However, you don't want to annoy other students (if you do, you definitely won't get elected), so try to cap yourself at 2-3 minutes of chatting, and then move on to another group.
How do you get people to trust you? This is a more difficult task. Talking to people and asking about their ideas will help build some trust. To continue to build trust, you need to show your competence in the classroom. Make sure you’re known as the person who does all of their homework, gets good grades, engages in class discussions, etc. Don’t be known as the person who is always late to class or on their cell phone.
How to Ace Your Campaign Speech
Some schools allow campaign speeches (mine didn't!). Speeches provide you with another opportunity to show that you're trustworthy. Here are my bullet points for a good campaign speech:
- Introduce yourself (It may seem obvious, but it will help students who may not know you).
- “Hi, I’m John Doe, and I’m running for sophomore class secretary.”
- Say why you want to be on student council and why you’re qualified. Your qualifications will be a combination of personal characteristics and past experiences and successes.
- “I'm an excellent note-taker. I served as drama club secretary.”
- State your campaign platform or main focus.
- “I want to plan a class trip to Disney.”
- Explain how you plan to accomplish your goals.
- “I will raise the money for the class trip by hosting a school-wide hot dog eating contest.”
- End with your name (again, it'll help students who may not know you).
- “Remember, vote for John Doe for sophomore class secretary.”
These should be the main points you hit, but also, try to inject some humor into your speech to make it more entertaining. Your speech should NOT be too long (I’d recommend 2-3 minutes maximum). Make it brief or you’ll lose your audience.
What Are the Benefits of Joining Student Council?
By joining the student government, you’re able to influence your high school. You can start new events and fundraisers. For example, as student government president, I started a donation drive to collect used prom dresses for a non-profit called Becca’s Closet. If there are things that bother you about your school that you'd like to improve, student council gives you an opportunity to do so. If you hated the Homecoming dance last year, you could plan a better event. Instead of having the Homecoming dance in your gym, you can move it to a hotel ballroom. If you dislike school lunches, you can try to change the menu.
Student government also gives you a great leadership experience to discuss on your college application. Colleges like to see leadership experience and involvement on your resume. It shows that you can get involved in your school and improve things, which makes colleges think that hopefully you would do the same at their school.
Be aware that there are potential drawbacks to joining student council. You might get blamed or criticized if people don’t enjoy your events. Nothing is worse than the class t-shirt. Someone is always unhappy and doesn’t like the design.
People get this upset, SERIOUSLY.
Should You Join Student Council?
If you’re truly interested in planning school events and organizing fundraisers, then YES! If you’re just looking for another activity on your resume, then NO! Colleges aren’t looking for students with a laundry list of activities on their resume. Colleges are looking for students who do one thing and who do it VERY well. For more on this, read our article, How to Get Into Harvard and the Ivy League, by a Harvard Alum.
If you love the idea of improving your school, then make student council your main extracurricular. Don’t be a mediocre student government member! To be an effective member of student council, make sure you have the time to commit to it. You'll want to have at least five hours per week to dedicate to student council. Plan on one hour for meetings and four hours for event planning or executing events. Be on time to meetings and events. Show up to meetings with ideas for events. Take charge of event planning. Try to plan the best events your school has ever had. Plan new amazing fundraisers! Try to make real positive changes at your school!
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As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.