Running for Student Union President

Want to make $30,000-$40,000 a year while chilling out on your campus and going to a ton of student parties every week?  Want to have access to tuition credits, travel expense claims, and several other neat perks?  Your résumé could use some building and shiny title at the top would probably help get you into law school right?  Finally, whose ego doesn’t want to see their smiling mug on thousands of posters and pamphlets as “The Face” of an entire university campus? 

Or to put it another way:


Want to work 60-70 hours a week, while being a student, deal with some of the most critical clientele on the planet, and have to depend on one of the least dependable demographics imaginable (post-secondary students)?  Want to go to meeting after meeting where you are forced to listen to 3rd year political science students ramble on in an attempt to get everyone else to love their voice as much as they do? 

Running for Student Union President
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Finally, do you want to mediate hot button disputes between student groups from diverse ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds – several of whom have centuries of recorded hatred between them?

Hail To the Chief

Both of these jobs could be yours if you can win over the 6-10% of the undergraduate student body at your university that it takes to win an election on most campuses (assuming voter turnout of 12-20%).  This is usually achieved by making ridiculous promises to special interests groups or the most radical part of the student body as they are the only students motivated enough to vote on most campuses.

Related: Getting Involved On Campus

There is nothing more cliché about student life than complaining about what your student government is either doing or not doing.  This is usually done by people who are actively engaged in the process of “not doing”.  I’m certainly guilty of criticizing my student union executive as much as the next undergrad who has enjoyed the combination of Intro to Political Science and discount beer, but I have also been involved in several levels of student government as well (although never running for a undergraduate student union executive position).  This has given me a unique perspective on what it takes to become a student union president and what the requirements of the position are.

Related: Student Voting – Gaining Attention For Student Issues

Not All Glitz and Glamour

First and foremost, being the Student Union President means managing a whole lot of personalities.  Not just any personalities, but know-it-all young adults who likely think they are much smarter than they actually are, and have very little practical experience at doing almost anything.  After all, being your high school treasurer doesn’t exactly qualify to start looking at spreadsheets for a million dollar operation (roughly the size of my old undergraduate union’s budget).  I honestly can’t imagine the time demands on most Student Union Presidents.  A lot of the stuff they do isn’t really that difficult when looked at in isolation, but when compounded together, it has to be a ton of headaches.  For example think about organizing a concert or large party on the first week of campus.  In theory finding a band isn’t too hard, setting up a local opening act isn’t difficult, deciding whether or not to get a liquor permit by itself wouldn’t be too time-destroying.  Put all that together, and then do it again for two more weeks however, and you start to see how this could get to you.

Benefits of Being the Big Man/Woman On Campus

It’s not like you’re working all those hours and dealing with those headaches for nothing though.  Maclean’s reports that roughly 15% of most student unions’ budgets are compensation for executives.  The student newspaper at my alma-mater reported that in 2011 the salaries for the executive was $170,000 out of an overall budget of just under a million dollars, so anecdotally that seems true.  Assuming the Commander in Chief of the campus gets a little more than the rest of the crew, they must be looking at around a $35K paycheque.  That’s a pretty good deal for most students.  One could argue that if you’re in it purely as a money play, you’d be better off taking a lower-status executive position that still carries a decent salary but allows you to stay out of the spotlight.

Related: 12 Must Know Interview Tips For Graduates

In my opinion though, the actual salary, and a few thousand dollars more of perks are really only the fringe benefits of being your Student Union President.  The real payoff comes down the road when you get to make use of the substantial professional network you will undoubtedly create for yourself (even if you just keep the heads of law, nursing, engineering, etc. in your phone, thing about how useful at least a few of those contacts will turn out to be in 10-20 years).  Not to mention that all that work will help you build up a pretty cool little skill set (out of survival instinct and necessity) as well as a pretty impressive resume.  Many of societies “greats” once had the burden of public office while completing their undergrad.

Related: 10 Graduate Resume Tips

Is It For You?

Being a student union president or even a part of the executive is often a thankless job at the time, but I’m sure it’s one that most people who take on the challenge have many fond memories of.  I had way too much fun at school to ever worry about that level of responsibility.  While I did take on several different student leadership positions as I was going through school I don’t regret this decision.  Then again, I was just scrolling through my FB newsfeed the other day and it revealed that one of my old union presidents – who I knew fairly well – is now involved in some pretty cool international projects that I’m more than a little envious of, so he’s doing pretty for himself.

Student politics is a weird and wacky world that can only make sense if you’ve drank discount in the last 48 hours.  There are very few people I’d recommend it to, but at the same time I admire those that do it (even though I often disagree with them on almost everything).  If anyone needs a campaign manager I should mention that I’m available for a mere 20% of your eventual salary.  My qualifications include watching every episode of West Wing, House of Cards, and Boss.

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