Pick Two and A Side

A framework for planning extracurricular involvement in order to achieve balance in your college life.

This article was tagged with: College

There are 702 words in this article, and it will probably take you less than 4 minutes to read it.

This article was published 2023-08-14 00:00:00 -0400, which makes this post and me old when I published it.


When I was in college at UMBC, I was part of a Living-Learning Community (LLC) called the Shriver LLC which was an LLC that focused on community service and leadership. One of the big selling points of the LLC was that all members of the LLC lived on the same floor, and all new students on the floor were matched with peer mentors. These peer mentors were people who had already been at UMBC, and most of them had been on the Shriver Floor before. They were there to have regular check-ins with you, as well as provide/connect you with any school resources that you wanted, or they thought that you might need/want. I had a very positive experience with my suite mate who was not my peer mentor, but became an impromptu mentor of sorts. He is the one who developed and taught me the “Pick Two and a Side” framework.

What is Pick Two and a Side?

Panera has a mix-and-match Pick Two meal deal where you can pair a soup, salad, or sandwich. The portions are smaller for the Pick Two deal, so some people add a small side as well. He maintained that this a parallel to how you should approach extracurricular engagements. Pick two main things that will take up most of your time, then a side that is on-and-off and requires much less time and effort.

This framework and accompanied explanation/discussion was mostly administered to first-year students, which meant that this was anticipatory, or a way to plan for the future and carefully plan your campus engagements. An important caveat to this approach is that this is mostly about if you are getting more involved in these kinds of extracurriculars, or if they naturally have a higher time commitment that is necessary. It is perfectly conceivable and reasonable to be part of five different student organizations on campus that meet once a week, the only hard part would most likely be scheduling. However, what I think is unreasonable would be trying to be a leader or get really involved in five different student organizations at once. I am sure that for some people this could be done, but at what cost? Fundamentally that is what this framework is trying to do, limit the amount of things that you take on at once so that you can put forth lots of effort into the things you care about, but also have time to have fun on the side.

I don’t think that this is a framework that works for everyone, and that’s important to note, but I think that it works especially well for people who want to do everything or nothing. You can certainly do more or less than this, extracurricular wise, but either way it usually comes at the detriment of your social or academic success. If you do too many things, you are on the fast track to burn out, but if you don’t do enough things, you can also feel quite alienated which can lead to burnout and/or depression. It is really a fine line that you have to tow, which is why the Pick Two and a Side framework can really help you narrow things down, or on the opposite side, serve as a stretch goal. However, as I mentioned previously, this does not work for everyone, so like everything, take the advice with a grain of salt. If you understand the core intention of the framework, then you can definitely apply the principles of it without having to adopt the actual framework.

The original worksheet is a little rinky dinky looking, but I see little utility in updating it at the moment, so you can find the worksheet here.



  • Main #1: Rowing Club (Member so no executive responsibilities, but naturally high time commitment)
  • Main #2: Student Government Association (Leadership position with responsibility plus formal associated time commitments)
  • Side: Poker Club (Doesn’t meet often/can drop in or leave early)


  • Main #1: Honor Society (Executive position, so lots of responsibility)
  • Main #2: Mock Trial (Non-executive position, but naturally high time commitment)
  • Side: Intramural Soccer (No practices, just games)

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