Information for the parents of college students
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Are College Extracurricular Activities Really “Extra”? Why Your Student Should Participate.

Many high school students participate in numerous extracurricular activities.  For some high school students, these extracurricular activities are what keep them active and interested in school.  Many high school students participate in extracurricular activities because they reflect their true interests.  Some high school students, however, participate in extracurricular activities because they know that college will consider these activities when they review their admission applications.

Once these high school students reach college, they may feel that they no longer “need” to participate in extracurricular activities.  However, participation in activities outside of the classroom may prove to be equally as important as what happens in the classroom.   Most colleges express the mission to develop the whole student, to take a holistic approach to helping the student become a well-rounded, mature individual.  Colleges recognize that much of this process happens outside of the classroom.

Many colleges have expressed this importance by no longer referring to these activities as “extracurricular”, but referring to them as “co-curricular”.  This acknowledges that many activities promote important learning and benefits alongside the regular curriculum rather than outside of the curriculum.  Co-curricular activities are seen as equally important to a student’s development as his classroom experiences.  It may seem a subtle difference in semantics, but it reflects an important difference in the perception of the importance of these activities.

As a college parent, you may need to remind your student of the benefits of participating in co-curricular activities.  Some students are reluctant to participate, either because they have “burned out” in high school or because they feel that involvement may negatively impact their studying.

Several studies, one most notably conducted at Harvard University, suggest that participating in one or more activities during college has a positive impact on student satisfaction with the college experience.  In his book, Making the Most of College, Richard J. Light, one of the researchers in this study,  reports, “We now have concrete data on how outside-of-class activities relate to academic success.  The big finding is that a substantial commitment to one or two activities other than coursework – for as much as twenty hours per week – has little or no relationship to grades.  But such commitments do have a strong relationship to overall satisfaction with college life.  More involvement is strongly correlated with higher satisfaction.”

Specific benefits of co-curricular activities.

In addition to overall satisfaction with the college experience, there are many benefits to your college student of involvement in outside-of-the-classroom experiences during college.  You may want to discuss some of the following with your student.

  • Your student may have the opportunity to explore a new interest – and possibly discover a new passion.
  • Your student will learn new skills which may translate into important career skills.
  • Your student may make new friends and connect with new people, both students and faculty members, on campus.
  • Your student may be exposed to diversity and learn both about others and about herself.
  • Your student will have an opportunity to practice good time management skills.
  • Your student will have the opportunity to work with others and practice skills such as communication, negotiation, and conflict management.
  • Your student will develop leadership skills.
  • You student will be able to give back to the community – either his college community or the wider community.
  • Your student will establish the “habit” of involvement which may follow him throughout his life.
  • Your student will be able to follow a dream or passion.
  • Your student will have a richer college experience.
  • Your student will have fun.

As college parents, we need to remember that extracurricular activities may not be “extra” or outside of the mission of college.  These activities are an integral part of the experiences and development of college students.  Encouraging your student to be involved, often in more than one activity, will benefit him both directly and indirectly.  As a parent, you may be surprised to see the directions in which your student’s interests take him.  Ask him about his activities.  Learn more about your student.

Related Posts:

Is Your College Student a Member of the “Apathy Generation”?

Why College Parents Might Be Interested in Student Engagement

Why You Should Encourage Your College Student to Get Involved on Campus

Helping Your College Student “Supersize” His College Experiences

How College Parents Can Help Their Student Avoid Sophomore Slump

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