By Zrinka Peters
What's a high school student to do? After a full day of classes, the temptation for many might be to head home and kick back for a while in front of the tube before taking time for dinner and homework. But is this really the best they can do? Should teens take on more?
The indications are (and research supports) that teens who are involved in extracurricular activities actually do better than their non-involved peers in a number of areas. Instead of test scores falling and sleep being sacrificed because a student is taking on more activities, the opposite is true. Most studies show that students who are involved in extracurricular activities excel above their peers academically. But that's not all.
According to a study published in Education, the benefits of teen participation in extracurricular activities go well beyond just filling up an already-busy schedule and having another line to add to the college application.
Benefits include having a sense of team spirit and belonging, personal pride and an understanding of the value of fair play, an increased sense of honesty and trustworthiness, and, importantly, the prevention of drug and substance abuse – among others. The study states "Repeated records of high school students across the United States have shown that those students who become heavily involved in extracurricular activities tend to be model students and seldom get involved in delinquency and crime."
Involvement in extracurricular activities builds personal life skills. Melinda Voss, Public Relations Director for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, says "[Extracurricular activities] can help them by developing some leadership skills, some time management skills; it's a good way to explore areas of interest that might lead to careers, so it might help them to select an area of study in college."
Of concern to many students is how involvement in extracurricular activities can positively impact his or her college application. Certainly, a student's involvement does show college officials that the person is more likely to be a balanced and well-rounded individual. But if a student is involved in a host of activities just to pad their application, administrators can tell, and aren't impressed.
Walter Wolff, Ph.D., Admissions Director at the University of Minnesota at Mankato, cautions against placing too much emphasis on extracurricular activities. He says, "As far as the actual application review goes, generally speaking we look more at their academics. On our campus, we take a look at the academic preparedness of the students, then look at the likelihood of long-term success. In the second review process, if a person is not automatically admitted, [involvement in extracurriculars] may matter more." And Voss adds, "At the universities here, GPA is certainly more important than extracurriculars."
Voss also stresses that many 2-year colleges require only a high-school diploma for admission – and the majority of high school students in the US who pursue post-secondary education do so at community or state colleges. So, even for students who haven't had much if any involvement in extracurricular activities, college can still be an option for them.
That being said, for students who are trying to get into Harvard or other highly selective colleges and universities, involvement in extracurriculars is much more important.
What are your child's extracurricular options? Here's a list of activities that can add to your teen's high school experience...and beyond:
From soccer to the swim team to tennis club, there is something for everyone when it comes to sports. And the benefits of being involved in athletics go beyond just improved physical fitness and health. Students learn teamwork and gain confidence, leadership and endurance from sports – all skills that can help the new college student succeed under the pressures of college life.
Dance, drama and music – these can offer a much-needed creative outlet, as well as improving a student's academic standing. Several studies have shown that students who are involved in the arts score higher SAT scores than their non-involved peers – and the more arts classes, the higher the scores.
Academics on the side
For students who just can't get enough academics, the math or science team, the debate club, or even time spent tutoring can add valuable knowledge and experience. Building strong core skills, especially in areas the student plans to pursue further in college, shows a love of the subject and mental discipline that will be valuable assets when digging into more advanced study.
So, encourage your teen to get involved – not just because of college prospects, but also for his own personal development. It is sure to make for a happier and healthier teen.