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BACK TO SCHOOL: The why and how of extracurriculars

By: Katie Ward Beim-Esche

For students, the impact is clear – extracurricular activities matter on every level, from academic to social and physical to mental.

Not only do extracurriculars look good for scholastic “resumes” when it comes to applying for college, they broaden students’ knowledge bases and introduce them to new worlds.

Some students may not find their passion in life from a book. Extracurriculars provide new venues to seek that passion out, whether robotics, art, cooking or athletics.

Fifty-seven percent of children between 6 and 17 years old participate in at least one after-school extracurricular activity, according to a 2014 U.S. Census Bureau report. The report found that children were more likely to participate in sports [35 percent] than clubs or lessons like music, dance and language [both around 29 percent].

A 2015 “Parenting in America” report from the Pew Research Center agreed. “Sports or athletic activities are the most popular,” the study said, “but at least half of parents say their children ages 6 to 17 have participated in religious instruction, taken music, dance or art lessons, or done volunteer work.”

Involvement in these types of activities has the potential to develop social skills and build confidence. Leadership and teamwork skills also are strengthened.

What’s more, spending time with people outside of one’s school or district means interacting with a more diverse set of backgrounds and interests. Learning to be open-minded serves students well as they become adults.

Studies have shown that extracurricular participation can have a positive impact on grades. Certain activities or groups have a minimum GPA requirement, which incentivizes hard work in the classroom.

Fastweb.com, a website that helps students pay for school by matching them to scholarships, grants and internships for which they qualify, identified ten types of extracurriculars that colleges may find attractive: student government, academic teams/clubs, debate team, the arts,  internships, culture/diversity clubs, volunteer work/community service, student newspapers, part-time jobs and athletics.

What if a student doesn’t know which interest to explore? The Big Future blog on CollegeBoard.org recommended a few ways to search for activities.

Start with friends and schools. Ask friends what groups they belong to. Check a school’s bulletin board or website, or talk to the school counselor or teachers.

Look into organizations with which a student is familiar. Find out if a place of worship organizes activities. Look into national organizations, such as Junior Achievement, Boy/Girl Scouts and the YMCA/YWCA.

“The things you do in your free time reveal a lot about you – in ways that grades and test scores can’t,” said College Board. “Your accomplishments outside the classroom show what you’re passionate about.”

However, counseled Fastweb, “try to keep your participation limited to activities you actually enjoy and will keep pursuing – don’t just participate to have something on your application.”

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