Keeping the “extra” in extracurricular

Over at Study Hacks, they are floating the “dangerous idea” that

Outside of a few exceptions, college extracurriculars are of minor importance to your efforts to find a job after graduation. There is no benefit to be gained by suffering through an overwhelming load of activities at the college level. [emphasis theirs]

The article makes the point that extracurricular activities in college can add a little color to your job applications later, and of course it’s always healthy to be active in things you enjoy. But overall, they advise that college students keep the number of their activities small, use those activities to surround themselves with interesting people, and don’t be afraid to cut back.

I agree, and this fits with the idea I’ve blogged about before that time is a scarce resource that (like any such resource) requires budgeting and careful management. There are only a certain number of hours in the week that you aren’t sleeping, bathing, eating, or attending class — that number is computable based on your credit load — and if you use up all those hours on extracurriculars, when are you going to study? And most college students budget their time out to the extracurriculars first and then give the meager leftovers, if there are any, to studying. There’s nothing inherently wrong with most extracurriculars, but students simply can’t have them all. Eventually one must pick and choose and pay the opportunity cost for not following certain appealing activities. (Not a simple thing for today’s overscheduled teenage generation.)

I think a lot of freshman orientation programs out there contribute to this problem by having 85% of their activities be about fun and community, and the other 15% devoted to study and time management. Unsurprisingly, that’s roughly the same ratio students end up having of “fun” stuff to studying when they get into the semester.

College students, especially incoming freshmen, should definitely go read the entire article.


Filed under Education, Higher ed, Life in academia, Student culture, Study hacks

6 responses to “Keeping the “extra” in extracurricular

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Extracurriculars are an important part of the college experience, but quantity does not equal quality. Besides increasing social avenues, being involved in extracurricular activities provide opportunities for additional learning, building professional networks, and leadership development.

    Pick your extracurricular activity based on your passions and avoid the rest. It is much more important and valuable to be fully engaged in one extracurricular activity / organization than to flitter among a dozen…

  2. virusdoc

    I would add one exception: an extracurricular activity that allows you to build a bonafide mentoring relationship with someone whose career is related to what you see yourself becoming can be a fantastic investment for an undergrad. This relationship can become a lifelong source of wisdom. In addition, it is my opinion that rec letter coming from mentors who worked with students on extracurricular activities tend to be more interesting, more personal, and more effective. So, for example, if you see yourself becoming an academic in your discipline, joining a discipline-related club (in my case, the Biology club or perhaps and Ecology service club) can be a good idea if it will allow you to build a relationship with the faculty adviser.

  3. Virusdoc- I wouldn’t call that an “exception” but rather a great example of what it means to choose an extracurricular activity wisely.

  4. This post and the original to which it’s linked are far out of touch with the reality of higher education. Not surprising, neither post cited any of the large body of existing RESEARCH that documents the contributions of extracurricular activity participation to learning outcomes. Try Pascarella and Terenzini’s book ‘How College Affects Students.’

    I look forward to reading your retraction…

  5. @Dr. RingDing: You’ll get no retraction from me. I think 11 years in the business constitutes enough experience with “reality” to know what I’m talking about.

    Or are you denying the idea that scheduling too much time for extracurriculars and not enough time for studying is a bad thing (my post) or that extracurriculars do not have as much of an effect on student’s job search performance as their classwork (original post)?

  6. Happy

    Time management and assigning a value to the activities to be managed seem to be the central issues discussed here. High school teachers face the same problem in their realm.

    In the college environment, assume a good rule of thumb is that four hours should be dedicated to core academic studies for every hour of credit scheduled. That’s a generous 64 hours per week.
    (If we’re going to accept individual perceptions of reality as proof, I would submit college students dedicate much less time in “reality” regardless of other demands on their time.)

    If you can manage sleeping and all the mundane tasks in 12 hours, that leaves you with 30 hours a week to allocate as you wish, ample time for choice like “chill”, “party”, work at a part-time job or engage in a meaningful extra- (meaning “outside of” not “frivolous”) curricular pursuit.

    If you want to dismiss the research you can try, but it’s insightful and voluminous! Perhaps you should consider the negatives related to the “normal” course of study: poor instruction, outdated and/or overpriced instructional materials, and the perception of some that “traditional” pedagogical practices and methods produce learning outcomes better suited to an industrial as opposed to infotech economy, that is if “getting a job” is the be all an end of of academic pursuits and achievement.