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What’s “extra” about extra-curricular activities?

I always call extra-curricular activities co-curricular rather than extra-curricular for some important reasons I’ll describe below. We need a cultural shift on this topic. Young people and their parents think of these experiences as additional to the “real” work of academics but that is simply not true. In today’s world with today’s economy, the people who come out ahead in the work world are used to balancing family and work and hobbies. They have personal interests that keep them learning at all points in their lives. These experiences make them more interesting to talk to and be around in the office environment and at dinner parties. Others like them and they get ahead because they are smarter and more mature than those lacking in these so-called extra or “outside” interests. Many of the reasons students are successful are because they chose meaningful co-curricular at an early age.

Choose Meaning as Well as Fun

What do I mean by meaningful co-curricular? Well, those are the things that truly engage a young person to learn and grow to be a more mature and well-rounded individual. I know you want me to list off a bunch of things that might sound good on a resume like leadership and community service organizations and internships but in actuality, each person must find the things that are most rewarding to them.

The students who stand out have a deep-rooted commitment to a few activities that are rewarding and fulfilling rather than doing tons of activities in a superficial way. They choose these opportunities because of a personal reason which may or may not sound good to others. They take purposeful steps to grow their commitment. They are often personally motivated to do that commitment well and talk about those experiences with enthusiasm, not because it looks good on their college app or resume. They also take time to reflect on their chosen activities and can articulate the meaning of those experiences to others. Most importantly, they learn life-long lessons, skills, and interests. Finally, even if they somehow fail or discontinue that activity, they take a few lessons from their experiences.

It’s OK to Experiment

Let’s take me as an example. I never had one particular passion but I tried lots and lots of things. I know I was learning along the way, although it was often hard to articulate what I was learning. How else would I have learned public speaking skills if I had not been a college tour guide? How else would I have learned basic budgeting skills if I had not been a treasurer for a student organization? How else would I learn to have real patience and perspective with my own kids if I had not spent time with kids in the hospital as a volunteer? How else would I have learned time and task management if I had not kept myself busy? Mostly though, how would I have learned what I wanted to do if I had not tried so many other things?

Take it from me, if you want to find a good activity that will serve you long term both in your personal life and for your career, just keep trying things. Do the best that you can at these things. If you do not enjoy them, move on to something else. Don’t stick with it because it “looks good” on a resume or because someone else says you should do it. Make sure to spend some time reflecting on each activity to see what skills you may have learned. Most of all, take some time to articulate what that experience was and what it meant to you. This is where the real learning happens.

There’s Value in Each Lesson

I strongly believe you can and will learn sometime valuable from each and every experience of your life and that everything happens for a reason. You may not realize it at the time, but your skills and interests are growing every day. You cannot learn it all in a classroom so take a few minutes to find things outside of the classroom. You will thank yourself for these experiences later on in life. And on top of it, you will be a better student, a better employee, and a more successful person.

Need Some Help?

Anita Gajula and her colleagues, the admissions coaches at My College Planning Team, have extensive experience guiding high school and college students in making choices and highlighting leadership in their co-curricular activities.   Contact them at My College Planning Team to learn how your co-curricular can help set your college applications apart from the rest.


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