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How Joining Extracurricular Activities in College Is Different From High School

An orchestra playing on a stage in an elaborate hall. The photo is taken from the back of the orchestra. We see music on music stands and blurry in the distance is the conductor.

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

While it is important to focus more on your studies in college than in high school, it is also important to develop yourself by taking part in activities for entertainment or expression and to develop skills you will need in the workplace.

Why you should participate in extracurricular activities in college

Joining extracurriculars in college develops skills needed to succeed in teamwork. It is important to learn this as you will encounter circumstances where teamwork is crucial to completing a mission in the workplace.

Generally, students who participate in club activities like volunteer groups, student government, and more are exposed to real-life circumstances that require teamwork where trial and error can be implemented to improve effectiveness and communication skills.

Joining extracurriculars also helps develop creativity. Creative thinking influences abstract thinking and can train your mind to think quickly and out of the box whenever needed.

Art, music, or writing all help in increasing overall creativity. When students participate in these activities, a new door opens to them to individual thinking and free expression.

Speaking of creativity, college extracurriculars can also help in finding your creative niche! If you have a hidden special talent sleeping within you, college extracurriculars are the perfect place to awaken it.

Participating in extracurriculars in college also offer opportunities for a balanced social life. College is a big place, and it can be easy to get caught up with school.

However, by joining organizations with students who share similar qualities as you, such as similar majors or similar taste in music, you can also connect with those who can offer you a balance between socialization and academics.

When you participate in these college extracurriculars, you get acquainted with the real world and new people. This is your key to finding friends with good character.

Club activities also make excellent opportunities to reduce stress. These activities give you a much-needed break and relaxation.

Joining extracurriculars in college will also help with your organizational and time management skills. Participating in various activities provides the opportunities to learn how to perform different tasks in a limited time and to learn to deal with new challenges.

Low self-esteem is a common problem among college students, but don’t worry! College extracurriculars will give you the confidence boost you may need.

By involving yourself more and more, you expose yourself to new experiences often, eventually taking away the anxieties of trying something new. By doing this, you will feel valuable to yourself and increase your self-confidence.

Academic extracurriculars

While high school focuses on providing a varied list of subjects to study a year, you can specialize your likes in education when picking your college major.

By now, you may have heard of National Honor Society in your high school, an organization you can be invited to join based on academic and philanthropic standards.

While there is no National Honor Society for college students, there are a number of organizations for high achieving students who may have joined National Honor Society.

This includes a variety of academic sororities you can join focused on studies and education. Phi Theta Kappa is one example. The mission of Phi Theta Kappa is to recognize academic achievement of college students and to provide opportunities for them to grow as scholars and leaders.

Athletic extracurriculars

It is important to consider starting or continuing your sport when starting your college education, as it will maintain your physical health in the great sea of stationary academic schoolwork.

Unlike high school, where only one or two groups are offered for the sport you are interested in, college varies in different levels of athletic clubs.

If you are serious about continuing your high school sport in college, then joining an NCAA division may be for you. There are different levels of NCAA division, which are as follows: 

Division I

Division I schools include big student bodies, big scholarships, and big sports funding. Division I is the division you want to join if you have an extreme passion for your sport.

There are more than 350 schools that field more than 6,000 teams which provide opportunities to more than 170,000 student-athletes. All of the major sports conferences, including the SEC, Big 10, Pac 12, and ACC are composed of Division I schools.

Two main populations of schools which include Division I athletes are Ivy League schools and the US Military Academies, but there are a number of schools who are not within these populations that offer Division I sports. 

Division II 

Division II is another division you can explore, one that is more financially accessible if a full scholarship is not offered. This is the division many in-state students decide to continue.

Almost 300 schools are part of Division II. While Division II schools still offer athletic scholarships, there are fewer scholarships than in Division I. Full athletic scholarships are more common in Division I; most Division II athletes receive partial athletic scholarships.

The schools and athletic department budgets are smaller in Division II than in Division I. While Division I schools often travel nationally to compete, Division II focuses more on regional competition.

Examples of Division II schools include University of West Florida, Northern Michigan University, Oklahoma Baptist University, and Valdosta State University

Division III

Division III is the largest of all of the NCAA divisions with over 400 institutions and more than 170,000 student-athletes. A key difference in Division III is that there are no athletic scholarships.

However, a majority of the athletes are on some form of academic or need-based aid. In Division III, there are also shorter practice times and less travel.

Joining Division III sports may be for you if you want to continue your sport professionally but still want more time to focus on other college aspects.

In Division III, the emphasis is on the value of competing in sports to the participant, rather than revenue and spectator entertainment. Examples of Division III schools include California Institute of Technology, Emory University, Eastern Connecticut State University, and the University of Rochester.

If you do not want to join an NCAA division, that is perfectly fine! Many colleges offer club sport opportunities where competitions may lie within the university itself.

Tryouts are normally not needed, practices are optional and low pressure, and club sports are focused purely on your individual enjoyment of the sport. While no scholarships are offered when participating in a club sport, it is a wonderful place to get your weekly exercise intake and make connections.

Four Extracurriculars You Can Do Remotely

Performing arts extracurriculars

Performing arts is the perfect field to learn how to express message, emotion, and identity to an audience, or even to help you understand yourself.

It is important to have a creative outlet as a college student. Creating, interpreting and improvising are all important when developing yourself into a well-rounded employable candidate.

Learning to appreciate and engage in music, dance and drama from different cultures, communities, and traditions is an important component in helping you develop into a true global citizen, a great quality to have when studying and working in our diverse environments.

Of course, if you worked seriously to develop your craft in high school, you can attend specific colleges and programs to help perfect it.

Not only are there specific programs offered at liberal arts universities that focus on specific performing arts, but there are also arts-specific schools (ex: a musical conservatory) that will help you further expand your skills in art, theatre, music, and more!

For example, if you are intrigued by the art of videography, you have the option to study that at many liberal arts colleges. However, you also have the option to study that at a film-specialized school, such as the New York Film Academy, where certain skills are broken down into further detail. 

Cultural extracurriculars

If you struggled to find your specific identity represented in your high school, don’t fret – college will offer your identities a home!

While in high school, many cultural organizations would be generalized for a “one-size-fits-all” group, you will find organizations in college more specific to who you really are.

For example, in high school, you may have a generalized group for Asian-American students. However, this population is so vast and includes a variety of different and contrasting cultures. Your college may offer you organizations centralized toward specific regions and countries (such as those for Philippine, Chinese, Taiwanese students, and much more!).

These clubs focus on the teaching and preservation of culture, which mainly includes arts and other forms of expression. Many clubs prime their focus on cultural meal preparation, while others actively study forms of cultural dance and music.

Many cultural clubs and organizations may even take international field trips to better connect with their roots! Activities are endless with cultural organizations.

New York University, for example, offers a variety of spiritual life organizations that vary amongst religions.

If you are looking to meet other students with the same cultural background as you, or if you want to better connect with who you are, then looking into your specific college’s cultural clubs is the answer! 

Colleges are incredibly diverse in the sense that students vary in which religion they believe in. Colleges offer supportive and creative organizations that host students with open doors. Whichever religion you follow or may not follow, many colleges offer a group for you.

Student government 

If you were president of your graduating class, looking to go into leadership as a career, or if you simply want to improve your organization and public speaking skills, then joining student government after high school is for you. 

There are many benefits to joining student government in college, even if you never did student government in high school, and meeting new people is one of them. Because you spend so much time with the same people who are involved with your campus’s student government, it’s the ultimate opportunity to create those connections you may need in the future.

While the main meetings tend to be serious and professional, there is often plenty of room for socialization before and after. There are also many projects individuals may have to take on within a student government group, such as campaigning, activity organization, and more. 

In addition, many student government groups organize retreats for its members, which is a perfect place to bond with your fellow crew members. 

Student government is also the place to be if you want to see change on your campus. Unlike high school, where a student government role is simply to help organize morale events and fundraise amongst your student body, university student government acts as the liaison between student and faculty body and is the first step to initiate real change!

If there is something that bothers you on campus, joining student government can give you the power and resources to make a difference. Being in student government puts you in a position where administrators read and respond to your emails, set up meetings to discuss, and actually implement the change you want to see.

If you care about the well being and future of your student body and have ideas and plans you want to implement, then joining student government is for you!

Volunteer and service 

Through community service, students gain real-world experience and practice important habits like leadership, problem-solving, and time-management.

Volunteering offers students the opportunity to apply their classroom learning to practical scenarios that have real implications. In other words, “service learning” opportunities can offer the same “academic learning” opportunities like student internships but with the added benefit of improving the lives of others.

Volunteering will also expose students to real-world diversity, something that may have been limited in high school. By volunteering, you expose yourself to the real world and see its vulnerabilities.

While volunteering may have been tedious and time-consuming in high school, community service opportunities will actually give you the opportunity to lead a more balanced life in college.

Extracurricular activities like volunteering can actually help volunteers with time-management and improve emotional well-being. In fact, there are many studies that cite the mental and physical health benefits of volunteering, benefits that encourage college students to become socially-minded individuals for life.

A 2018 study on volunteerism and health, according to the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, found that participants experienced an 8.5% increase in mental health and a 4.3% decrease in depression after volunteering regularly. The same study found that participants even experienced a 9% increase in physical health.

By volunteering in college, you not only help your community, but you also help yourself.

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