Two multicultural women laughing and whispering secrets on campus

Extracurricular Activities: The Big Secret to Winning at College Life

Imagine a secret formula that results in happiness, better academics, and improved job prospects for college students. Want to be in on the secret? Read on!

Here’s the secret: extracurriculars. That’s right. Writing clubs, intramural hockey leagues, a capella groups, chess clubs, Model UN, and other such organizations are the key to success and having fun in college. One of the most fulfilling and enjoyable components of your experience may involve taking part in the wide variety of extracurricular and cocurricular activities found on most campuses. Depending on your background, some activities offered at the collegiate level may be familiar to you based on high school experience; others might sound unusual. But all hold the potential to help you adjust to college, learn about yourself and others, and enjoy campus life!

Reasons to get involved on campus

There are as many reasons to get involved on campus as there are types of activities offered. However, you should consider joining one (or several) for these few reasons in particular:

  • Students who are involved in extracurricular activities are more likely to graduate.
  • Students have more opportunities to develop friendships at their college or university. In addition to providing social support, friendships encourage student retention.
  • Extracurricular activities provide students with hands-on experiences to develop leadership, self-confidence, and other skills important for college success.  
  • In addition to being important for academic success, skills developed through extracurriculars enhance career aspirations and mobility.

How to find activities to join

So, how do you find these incredible opportunities? Typically, schools will offer some kind of activities fair where students can explore a variety of options in one setting, and student groups can recruit new members. These fairs are often held as part of student orientation or in the first few weeks of the semester and provide new students with a chance to learn about student organizations early in the year. Many schools also have a student affairs office that can serve as a resource for activities on campus. Look for bulletin boards (both physical and virtual) that advertise events, sign-ups, and updates. University social media profiles share information about extracurriculars on campus as well.

And for students who don’t find an extracurricular activity that meets their interests, most colleges and universities have an established process for students to form new groups. This process might involve demonstrating interest in the group by collecting signatures and identifying a faculty or staff advisor for the group. The possibilities are practically endless! Now, let’s take a look at some of your options.

Related: Campus Activities, Clubs, and Other Fun Ways to Get Involved at College

Varsity, club, and intramural sports

While intensity can range from fierce intercollegiate rivalries to more moderate personal fitness goals, athletic pursuits are a common campus activity. Varsity sports are the most competitive level of college athletics. Athletes are typically recruited (although it is possible to “walk on” a team), and depending on the school’s NCAA division, you could receive athletic scholarships. The next level of athletics is club sports. Like varsity sports, club sports are usually intercollegiate, but they’re not regulated by the NCAA (or NAIA). While frequently highly competitive, these teams generally demand less of your time than varsity sports.

Intramural sports are teams that compete exclusively within the college. Leagues may be organized around residence halls, Greek chapters, or open leagues. Intramural competitions will include sports recognized by the NCAA, such as basketball, volleyball, or softball, but they may also include emerging sports with modified rules, such as wallyball, disc golf, or inner tube water polo. Most schools will have some sort of gym or fitness center where you can pursue personal fitness goals outside of organized athletics as well.

Greek life and professional societies

Greek life and professional organizations may be unfamiliar to most high schoolers, but that’s no reason to not consider getting involved. Membership in a Greek organization can be a great opportunity to develop friendships and a support system, and professional organizations give you networks that will stay with you your entire life. Greek and professional organizations on campus are typically divided into two primary categories:

  • Social fraternities and sororities are usually just that, organized primarily around social activities. These groups may operate a chapter house where initiated students can live and usually prioritize academic and service projects in addition to social activities.
  • Academic and professional societies are often specific to your chosen major, with invitations extended based on your academic achievements or GPA. Both academic honors and professional societies provide venues to exchange ideas with classmates and colleagues as you develop your professional network.

Related: 10 Great Academic and Professional Groups for Women

Arts, creativity, and publications

A great number of students are highly involved in art, writing, music, theater, or dance during high school but choose a non-artistic major in college. That doesn’t mean you need to abandon these passions. Many colleges and universities offer performing or visual arts groups to students pursuing any major. Most colleges and universities also have their own daily, weekly, or monthly student newspapers, as well as specialty publications that feature student-authored literature, humor, or research. Many campuses have their own radio and television stations with programming developed by students. The beauty of college is you don’t have to choose just one thing to be interested in. Embrace all your interests through academics and activities!

Cultural groups

Higher education institutions are becoming increasingly diverse, with students enrolling from a wide variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds from various countries around the world. Multicultural groups on campus often offer programming that connects students from similar backgrounds and highlights the arts, music, food, values, and other aspects culture they represent. These groups can offer students an opportunity to meet classmates from similar backgrounds and identify support networks on campus. They also present students from all backgrounds a chance to learn about cultures other than their own and get a more worldly perspective for good intercultural skills after college.

Community service

Service to the community is a value instilled in many students during high school. You should find ample opportunities to participate in community service outings on campus. Many colleges and universities have chapters of large service organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, Engineers Without Borders, or Relay For Life as well as specific service programs for local communities.

Related: Becoming a Volunteer in College: 7 Important Areas of Service

With so many extracurricular options available, it can be easy to overcommit yourself, spreading yourself too thin between classes, studying, work, and social life. In my time working with students, I’ve found that those who look to actively participate in one or two student groups on campus during their first semester can most effectively manage their workload, enjoyment, and stress levels.

Need some help getting used to a new college routine? Check out this article on The Best Ways to Balance Academics and Socializing as a College Freshman.

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