Just about every high school in the United States offers students the opportunity to participate in some sort of extracurricular activity, whether it be sports, music, theater, academic clubs, student government or special interest group. Unlike traditional high school curricula that focuses almost entirely on academics, extracurricular activites help student learn the values of competition, teamwork, individual initiative, group responsibility, sense of community, endurance, diversity and even interpersonal communication skills. Extracurricular activites also help to reinforce skills and lessons taught in the classroom. For example, students who join the business club will learn how to apply various mathematics concepts in a real-world context. Science clubs provide a channel for students to enhance their knowledge and understanding of concepts they learn in biology, chemistry and natural science classes. Most school consider extracurricular activity part of a well-rounded education.
Studies suggest that there are many ancillary benefits to high school students who participate in extracurricular activities, such as a lower drop out rate, greater sense of attachment to their school and an enhanced feeling of acceptance and belonging. If participation in extracurricular activities has such a positive impact on student success, should these programs be made available in all public school systems?
Does participation in extracurricular activities improve students' performance in school?
The National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS), a brief that explores relationship between between extracurricular activities and participation in school, suggests that extracurricular activity is positively associated with consistent attendance, higher academic performance and a strong desire among high school seniors to continue their education after high school. In fact, high school seniors who regularly participated in extracurricular activities reported the best class attendance–with over half reporting no unexcused absenses and having never skipped a class. Compare this with only one-third of nonparticipating students reporting having no unexcused absenses and only two-fifths reporting having never skipped a class. When compared with students who did not participate in extracurricular activities, participating students were three times as likely to be in the top 25% of their class in both math and reading assessment. The brief also showed that roughly two-thirds of students who participated in extracurricular activities were expected to completed a college degree, while only fifty percent students who didn't participate in extracurricular activites where expects to go on to college.
(Note: The data provided by the NELS brief does not conclusively show that participation in extracurricular activites leads to success in high school. It can also be argued that successful students are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities than unsuccessful students.)
The table below shows percentage of high school seniors participating in extracurricular activities vs high school seniors not participating in extracurricular activities across selected indicators of school success
|Indicators of school success||Participating||Non-participating|
|GPA of 3.0 or higher||30.6||10.8|
|Top 25% in math and reading assessment||29.8||14.2|
|Plan on earning a college degree||68.2||48.2|
|No unexcused absense*||50.4||36.2|
|Never skipped a class*||50.7||42.3|
* During the first semester of their senior year in high school
Do all students have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities?
A survey of high school seniors throughout the United States indicated that extracurricular activites, at some level, are provided in just about every public high school nationwide. Those extracurricular activities most reported include performing arts, honors society, sports/athletics, publications, student government and academic clubs. Other, less popular extracurricular activities reported include professional clubs and hobby clubs. Interestingly, schools with afluent students as well as those serving poor students reported similar availability to extracurricular activities. Large schools (750+ students), small schools (under 150 students), rural schools, urban schools, suburban schools and minority schools all reported access to core extracurricular activities such as sports, honors society and student government.
The Real Value of Participating in Extracurricular Activities
Although there is no conclusive evidence that participation in extracurricular activities leads to success in high school, it is evident that there is strong association between participation and success. Students who participate in extracurricular activities, across the board, have better attendance, higher levels of achievement, and aspirations of attending college.
There is however a strong correlation between college acceptance, scholarship and participation in extracurricular activities. In addition to academic performance, college admission boards want to see accomplishment, initiative, commitment and leadership in their applicants. Participation in extracurricular activities at the high school level can make the difference between getting in or not getting in to many colleges, and extracurricular achievement is often the key to qualifying for merit based scholarships.
Want to learn more about extracurricular activities? Review the information and articles below.