This past Thursday, I played my first concert with the Penn State philharmonic orchestra. Playing cello is something that I really enjoy doing, but it is a very large time commitment. Since the main reason to attend college is to learn and succeed academically, should students consider extra curricular activities? Do they distract from the learning environment, or do they create a more desirable applicant and prospect for recruiters?
My first inquisition on my journey to answer this question was to search for a relationship between extracurricular involvement and GPA. This study found that not only were students involved in extracurricular activities more likely to have an A or B average when compared to other students, but were less likely to skip class. This study is observational because it simply examines certain statistics rather than manipulating a variable. Because of this, it can only show a correlation between extra curricular activities and academic success. A correlation makes it impossible for me to conclude that extra activities lead to higher academic performance. It is possible, for example, that students who succeed academically will automatically be drawn to extra curricular activities (reverse causation) or that a third variable, like a student’s level of motivation, leads to both extra-curricular success and academic performance (confounding variable).
Unable to prove a causal relationship between extracurricular activities and academic performance, I decided to examine a different area that could also possibly be benefitted by participation in co-curricular activities- employment. When deciding to audition for the Penn State orchestra, I reasoned that future employers may like to see that I possess the time management skills and work ethic required to participate in such a group. Could it be possible that all different kinds of activities, such as music, sports, and clubs, lead to higher employment rates? I was unable to find an experiment or strong observational study about this topic, however I did come across a case study. Here, the topic of the study discusses her extra-curricular endeavors in college and the skills she built with them that helped her obtain a career. She even goes as far as to say that she wishes she were more heavily involved with these activities and participated in them earlier. As convincing as this sounds, I do not believe that this is strong evidence for a relationship between extra curricular activity participation and post-college employment. Because it is only one woman’s data, it is considered anecdotal evidence. Scientifically, anecdotal evidence is very weak. While it is very possible that extra-curricular activities demonstrate passion, work ethic, and skill to employers, thus making a prospect more desirable, I do not have the evidence to support this idea.
After researching some of the possible benefits to extra-curricular activities, I decided to look into some of the adverse effects they may have on students. One concern of students and parents alike are the time commitments of extra-curricular activities. It is possible, for example, that students will spend less time studying and thus receive lower grades from participating in extracurricular activities. Studies that I have found, including the one mentioned earlier, seem to prove this assertion erroneous. I believe it is safe to conclude that any adverse effects of extra-curricular activities are minimal, if they exist at all due to evidence supporting the idea that these activities increase academic success rather than diminishing it.
Overall, It seems like participating in extra-curricular activities is a very good idea for students. In addition to the strong correlation between these activties and GPA, there are many other benefits that are difficult to quantify like enjoyment of the particular activity and exclusive networking opportunities. While my research does not imply a causal relationship, there are no apparent downsides to these activities unless they are taken to an extreme level of commitment. I will continue my participation in the philharmonic orchestra for both personal and professional reasons, and I encourage others to find a club or organization here at Penn State to get involved in as well.