The Academic Merit of Extracurricular Activities

maxresdefault    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.

6 thoughts on “The Academic Merit of Extracurricular Activities

  1. Xueyao Cao

    I think the topic you choose to write about is well related to our lives. I used to thought about the same topic as well. I felt like most of the times this correlation was supported by anecdotes instead of actual experiments or observations. I found some studies which come up with the conclusion that extracurricular activities do good to academic performances. To me, I think there is a correlation between those two variables, but we couldn’t suggest that how strong the correlation is, or if they are mostly linked by third variables or not. So, since extra curriculum activities does do good to our academic performances, it won’t hurt us to participate into clubs and activities. This makes me feel like It is similar as the “does drinking soda causes weight gain” topic we talked about in class. I’d say it requires more study to determine the relationship between extra curriculum activities and school performances.

  2. Abigail Roe

    After reading this blog post, I came to the conclusion that it was very well written. It seemed as if you really took the time to plan out your thoughts and evidence. I believe that extra curricular activities are beneficial to one’s academic success. They help a person to develop time management skills. I can vouch for this personally. When I played basketball in high school, my grades were always higher during the basketball season. This is because I got my work done right away before games and practices, because I knew I was limited on my time. I know this is an anecdote, but it strongly enhances my hypothesis. Extra curricular activities contribute positively to academic success. In class, we talked about immunize the hypothesis. If someone believes the hypothesis, then whatever the outcome is, the studies behind it won’t change your mind about the original hypothesis. This is where I stand with my hypothesis. Below is an document about participation in extracurricular activities in secondary school and the effects it has on the students.
    http://rer.sagepub.com/content/57/4/437.full.pdf+html

  3. Taylor Weinstein

    First of all, this was a good blog and I really liked how you talked about correlation. Maybe for your next post try to incorporate more science into the post. This helped me understand but talk about the punitive variable and if the study is due to chance or not? However, this did help me considering I always talk about how I don’t want to join to much activities here so I can focus on studying. I think now that I am in some activities it builds to your days on campus and helps make new friends.
    There was study that I found to back up what I just stated about extracurricular activities and friendship. The results showed the correlation to friendship and co-curricular activities made peer friendship a lot stronger. That is one of my favorite reasons I join activities. Taras would you agree that co-curriculare activities bring friendships together? Do you ever feel as though your having a problem with your work load while still being in the Penn State Philharmonic Orchestra?

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21639618
    ( study talking about correlation between friendship and co-curriculares)

  4. Brian Cunningham

    I’ve always been someone to overload on extracurriculars. I think they’re great for a number of reasons, and they’re part of the reason that I’d be wary about changing school hours to start later, as this would cut into the time when most extracurriculars take place. How do you feel about that idea? Do you think the value of extracurriculars outweighs the value of starting school later?

    1. Taras Guanowsky Post author

      This is a really tough question for me because, while I do participate in many extra curricular activities, I am also very slow in the morning and would love extra sleep. I looked into a study (linked below) that analyzed the amount of sleep the average high schooler got. It seems that insufficient sleep can lead to a plethora of negative effects like weight gain and loss of concentration. For this reason, I do think school should start later. A solution to the loss of extra activities could be to put them before school instead of after. This way, the average student would get more sleep while the committed student would receive the same.
      http://www.cdc.gov/features/school-start-times/index.html

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