College Extracurricular Activities

views updated May 11 2018


At the beginning of the twenty-first century, many colleges and universities have a broad educational mission: to develop the "whole student." On college campuses, extracurricular involvement is a key tool in this personal development. For the majority of college and university students, involvement in extracurricular activities plays an integral role in the collegiate experience. Students become involved in extracurricular activities not only for entertainment, social, and enjoyment purposes, but most important, to gain and improve skills. A wide and diversified range of extracurricular activities exists on U.S. campuses, meeting a variety of student interests.

Impact on Students

The importance of extracurricular activities on college campuses is well established. The primary goals of extracurricular activities focus on the individual student level, the institutional level, and the broader community level. These activities exist to complement the university's academic curriculum and to augment the student's educational experience. According to a 1993 article by Alexander Astin, almost any type of student involvement in college positively affects student learning and development. Extracurricular activities provide a setting to become involved and to interact with other students, thus leading to increased learning and enhanced development. Specifically, a student's peer group is the most important source of influence on a student's academic and personal development. By identifying with a peer group, that group may influence a student's affective and cognitive development as well as his or her behavior.

As the development of the well-rounded individual is a principal goal of extracurricular activities on college and university campuses, the numerous experiences these activities afford positively impact students' emotional, intellectual, social, and inter-personal development. By working together with other individuals, students learn to negotiate, communicate, manage conflict, and lead others. Taking part in these out-of-the-classroom activities helps students to understand the importance of critical thinking skills, time management, and academic and intellectual competence. Involvement in activities helps students mature socially by providing a setting for student interaction, relationship formation, and discussion. Working outside of the classroom with diverse groups of individuals allows for students to gain more self-confidence, autonomy, and appreciation for others' differences and similarities.

Students also develop skills specific to their career path and imperative for future job success. Students have opportunities to improve their leadership and interpersonal skills while also increasing their self-confidence. Extracurricular involvement allows students to link academic knowledge with practical experience, thereby leading to a better understanding of their own abilities, talents, and career goals. Future employers seek individuals with these increased skill levels, making these involved students more viable in the job market. Specifically, participation in extracurricular activities and leadership roles in these activities are positively linked to attainment of one's first job and to managerial potential.

Student involvement in extracurricular activities also positively impacts educational attainment. Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini's 1991 research indicates that extracurricular involvement has a positive impact on attaining a bachelor's degree and on educational aspirations. Students who are actively engaged are more likely to have higher educational ambitions than uninvolved students.

Finally, extracurricular activities focus on institutional goals, such as building and sustaining community on campus as well as student retention. As campuses become more diverse, students desire an environment in which they feel connected to others and to the university. Extracurricular activities provide a place for students to come together, discuss pertinent ideas and issues, and accomplish common goals. Within this community, where students feel comfortable with one another, learning and development are enhanced and student retention is positively impacted. According to Vincent Tinto's 1987 research, students will be more likely to persist in college if they feel they have had rewarding encounters with a college's social and academic systems. Through extracurricular participation, students frequently interact with peers who have similar interests, providing social integration into the college environment. As a result, involved students view their college years as a positive experience and feel they are a vital part of the university, resulting in higher retention rates.

Types of Extracurricular Activities

Because of the diverse interests of college students, the range of extracurricular activity offerings varies extensively, depending upon the size and type of college or university. Extracurricular activities range from primarily social organizations to governance organizations to intercollegiate athletic programs. Each activity offers students an opportunity to work with others and to gain essential life skills. Though numerous extracurricular activities exist, the following activities are those that are most commonly found on college campuses.

Student Government . One of the most widespread types of extracurricular experience available on college campuses is student government. Students involved in governance organizations, such as student government and residence hall government, are typically elected by their peers to function as the "official voice" of students to university administration. These government participants often serve on campus-wide committees in an effort to represent the ideas and concerns of their fellow students. Student government functions include allocating funds to other organizations, planning programs related to student interests, providing forums for student issue discussion, and helping to build and sustain a successful campus community. Additional examples of campus governance organizations include honor councils, which seek to enforce a university's honor code, and judiciary boards, where students hear disciplinary cases and render verdicts.

Athletics. Almost every college and university in the United States offers some type of intercollegiate and intramural athletics. Student athletes may "try out" for intercollegiate sports teams such as volleyball, basketball, or lacrosse. Being a varsity athlete requires a great commitment of time and energy for practicing, conditioning, and competing. Intramural sports provide an opportunity for all nonvarsity student athletes to play a sport they enjoy, while competing against their peers. Typically, colleges and universities offer several intramural options including flag football, soccer, and tennis. Players at all skill levels are invited to participate, and often these activities may be quite competitive. For those students who particularly enjoy watching collegiate sports, many schools have student spirit organizations that allow students to attend sporting events, sit in a special student cheering section, and applaud the home team.

Academic and Professional Organizations . Academic major and professional organizations assist their members in acquiring experience in their chosen occupational field and in aiding in the job search. Students convene to discuss pertinent issues related to their field of interest and to learn jobrelated skills in an effort to be fully prepared for future success. Such professional organizations typically focus on one career area of interest. Examples of professional organizations include the American Marketing Association, Student Education Association, and the Mathematics Society.

Volunteer and Service-Related Activities . Volunteer and service-related activities exist to help improve the local and worldwide community, an important goal of extracurricular activities. In the Alternative Spring Break program, students engage in community service projects, such as rebuilding homes, planting trees, or tutoring students during their college spring break. Additional service projects and organizations function throughout the year, including Alpha Phi Omega, Habitat for Humanity, and Circle K, which promote service and volunteerism during the college years. Service-learning programs offer students an opportunity to contribute to their community and, most important, to critically reflect upon their service experiences.

Multicultural Activities . Multicultural activities focus on increasing awareness and understanding of various cultures and ethnic and racial backgrounds. Many schools sponsor festivals, concerts, lectures, and discussions that promote multicultural awareness on campus in which students may participate. In addition, involvement in these activities may be an important step toward positive racial, ethnic, or sexual-identity development. Examples of multicultural organizations include Black Student Union, Lambda (a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender student organization), Muslim Student Association, and Russian Club.

The Arts . Students interested in fine arts have a plethora of extracurricular opportunities in which they can actively participate. Activities including plays, musicals, and dance concerts offer a chance for students to demonstrate their dramatic abilities. Marching band, jazz band, orchestra, and singing groups allow students to pursue their musical interests at the college level. Pottery, sculpture, and mosaic classes and workshops are also offered for students to learn and enjoy.

Other Activities . In addition to the specific extracurricular activities previously mentioned, other activities exist on many college campuses. Honorary organizations recognize student scholars, often in a certain academic discipline, who maintain a specific grade point average. Religious organizations offer students an opportunity to gather in fellowship with students of similar religious backgrounds. Media organizations on campus consist of print, television, and radio venues, and these activities may include writing or taking pictures for the school newspaper, serving on the yearbook staff, or working as a disc jockey for the campus radio station. Individuals interested in politics may join the College Republicans or College Democrats. Students who enjoy planning campus-wide events may participate in the Homecoming or Parents' Weekend committees. Greek organizations (fraternities and sororities) offer many social opportunities while also promoting service and leadership.

See also: College and Its Effect on Students; College Student Retention; Living and Learning Center Residence Halls; Residential Colleges.


Astin, Alexander W. 1977. Four Critical Years. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Astin, Alexander W. 1993. "What Matters in College." Liberal Education 79 (4):415.

Chickering, Arthur, and Reisser, Linda. 1993. Education and Identity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kuh, George D. 1995. "The Other Curriculum: Out-of-Class Experiences Associated with Student Learning and Personal Development." Journal of Higher Education 66:123155.

Moore, Jody; Lovell, Cheryl D.; McGann, Tammy; and Wyrick, Jason. 1998. "Why Involvement Matters: A Review of Research on Student Involvement in the Collegiate Setting." College Student Affairs Journal 17 (2):417.

Pascarella, Ernest T., and Terenzini, Patrick T. 1991. How College Affects Students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Tinto, Vincent. 1987. Leaving College. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Whipple, Edward G. 1996. "Student Activities." In Student Affairs Practice in Higher Education, 2nd edition, ed. Audry L. Rentz and Associates. Springfield, IL: Thomas.

Amy M. Tenhouse

College Student Life

views updated Jun 08 2018

College Student Life


Colonial Colleges. Colonial colleges were small. An estimate of the number of students in all nine colleges in 1775 was about 750. In 1775 Harvard had a graduating class of forty; Yale, thirty-five; Columbia, thirteen; Dartmouth, eleven; and the College of Philadelphia, eight. Most colleges had a grammar school that supplied students to the college, and these schools generally contained more students than the higher institutions. Not only were colleges small, but they were also poor, especially in comparison to English universities. College was expensive on the eve of the Revolution: tuition ranged from £9 to £20 per student, and with other costs such as books, clothing, travel, and spending money, a students annual fees usually ran as high as £25 to £35. This was a high percentage of most annual salariesa college instructor, for example, made about £100 annuallyso most scholars came from wealthier families though some loans and charitable funds helped the poorer students. In spite of the high tuition, colleges could not meet expenses and had to depend on gifts, provincial subsidies, and lotteries. During the second half of the eighteenth century they raised funds by subscription, often by sending agents abroad to do so. Most of the operating expenseswhich took about three-sevenths of a colleges budgetwere used for faculty salaries, which remained low until the nineteenth century.

Admissions. Higher education in the colonies was open to males who had received a classical education either in a Latin grammar school or privately by a clergyman or tutor. Even though all colonial colleges, with the exception of the College of Philadelphia, had been established by religious denominations, they did not exclude students affiliated with different religions. Every spring oral entrance exams were given to prospective students, and if the candidate passed the exam, he was admitted to the fall session. Until the middle of the eighteenth century

classical education was the major requirement for entrance. About midcentury the requirements changed, and Yale, for the first time, included an arithmetic requirement. All students who were admitted at the same time formed a class that continued through four years, and classes were ranked by seniority according to English custom. The ranking was rigidly maintained, especially by the upper classmen, who demanded petty and oppressive services from the freshmen, in ways similar to the English custom of fagging.

Daily Life. Most colonial college students shared simple, sparsely furnished rooms in the main building, or college hall. The college hall also contained the classrooms and the refectory, where students ate their meals. The food was generally poor and never plentifulalways a major cause of student protests. Some students who could afford it boarded with local families. A typical day began early with morning prayer followed by classes, then the main meal of the day and more classes, evening prayer, and study period. Professors seldom lectured; rather they required the students to recite passages from textbooks. Since the heart of the college life was religion, students were expected to attend morning and evening prayers and Sunday services and to enroll in theology courses.

Extracurricular Activities. Popular student activities outside class included oratory, singing, dramatics, verse writing, and various kinds of music, but literary societies (debating clubs), which began in the eighteenth century, were the most important. Here students could expound their ideas without the constraints imposed by classroom discipline. These societies competed with each other in heated debates over current political issues and decisions relevant to college life, such as the choice of commencement speakers. They had their own regulations, elected officers, and raised money for their libraries, clubrooms, and furnishings.

Student Rebellions. Faculty and students were frequently at odds with each other because the faculty had the responsibility of disciplining students and maintaining strict parental control over them, outside as well as inside the classroom. A long list of regulations governed all aspects of college life, including class attendance, idleness, clothing, dancing, drinking, and swearing. A tight rein was considered necessary in order to educate moral and religious gentlemen. To enforce the rules faculty imposed such punishments as fines, revocation of privileges, suspension from certain classes or from the college, and expulsion. One primary cause for student rebellion in the eighteenth century was the bad quality and meager quantity of food. Harvards first revolt in 1766 was caused by rancid butter. In addition students at some of the more patriotic colleges, such as the College of New Jersey, Harvard, the College of Rhode Island, and Yale, rebelled against British policies by wearing homespun clothes to commencements, burning and boycotting tea, forming militia companies, burning British leaders in effigy, and delivering heated patriotic orations.

Degrees. Colonial colleges conferred two degrees: the bachelor of arts and the master of arts. If after taking a four-year fixed curriculum a student could demonstrate his competence in the classical languages and literatures and logic, he would receive the bachelor of arts degree. In the middle of the eighteenth century these requirements changed to include proficiency in the newer courses of instruction, such as science. Achievement for the masters degree was a different matter since there was no fixed curriculum or plan of study nor any residence requirement. A masters was conferred after three years, sometimes as a matter of course and sometimes as the result of intensive study, particularly by clergy-in-training. By the end of the seventeenth century colleges were also granting honorary degrees, but for doctorates and advanced degrees not offered in colonial colleges, students had to travel abroad.

Changes. Colleges became more politically oriented during the revolutionary struggles. By the middle of the 1760s college leaders began to link education with the welfare of the state. Institutions of higher education founded during and after the revolution focused on the education of men for republican leadership on local, state, and national levels. Still embedded in religion, they began to put more emphasis on culture, public virtue, and education for practical purposes. However, the curricula for these new schools, two of which were established before the end of the war in 1783, were similar to those of the older colonial colleges: the classics, English and modern languages, mathematics, and sciences.


The following is a list of American colleges that received charters to grant degrees before 1784:

Original NameModern NameDate Chartered
Sources: Beverly McAnear, College Founding in the American Colonies, 1745-1775, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 42 (1955); 24-44;
David W. Robsoti, College Founding in the New Republic, 1776-1800, History of Education Quarterly, 23 (1983): 323.
Harvard CollegeHarvard University1636
College of William and MaryCollege of William and Mary1693
Yale CollegeYale University1701
College of New JerseyPrinceton University1746
Kings CollegeColumbia University1754
College of PhiladelphiaUniversity of Pennsylvania1755
College of Rhode IslandBrown University1764
Queens CollegeRutgers University1766
Dartmouth CollegeDartmouth College1769
Washington CollegeWashington College1782
Liberty Hall AcademyWashington and Lee University1782
Hampden-Sydney CollegeHampden-Sydney College1783
Transylvania SeminaryTransylvania University1783


John S. Brubacher & Willis Rudy, Higher Education in Transition: A History of American Colleges and Universities (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1997);

Lawrence Cremin, American Education: The Colonial Experience, 1607-1783 (New York: Harper & Row, 1970);

Beverly McAnear, College Founding in the American Colonies, 1745-1775, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 42 (1955): 24-44;

David W. Robson, College Founding in the New Republic, 1776-1800, History of Education Quarterly, 23 (1983): 323-341;

Robson, Educating Republicans: The College in the Era of the American Revolution, 1750-1800 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985).

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