For high school students, extracurricular activities can be a wonderful addition to a standard academic curriculum. For the child who dreams of career in law, the Debate Team may be a powerful draw. For the student who spends all of her extra time at the pottery wheel, the Art Club is a natural fit. And, for the child who envisions a semester abroad as part of his future, learning the correct answer to “Parlez vous Français?” during French Club makes simply sense.
Extracurricular activities allow students to express themselves in a different manner than they do in the traditional classroom. And, their own unique passions and interests will naturally dictate which clubs and activities most interest them.
The question is, then, not which activities to join, but how many. How many hours of after school commitments should a student have in addition to a challenging course load, homework, sports, and possibly an after-school job?
The answer is different for each child.
From a college admissions standpoint, prevailing wisdom has shifted somewhat radically in over the years. In the past, a smattering of activities – from playing trombone in the school Jazz Band, to competing in Science Olympiad, to participating in Model UN – gave the appearance of a well-rounded student. Of course, generous resume padding ensued and some students’ college applications became filled with a laundry list of club “memberships,” but no measurable achievements.
Today, college admissions officers are more interested in depth of commitment to a few activities. For example, if your student participates in the Jefferson Council for high school community service, how many events have they attended, organized, or better yet — led? Have they received any awards or recognition for outstanding service? And, have they carried this enthusiasm beyond school-mandated projects into their daily lives with related commitments?
College admissions officers estimate that high school students should be engaging in about 15 hours of extra-curricular activities per week, with leadership in these activities a high priority.
Beyond potential college considerations, too many extra-curricular activities can easily overload even a gifted student. Your child may love drama, writing, photography and singing. But, accepting the lead in the school play, acting as editor of the newspaper, taking photos for the yearbook, and participating in chorus all at once is far too much to handle!
How do you know if your child has bitten off more than he can chew? First and most important, is his school work suffering? Failing to hand in assignments or a drop in grades are red flags that your student should cut back immediately.
Next, is she irritable, overly tired, or anxious? A tricky question, since teens are often all of these – sometimes all at once! If, however, your teen appears unduly stressed about outside commitments — whether it’s meeting a Yearbook deadline or hosting an Academic Bowl meeting — it’s your cue to step in and set some limits.
Finally, have extracurricular activities begun to dictate academic load? As important as extracurricular activities are, they are meant to supplement, not dominate, your child’s academic experience.
Extracurricular activities can be one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of the high school years. By setting a few simple limits and keeping an eye out for possible overload, you are helping your teen create memories that will last a lifetime!
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