Extracurricular activities are those sponsored by and usually held at school but that are not part of the academic curriculum. They often involve some time commitment outside of the regular school day.
Extracurricular activities range from sports to newspaper editing to music and theater. Many activities, like
football and drama, enjoy extreme longevity, serving as a part of their school's program over a number of years. Others, like an ecology club or writers' workshop, may be offered for a shorter time span to reflect a community interest or involvement by a particular sponsoring faculty member or class of students. For many students, extracurricular activities present an opportunity to practice social skills and to experiment in activities that may represent a career interest. For a child who is not gifted academically, the opportunity to excel in the arts or sports may make a big difference in his or her self-esteem.
Many extracurricular activities, such as the school newspaper, photography, and drama, can lead to careers. Extracurricular activities also help to form the student's profile for consideration in college admissions. A student's academic record and scores on standardized tests form the core of his or her college application profile. However, admissions officers consider other factors, such as a demonstrated talent in athletics or the arts or leadership in school or extracurricular activities. After-school activities can also include scouting and volunteering, such as working with the Red Cross, a local animal shelter, a homeless shelter, or in a political campaign. Through these diverse activities, students can have fun, build a resume for college, increase creativity, improve organizational skills, learn time management, and develop people skills.
A 2001 survey of more than 50,000 high school students in Minnesota published in the March 2003 issue of the Journal of School Health found that those who participated in extracurricular activities had higher levels of social, emotional, and healthy behavior than students who did not participate. Students were classified into four groups based on their participation in sports and other activities, such as clubs, volunteer work, band, choir, or music lessons: neither activity, both, other activities only, and sports only. Odds ratios for the group involved in both types of activities were significantly higher than those for all the other groups for all healthy behaviors and measures of connectedness and significantly lower for all but one of the unhealthy behaviors.
Students involved in sports alone or in combination with other activities had significantly higher odds than the other two groups for exercise, milk consumption, and healthy self-image, and significantly lower odds for emotional distress, suicidal behavior, family substance abuse, and physical and sexual abuse victimization. Students involved in other activities alone or in combination with sports had significantly higher odds than the other two groups for doing homework and significantly lower odds for alcohol consumption, marijuana use, and vandalism.
Among male students in the Minnesota study, 19.1 percent engaged in neither sports nor other activities, 23.4 percent in other activities only, 15.1 percent in sports only, and 42.4 percent in both. Among female students, 12.6 percent were involved in neither, 31.6 percent in other activities only, 7.3 percent in sports only, and 48.6 percent in both. Analyses by race/ethnicity showed that white students were more likely than students of color to be involved in both sports and other activities (48.1% versus 33.6%) and sports only (11.4% versus 9.5%), while students of color were more likely to be involved in other activities only (33.8% versus 26.3%) and neither activity (23.1% versus 14.2%). Combining categories to look specifically at involvement in sports shows, that while participation rates for males (57.5%) and females (55.8%) are similar, a substantially higher proportion of white students participated in sports than students of color (59.5% versus 43.1%), according to the Journal of School Health article.