Extracurriculars & Community Service

When you get older and start thinking about college, it may seem like extracurriculars is all anybody talks about! We’re not talking about doing these activities to get into college right now. We think they’re great because they allow you to explore new topics, try out new abilities, meet new friends, and have fun—sometimes while making the world a better place!


Why extracurricular activities are important

They say you should do things now that the “future you” would thank “today’s you” for.

It’s just a figure of speech (although, for the record, scientists do say that time-travel isn’t completely out of the question!). Even if you never get to be in the same room as a version of yourself from a different time, applying this phrase is a great motivator for making the most of your time now. It can inspire you to prepare for the future. For students with big dreams, activities like academic clubs, athletic teams, performing arts, and community service could help make those dreams come true. In other words, they can be the ultimate way to spend your time outside of the classroom.

When it comes to extracurricular activities, it’s important to pick things that interest you. They should be fun, but productive, and satisfying but deliberately chosen. The right extracurriculars can equip you with valuable skills, spark new interests, and show others your versatility and character.

With every new experience, your confidence grows. You learn leadership, teamwork, time management, and problem-solving skills, and hopefully, you have lots of fun along the way. Extracurriculars should relieve stress, not add to it! So pick your extracurriculars wisely. Try and find a healthy balance of fun, skill-developing, and service-related activities.

Things you can do

Looking to jump right in? There are lots of great extracurriculars out there. Here’s a few ideas:

Join a sports team. Most schools have many sports to choose from, so you’re bound to find something you like. If your school doesn’t have a team, don’t worry. It’s likely your community has a recreational league you could join instead. You’ll meet new people and make new friends, bound together by the spirit of competition. Sports also teach important lessons about problem-solving, leadership, and teamwork. Plus, they can help you stay in good physical shape, which is good for your brain!

Consider the performing arts. Whether it’s singing, dancing, acting, painting, or playing an instrument, these kinds of activities are great hobbies to have. The arts encourage creativity, and allow you to find new ways to express yourself. They show people that you are talented, dedicated, and passionate. Even if you don’t want to be a professional actor or dancer or painter one day, participating in the arts balances your life, exercises your imagination, and can be fun no matter what age you are!

Don’t forget academic competitions. They put your mental abilities to the test and give you the experience of working under pressure. No matter what interests you, there is a competition out there right for you. There’s engineering, art, writing, public-speaking, mathematics, computer-programming, and history competitions all over the country. See the section "Challenge Yourself: Compete!" for more on competitions and be sure to visit the Opportunity Guide to learn more!

Find community service activities that help people. You’ll feel great about what you’ve done, and someone in need will get the help they need. You could offer to do yard work for an elderly or disabled neighbor, become a tutor for other students at your school, or volunteer at charity events with your whole family. There’s always a person or cause that could use your help.

Don’t be afraid to try things that you don’t know much about. You might find that you really enjoy something you never even thought about doing before.

Academics vs. Athletics

What you do during school hours is mostly up to your teachers. If your teachers plan lessons and activities that you enjoy all of the time, then you’re a lucky student indeed with a great attitude toward learning. But if you’re looking for more than what the classroom provides you, look no further than extracurricular activities.

The beauty of extracurricular activities is that you can browse through them and select the ones that you like best or that fit with the way you like to learn new things. So while they can help you learn different things, they can also help you develop different skills. The trick is to balance the benefits that extracurriculars provide. For example, an after-school mathematics club may help you comprehend more advanced concepts than you’re learning at school, but joining a sports team could help you develop teamwork, leadership, and healthy lifestyle skills.

With only so much time in your day to devote to extracurriculars, picking between academic and athletic activities can be like picking between two of all-time favorite movies when you’re on two-hour road trip. But take heart: we’re going to walk through the benefits of both of these types of activities, so that you have an easier time choosing when the time comes.

The Benefits of Academic Extracurriculars

The benefits of academic extracurriculars aren’t too hard to pinpoint. Participating in these activities strengthens your brain power by challenging you beyond what you do in the classroom. Let’s say you’re interested in engineering, but your school doesn’t offer any classes on the topic. If you join a robotics club, you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about engineering, get hands-on experience, and maybe even take part in competitions. As a bonus, you’ll meet smart, driven students like yourself.

Athletics Can Be Awesome

As awesome as academic extracurriculars sound, athletic activities can be awesome, too. Studies show that sports can improve your social skills, self-esteem, teamwork, and leadership abilities—all things that come in handy when you head out into the world.

For those of you who’ve played sports, you’ve probably seen just how that happens: you and your teammates work together to overcome a big challenge, or maybe you practice every day until, finally, you reach that goal you’ve had for the longest time. In addition to developing these essential skills we just mentioned, playing sports is also a great way to promote a healthy lifestyle. Besides, you may be one of the very few athletes who has what it takes to make a career out of sports—or at least win a scholarship to a great school. You’ll never know unless you try!

How About Both?

Whether you pick academic or athletic extracurriculars, as you can see: both can help you learn and grow. And though they may help you in different ways, the important thing is that they add to your educational experience. As such, we’d be crazy to tell you which one to choose because everyone is different. When you’re ready to plan your after-school schedule, pick one, pick both—just be sure that your time spent in extracurricular activities is productive, and don’t forget to have fun!

For an extracurricular activity, how about spending time with animals? Duke TIP met some lions, lemurs, and more—watch the video to see what happened!

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