University 103 Blog

Getting Involved: The Power of Extracurricular Activities

Geology Club attending Northeast Geological Society of America meeting.Geology Club on Experiential Outing

The beginning of the fall semester is always a little nutty as I try once again to find balance between the many facets of both work and home:  courses, meetings,  step-daughter’s volleyball games, running the beasts (two Rhodesian Ridgebacks), and  just a wee bit of down time.  I’ve started to figure out my routine and just how much I can handle reasonably.  Our first-year students are also balancing these same tensions; fluttering between excitement and anxiety, wondering how much they should study and how much they should engage in beyond their classwork.

Now is a good time for first-year students to begin identifying extra- and co-curricular activities that will provide a healthy balance to their academic career.  Most of us realize that the value of a college education is much more than obtaining a piece of paper.  It is a student’s cumulative experiences both inside and outside the classroom that provide the foundation for future success.   Research consistently shows that those students who participate in extra-curricular activities, such as student clubs and athletic teams, not only self-report greater gains in general cognitive and intellectual abilities, but they also perform better on standardized measures of critical thinking (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).   This positive correlation is already evident in a student’s first year of college (Inman and Pascarella, 1998) and persists through the senior year as evidenced by several studies using the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) data (Pacarella and Terenzini, 2005). 

How do we encourage our students to become involved?  How do we channel their enthusiasm and energy into appropriate and meaningful activities that will improve their critical thinking skills?  The first task, of course, is to discover their interests.  Some options include1:

  • A journal prompt  on what new (or old) activities they would like to try this semester.  Ask your students to create a list of at least 15 different types of activities they enjoy or would like to try.
  • An in-class social barometer  or human scavenger hunt  focusing on out-of-class interests.    Each student will most likely find one other person who has a similar interest.
  • Have your students write a resume  based upon their high-school experiences.  

And then, how do we connect them to the appropriate activities?  Millersville has a couple of great options.

  • Organizational Outbreak.  If your students did not attend the first Outbreak on the 4th, they will have another opportunity on Wednesday September 18th from 3:00-5:00 on the SMC Promenade.  MU Clubs and Organizations have tables so that students can explore the myriad of activities and learn more about organizations.
  • Get Involved Website  (   There is also a direct link from the MU home page.  Students can search for organizations that match their interests and then sign up to receive updates from these organizations.
  • You may also consider having your peer mentor discuss the value of extra-curriculars to your students individually. 

1All of these types of activities and the resume exercise specifically are described in the UNIV 103 Faculty Handbook. Click on the links to access.


Inman, P., & Pascarella, E. (1998).  The impact of college residence on the development of critical thinking skills in college freshmen.  Journal of College Student Development, 39, 557-568.

Pascarella, E., & Terenzini, T. (2005).  How College Affects Students:  A Third Decade of Research.   San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.