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What are Extracurricular Activities?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated Feb 04, 2024
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Extracurricular activities are opportunities to engage in extensions of academic activities and/or non-academic activities under school auspices. In special circumstances, for example, when there are budget or scheduling constraints, these activities may provide experiences that would otherwise be offered within the school day.

There are many types of extracurricular activities. Athletics is a major one at many schools. In some schools, football is the centerpiece of the athletic program, but depending on where you live, you may also find opportunities in baseball, basketball, bowling, cheerleading, climbing, field hockey, golf, ice hockey, ice skating, lacrosse, orienteering, rugby, alpine and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, soccer, softball, swimming, table tennis, tennis, track, and volleyball. Sports may have varsity and junior varsity teams or be conducted as clubs or intramural opportunities.

Extracurricular activities in science and math range often include clubs, such as those in astronomy, chess, computer programming, robotics, and ecology. Competitions are also offered through, for example, the Science Olympiad, the National Science Bowl, the American Computer Science League, and MATHCOUNTS.

For students interested in writing and communication, there may be clubs for broadcasting, debate, foreign languages, the school newspaper, and the school yearbook. Competitions include Idea of America Writing Contest and Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Extracurricular activities in the social sciences include Geography Bowl, the National Mock Election, and the High School FED CHALLENGE, run by the Federal Reserve Bank to promote economics literacy. Opportunities to participate in student government may also call for extracurricular commitments. And for students in the arts, one can find drama clubs, guitar clubs, ensembles such as choirs, bands, and orchestras, and photography clubs.

Students who enjoy competition and have good general knowledge may wish to try out for Scholar’s Bowl, National Academic Quiz Tournaments, or Odyssey of the Mind for extracurricular activities. And community-minded students can find opportunities for community service in, for example, a Red Cross club or a peer helper group.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for WiseGeek, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By anon935424 — On Feb 25, 2014

I'm sorry to post here, but I'm French, and I have to do a homework assignment about extracurricular activities in English-speaking countries. I found lots of things here, and I wanted to know if you could tell me more about that.

Is your job near where you do your activities? What are the rules in these activities, when do you do them and all details that you can tell me about that. I hope you can help me. And please excuse my English. I'm just in 4th form.

By Ivan83 — On Dec 19, 2012

My college had way too many extracurriculars. I remember on club day every club and organization would set up a table in the quad. There were hundreds. You would walk around, decide you wanted to join 20 clubs, realize how unfeasible that was and end up joining none. We were drowned in choice.

By profess — On Dec 18, 2012

I don't think you can overstate the benefits of extracurricular activities. There are so important for students when they are young and forming.

Extracurriculars allow you to identify what you are really passionate about. Not many kids are honestly into algebra. But some are into planes. By attending the meeting of an aviation club, they might discover their love of flying and realize that they need to be good at math to get behind the controls of a plane. It helps you prepare to do what you want in life and what could be more important than that?

By vigilant — On Dec 18, 2012

What clubs were you guys in in high school? Personally, I was in the ecology club and I played on the ultimate frisbee team. I may sound like I was a huge hippie back then, but I just happened to like playing frisbee and cleaning up trashy local parks. My hair was short and I listened to a lot of bad hard rock. Nothing hippie about me.

By KoiwiGal — On Dec 16, 2012

@irontoenail - To be honest, I always referred to all clubs and things as "extracurricular activities" even if they weren't attached to a particular school. The internet makes it so much easier to find groups like that these days. And if there aren't any around, well, it's also a good learning experience for kids to found a group.

By irontoenail — On Dec 15, 2012

@anon42603 - That's kind of weird actually. I would have thought most European schools were similar to the US and offer at least chances to do sports. And even things like maths clubs often seem to have some kind of international competition component, so there must be chances to do something like that at some schools.

Or maybe there are no extracurricular activities and it is a matter of finding clubs away from school which are doing the same thing. In a way, it's almost better, because it means the kids get to mingle away from their school groups.

By JaneAir — On Dec 01, 2012

@ceilingcat - I never thought of it that way, but almost all of my extracurricular activities in school involved my parents spending money and getting involved in some way. I'm glad my parents were able to do that, but I'm not sure what the options are for families with lower incomes.

By ceilingcat — On Nov 30, 2012

I know extracurricular school activities can be great for helping kids learn teamwork, keeping them out of trouble, and helping them meet people. But unfortunately, most extracurricular activities involve money and some help from parents.

Most clubs have dues, and for sports teams you have to purchase the uniforms. You also need someone to drive you to and from all of these activities. So, I feel like a lot of kids who are from lower income families get shut out of doing these things, and then they suffer because colleges put so much weight on extracurriculars.

By betterment — On Nov 29, 2012

@Monika - I agree with you. There are so many extracurricular activities benefits, so it's good that kids have options. Not everyone is athletic, but not everyone wants to do academic competitions either. With so many options, most kids can find at least one extracurricular activity to participate in.

By Monika — On Nov 28, 2012

I think it's great that there are so many school extracurricular activities besides sports. I'm not very athletic, so when I was in school I had no interest in joining a sports team at all. But I still wanted to join a group and get involved with stuff that was going on at my school.

I ended up joining a group that was dedicated to community service, and it was a really great experience. I got to be involved in my community and meet other people, without the pressure of trying to win a game. And I admit, it did look pretty great on my college applications.

By anon242611 — On Jan 24, 2012

Extracurricular activities are a good thing because they are thought to help kids do well academically. However, an overload of activities can be a strain on the budget and also on mom and her time. The best thing to do is to set limits. Figure out what you can afford in money and time and go from there. Most people find that one activity per child is quite manageable both financially and in the time area.

By read4life — On Jun 04, 2010

mom0103 - You're correct about extracurricular activities being important to academics. Colleges not only look at potential students' academics, but also their extracurricular activities. Activities the student participated in tell the college important aspects about the student such as how they've made a meaningful contribution to something, what their non-academic interests are, whether they can maintain a long-term commitment, whether they can manage their time and priorities, and what diversity they'd bring to the student body. Extracurricular activities are very important indeed.

By mom0103 — On Jun 04, 2010

Extracurricular activities are a good thing because they are thought to help kids do well academically. However, an overload of activities can be a strain on the budget and also on mom and her time. The best thing to do is to set limits. Figure out what you can afford in money and time and go from there. Most people find that one activity per child is quite manageable both financially and in the time area.

By anon42603 — On Aug 22, 2009

To bad that they don't offer anything similar in austria. if I want to do some extracurriculars, either I have to found some or search for some existing clubs till i am crazy. some people are just so lucky.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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