You can watch basketball, baseball, track, gymnastics, tennis, aerobics, volleyball, and weight lifting on ESPN, or you can get out and enjoy them by joining your school team. Not into team sports? There's French club, the debating team, chess club, student government, radio, newspaper, yearbook, environmental club, 4-H, drama, choir, photography, Students Against Destructive Decisions, jazz band, Business Professionals of America, computer club, and more.
So many choices can seem overwhelming, but getting involved in new activities with new people is a fun way to challenge yourself. Here are some basics and benefits of getting involved.
So what's in it for you? You get to explore your physical, creative, social, political, and career interests with like-minded people. You'll find friends: Trying something different may bring you in contact with people you didn't know who share your interests and curiosity.
You can get involved with groups as a way to get support from other students with your background, such as Latino or Jewish clubs. A club or group also can be a great way to meet people who are different from you. Lots of youth programs bring people together with those who are different as a way to break down the barriers between people. Mark, a senior who lives in Washington, DC, discovered this when he volunteered for a group that uses baseball as a way to bring special-education kids and kids with disabilities together with regular kids.
Participating in extracurricular activities helps you in other ways, too: It looks good on college and job applications and shows admissions officers and employers you're well-rounded and responsible. Specific activities help with specific goals — if you want to teach language or get a bilingual job, being the president of the Spanish club shows the depth of your commitment.
The most basic reason for joining a club or team is that it gives you something better to do than staring at the wall, wandering the hall, or napping all afternoon. People who are involved and engaged are less likely to become addicted to bad habits, like smoking or drinking.
Review the activities your school offers and listen to other students' experiences to find an activity that meets your needs. Think about your interests, abilities, and time — is your sister tired of playing chess with you? Do you wish you had more computer time? Are you tired of shooting hoops alone? Are you looking to meet friends or get support? Do you need to increase the appeal of your college application? Don't limit yourself to the familiar — try something new.
Think about different roles within groups that you might want to try — president, captain, participant, leader, support person. Each role is important. Being president teaches you leadership and management skills, but involves more responsibility; being a member gives you structure and is less stressful. You can also lend your skills in areas that are needed, such as using your financial skills to be the treasurer.
At the beginning of the school year, teachers and principals often have a list of activities to join or make announcements — for example, your history teacher may be the debating team advisor. Look on school bulletin boards and in the school newspaper. Ask friends what they like. Join right away or wait to see how your schedule will be and join later.
Ask questions of the activity advisor before you join. Some things to ask include:
Each school is unique with its own array of offerings, but if you don't find what you want, try a community center or volunteer for a local nonprofit organization or business. Also consider organizations like Youth in Action, a group for teens who want to participate in service projects.
It's easy to join one too many exciting activities. Ask as many questions as possible before you join. Sit down with your school schedule, work schedule, and other activities and try to map out what's realistic. Are you taking a class this semester that requires extra studying time? Do you need to focus on grades? Does your bus only come once an hour by the time practice is over instead of every 15 minutes? Will you have time to eat, sleep, and relax? Everyone needs downtime. If an activity adds lots of stress to your life, it's not for you.
Once you've joined an activity, if you feel stressed out, reconsider. It's important to keep a balance between schoolwork, extracurricular activities, a job, social life, and your health. If you join a club and need to quit for any reason, talk with the advisor or coach. Be direct and polite and explain your situation and feelings. Sometimes it's just not the right match for you or it's too time-consuming. Perhaps you can participate in a less time-consuming way or rejoin later. You won't be helping yourself or the group if you frantically do homework during a competition or fall asleep during practice. Saying "no" can be the most mature and responsible thing to do.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2013
|Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) YMCAs also offer camps, computer classes, and community service opportunities in addition to fitness classes.|
|American Field Service (AFS) AFS is an international, voluntary, nonprofit organization that provides intercultural learning opportunities to help people develop the knowledge, skills, and understanding needed to create a more just and peaceful world through intercultural exchange.|
|Rotary International Rotary is an organization of business and professional leaders who provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world.|
|Boys & Girls Clubs of America The mission of this group is to inspire and enable all young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens.|
|VolunteerMatch VolunteerMatch is dedicated to putting you in touch with volunteer organizations in your area. You can enter the name of a group you'd like to know more about, search by your ZIP code, or browse all the available opportunities.|
|SERVEnet This site contains information on volunteering and community service opportunities.|
|Youth Venture Youth Venture helps young people develop their own opportunities for leadership through community service organizations, small business ventures, or after-school clubs.|
|Habitat for Humanity A nonprofit housing organization building simple, decent, affordable housing in partnership with people in need.|
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