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Special Issues » Education Guide

Involvement outside the classroom a key to community, perhaps success

Find your forte


Student involvement is a mantra in academic circles everywhere, and for good reason. Wide research cites student involvement as a critical component to success, leading to increased retention toward graduation.

A 2006 study by John Foubert and Lauren Grainger shows developmental improvement for students involved in more extracurricular activities. The study followed 307 students their freshman, sophomore and senior years at Williamsburg, Virginia’s College of William and Mary, a public research university. Results show students who engaged in more out-of-class communities, and especially those in leadership roles, reported having a greater understanding of their purpose, and a more established independence and autonomy.

By contrast, uninvolved students placed consistently lower in those same areas.
“Having [a community] makes me feel more connected to the school,” says Anna Wermuth, a current Colorado College student. “It gives people an awesome space to feel like they belong.”
Though some shudder at the term “extracurricular involvement,” and all the weekend driving, fees or additional equipment that usually entails, others are finding inexpensive and creative ways to further their involvement. For Wermuth, a member of Element, one of Colorado College’s a cappella groups, music proved a perfect avenue.

It wasn’t easy finding her place, though. Wermuth says she tried to start an a cappella group in high school, but faculty dissuaded her, an experience that “didn’t validate my ability,” but instead motivated her even more, and led her to join the Element ranks.

“I was friends with all of them immediately,” Wermuth says of her fellow singers. “It’s just a great group of awesome women who all care about each other.”

Students create their own communities in a variety of ways, from residents halls and community service, to Greek life. Finding a group that fits can make all the difference. Wermuth says for her, singing releases the stress and any negativity that comes with school. “Keeping [music] a part of my college life is really important,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be a professional pursuit... I’ll always love singing.”
Singing and other creative outlets at any age can have long-term impacts. It’s no secret that club participation in high school can help college admissions, but researchers Katherine Cotter, Jean Pretz and James Kaufman are challenging traditional college admission methods to consider creativity and creative clubs as a stronger deciding factor.

According to their 2016 study with the American Psychological Association,“research suggests that creative individuals tend to be more involved in extracurricular activities.” The study argues schools should factor creativity into school applications as it demonstrates involvement: “extracurricular activities reveal valuable information about applicants’ creativity that traditional admission factors do not.”

This creativity includes activities like a cappella, which is almost always a student-led creative activity. Peer-led organizations inherently involve more student investment, and in Foubert and Grainger’s study, they argue that peer groups are the “strongest single source of influence” on a student’s developing sense of purpose and autonomy. But for Wermuth, it’s about the music, and getting to express herself with her group.

“Music is really essential to my happiness,” she says.

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