Parenting: College Clubs

The Murphy kids have tried various activities and clubs in college, a great way to make friends.

The Murphy kids have tried a variety of activities in college, but kept school work first on the list.
March 2, 2012 8:35:10 AM PST
Check out any college website and along with academics and financial aid, you'll probably find a section proudly touting the school's many clubs and student activities. This is one way a university uses to make the school seem fun to incoming students, and in some cases, different or more varied than the competition.

There are two arguments parents can make about these extras, especially when it comes to first-year students. First, clubs offer an easy way for a new student to make friends at college. After all, it's a logical assumption that kids interested in the same sort of extra-curricular activities will also share other things in common, making it easier for them to get along. Secondly, club activities can offer a break from the rigors of study and the stresses of test-taking and paper-writing.

How Much Is Too Much?

However, parents may also worry that too many activities, especially for a new college student not yet acclimated to the college routine, could get their youngster off to a slow start. Too many activities could lead too many distractions. This is a special concern when merit or academic scholarships are involved since these are often tied to a specific grade point average. If the student's scores drop, the amount of money they get may drop, too.

In general, a happy kid is a more productive kid. Activities like club sports, gaming clubs or discussion groups are probably the best way for students to feel welcome and involved at college. The college admissions officers we dealt with encouraged at least some involvement. So, as your student decides on a major, campus location and type of campus he or she prefers, take some time to go over various activities offered and talk with your child about which group they plan to explore. Usually during the college open house for new students, there's a session where representatives from all extra-curricular organizations gather together to meet prospective members. Numbers and emails are exchanged, and dates and locations are set for meetings. Announcements of newly formed organizations and activity groups may also appear randomly on campus billboards. It's probably best to focus on sanctioned activities that are funded through the college and officially recognized. This, by the way, can include almost anything as each college has a budget for student-run activities and usually accepts a wide range. In fact, your student can easily form a new club and apply for this funding to cover advertising and other essential materials.

Not a Ton of Fun

It's probably a good idea for your freshman student to limit themselves to one or two activities at first, until they get a clear idea of how much spare time they have to devote to non-classroom responsibilities. It's also worth noting that most of these clubs, while meant to be fun, do require a relatively serious commitment. The student organizers put in a lot of time and effort to make the club go and slackers will not be appreciated.

My daughter joined various wildlife and animal science clubs while en route to her Animal Science degree, and these activities not only allowed her to make friends, but supplemented her studies. My son sat in on some Eastern religion clubs, before settling on ballroom dancing for his freshman year, an activity he and some friends had tried in high school. In his second year, he and his girlfriend began their college's first-ever Pokémon club and soon discovered that several other schools also shared this interest. Tournaments followed online with about six colleges vying for supremacy.

As your student gets older, he or she may find that there's less room for these extras in the schedule, as research opportunities, overseas study and internships take precedent. This happened with my son, who has since given-up the presidency of the club he formed and is concentrating on spending extra time in the lab. That's another reason why getting involved early isn't a bad idea.

In short, clubs and activities are a great way for a new college student to make friends and feel more at home while away at school. Since school work should always take precedent, it's probably best for your kids to wade gently into these waters as they move through their first year of study.

---David Murphy

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