Extra-Curricular Activities for High Schoolers, How Many?

How Many Extracurricular Activities Should a High School Student Participate In?

Apart from the period between birth and two years old, the body undergoes more rapid development during adolescence than any other time in a person’s life.

In high school, between the ages of 12 to 18, adolescents undergo a series of emotional and physical developments. As they grow toward adult independence, some of these changes include:

  • A significant shift in their identities, interests, and subcultures
  • A desire for more autonomy can affect family routines
  • Testing the boundaries set by authority figures
  • Developing individual morals and values
  • Forging their sexual identity
  • Unpredictable moods and emotions
  • Physical changes throughout puberty

Social support from parents, teachers, peers, and coaches is paramount during adolescence, and extracurricular activities ensure socialization, competition and teamwork play a role in their development.

Whether a student is interested in sports, academics, or the arts, all extracurriculars provide similar benefits:

  • The ability to form and strengthen relationships with their peers
  • Improved school attendance and academic performance
  • May reduce the risk of depression and boost mental health
  • Cultivates positive character development

Along with the personal benefits, skills formed through extracurriculars can improve an adolescent’s chances of being admitted into college or university. These skills are considered to be the most promising for teenagers hoping to pursue tertiary education:

  • Leadership: Being a team or club captain, being part of the student council, or spearheading a school campaign shows initiative and the confidence to lead a project.
  • Athletic participation: Team sports evidence that students can work within a team and have a strong sense of commitment and self-discipline.
  • Academic clubs: Being part of a club shows that students have intellectual curiosity, an interest in a particular subject, and are eager to hone their skills.
  • Creative pursuits: Creative extracurriculars show that students are well-rounded, curious, and have the dedication required to develop their talents.
  • Activism: Students who are part of student government or participate in activism show that they keep up with current events, are comfortable in leadership roles, and have a strong sense of justice.

While extracurriculars provide many benefits, it’s crucial to note that high school students are already under immense pressure.   According to the National Institute of Mental Health, teens today have higher rates of anxiety than adults, primarily due to the pressure to achieve excellence.

Overscheduling a teenager’s extracurriculars can have adverse effects, including:

  • Exhaustion
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Panic attacks

Adolescent development is characterized by fluctuating emotions, and a teenager may be excited about an extracurricular, only to drop it a few weeks later.  If a teenager doesn’t want to participate in extracurriculars, pushing them will often prove futile because they’re unlikely to enjoy it and benefit from it, which may lead to heightened tension in the household.

To ensure teenagers have a balance, school and extracurriculars should leave enough space for unstructured “down time,” a blend of different activities, and socializing to support their growth into well-adjusted adults.