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Although your student is likely heading to college to obtain an academic degree, there is so much more to the college experience!

Certainly, writing papers, studying for exams and doing assigned homework will occupy a percentage of your student’s week. However, students will spend more time outside the classroom than in the classroom and what should that time consist of? Some students will work and some will participate in internships while others might be involved in intercollegiate athletics. Additionally, to make the most of their college experience students should engage in student-led service and activities where they lead their peers during their college career.

Whether a student is a residential or a commuter, there are many opportunities that are student-led for them to get involved: campus clubs, affinity groups, student government, campus newspaper and service organizations. Some student-led organizations have national affiliations like engineering societies, veteran affiliated clubs, or Greek life that hosts annual national conferences that students have the opportunity to attend with the support of the campus administration.

Here are five reasons your student should get involved:

  1. Learn about themselves. While the classroom is great for theorizing and processing conceptual ideas, peer-to-peer leadership outside the classroom gives context for such qualities as empathy, honesty, humility, service and self-understanding to be activated and developed. In these co-curricular student leadership contexts, students will discover new talents that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. The inner lives of students, the sphere of values, beliefs and moral development emerge in these settings. Students learn who they are becoming and who they are in relation to others as they lead their peers.
  2. Academic success. Meaningful engagement in campus life and activities is positively correlated to student retention and academic success. A student’s sense of connectedness to the campus community through co-curricular programming such as campus activities, clubs, and commuter and residence hall activities promotes student thriving. Research demonstrates that involvement helps to create a sense of belonging which leads to better academic success and satisfaction.
  3. Preparation for work after college. Peer-to-peer leadership is powerful. Research is clear that students take their peers seriously and listen to them on significant matters. Developing and implementing plans, working through technical issues, planning activities, guiding discussions and public speaking are among the skills needed in the workplace. Additionally, it is a safe place for students to fail. Whether it’s missing a deadline, overspending the allocated budget or working through conflict, student leaders have an opportunity to fail without the consequences being dire. These life lessons are invaluable for students.
  4. Develop character. Leading peers is actually hard. Late-night planning meetings, relational conflict, time-pressure (school, work, family, etc.). Students will have to make choices of what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to. Values such as integrity, generosity, creativity and humility (among others) just don’t exist in a vacuum. They need a context to live, be practiced and chosen in the context of the leadership. The ethic and ethics of leadership are developed in these beautiful and challenging moments.
  5. Develop life-long friendships. Being in leadership together for a semester, a year or beyond and having a shared experience brings students together. They cheer each other on in their various leadership roles and activities as well as support each other as they go through life’s challenges. College’s help to curate students “good ‘ol days!” Again, the classroom and disciplinary study are important, but this fun and stretching peer leadership opportunities will do more to help your student thrive in the classroom.

Lastly, how should your student go about getting involved? Many institutions host “involvement fairs” in the fall semester where current student leaders from the various organizations recruit students to be involved. Have your student look for that activity early in the fall semester!

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About André Stephens, Ph.D.

Dr. André Stephens spent 25 years in Enrollment Management at Biola University before being appointed Vice President for Student Development in 2016. In this role, André leads a dynamic team of co-curricular staff who desire to provide meaningful learning experiences for students. He is also an active participant in higher education professional organizations currently serving as vice-chair of the Council of Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) Commission for Student Development. André earned a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Claremont Graduate University.