Despite stress, students find value in co-curriculars

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For many students, college is the last step before entering the workforce. It is a time to make memories and also prepare for a career after tossing the graduation cap.

Many students prepare for careers by being involved in student organizations. Thirty-five percent of K-State seniors said they spend six or more hours a week on co-curricular activities, according to The College Portrait.

Co-curricular activities like student organizations, competition teams and undergraduate research can help prepare students for careers, but can also bring added stress and time commitments, said David Lehman, marketing instructor and adviser for two student competition teams.

“The students are getting opportunities to network with professionals that can lead to internships or full-time jobs,” Lehman said. “But it causes students to have a greater burden because they’re having to concentrate on the competition they are there for, but at the same time fully focus also on school work.”

Student involvement leads to jobs

Rachel Zimmerman, senior in agribusiness, said she has experienced the added stress of co-curriculars. Zimmerman is a College of Agriculture Ambassador, National Agri-Marketing Association president and competition team member, and a student fellow for the Center for Risk Management Education and Research.

“You are working with a bunch of different people and you are trying to schedule a lot of things that may not be cohesive, and that brings a lot of added stress,” Zimmerman said.

Despite the added stress, Zimmerman said her busy schedule makes her stand out as a candidate in job applications.

“I walked into an interview with Cargill, and my interviewer informed me that I had handed him one of the best college résumés he had ever seen,” Zimmerman said. “Extracurriculars definitely gave me a singular opportunity to set myself apart and build on what is a fairly broad degree.”

After graduation, Zimmerman will work as a grain merchandiser for Bartlett Grain Company and will have the opportunity to advance in her career because of the connections she made and skills she learned in student organizations.

“There are lots of ways that students can get those skills, and certainly student organizations is a great way that students can gain some of those skills,” said Mary Ellen Barkley, assistant director of the K-State Career Center.

Activities conflict with academics

Whether for competition or industry tours, student organizations will occasionally take students out of the classroom. Even though students are out of class, they have to keep up with their academics since 70 percent of employers will screen candidates based on GPA in 2017, and 60 percent of those employers will use a 3.0 GPA as the cutoff for hiring, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Rachel Waggie, junior in animal sciences and industry, competed on the dairy judging team last fall and said she made it a point to get notes from lectures that she missed and do any online homework while she was gone.

“I take a lot of responsibility for my classes,” Waggie said. “My professors are really great at working with me to stay on top of things, too.”

Similarly, Zimmerman said she schedules her extracurricular activities around class time and tries to prioritize academics, although she said that does not always happen.

“I try to strike a comfortable balance between work and school and then fit activities in as needed,” Zimmerman said.

Other students are not able to travel with student organizations as much because of classes. Zimmerman said she had a friend who could not compete with the NAMA competition team this spring because of a professor who was not flexible with a class assignment.

The value in extracurriculars

Even though many of his students miss several classes a semester for competitions, Lehman said co-curriculars are important.

“At least half of your education should occur outside the classroom,” Lehman said. “When they find that one thing that interests them, I’ve seen that make them better students.”

Lehman said he wants to make sure the students he works with are able to find a balance between schoolwork and student activities. To help his students do this, Lehman said his competition teams will start doing grade checks and requiring study hours for those students who fall below a certain point.

“We are mindful of students’ academic performance,” Lehman said. “The bottom line for me is if a student is struggling academically, they probably should not be traveling to competitions.”

Barkley and the career center help students prepare for interviews and employers by discussing students’ involvements and what they have got out of their organizations. Barkley said she tries to help students see what skills they have gained in student organizations and connect that to what employers might be interested in.

“I think that is what’s fun about the work I do, having conversations with students about the work that they have done in a student organization and making those connections,” Barkley said.

A word of advice

Other difficulties students involved in extracurricular activities encounter are overloading on work, becoming too busy and getting stressed. Lehman said that it is easy to be overcommitted because students do not realize they are over-involved until they are over-involved.

“I think that usually comes from getting involved in too many things,” Lehman said. “I encourage students to find one thing and really make that a priority.”

Waggie said students who are not involved in an extracurricular activity should get involved because it has added a great deal of value to her education at K-State.

“Something that we hear all the time is, ‘Don’t let school get in the way of your education,’” Waggie said. “You can learn a lot sitting in class and reading out of a textbook or listening to your professor lecture, but when you are actually out interacting with people that you could be working with in the future and really getting hands-on experience, there’s no comparison.”

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