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Co-Curricular vs Extracurricular: Small But Important Differences

Co-Curricular vs. Extracurricular Blog Image

College is a time for students to explore their interests, make new friends and solidify their identities. College student life includes a variety of co-curricular and extracurricular activities, from Greek life to sports to global experiences and internships. These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. The trend is for institutions of higher learning to emphasize co-curricular involvement to serve as a complement to learning that takes place inside the classroom. With the increased importance placed on developing the whole student, these types of complementary activities enhance students’ skill development in ways that academics alone cannot.

What Are Co-Curricular Activities?

Co-curricular activities take place outside the classroom but enhance students’ learning in meaningful ways. Taking a closer look at the word “co-curricular,” the meaning is in the prefix co-. This prefix means “together,” so when added to “curricular,” the term refers to additional activities that work together with those inside the classroom to enhance students’ learning. 

The overarching idea here is that these types of activities should not be looked at as separate from classroom studies but rather as an enhancement to traditional classroom learning. Co-curricular activities may be tied to a college or university’s academic curriculum, and they may provide course credit.

Examples of Co-Curricular Activities

  • Internships
  • Co-ops
  • Research
  • Study abroad programs
  • Leadership experiences
  • Volunteer work
  • Student professional organizations
  • Campus organizations and sports

Benefits of Co-Curricular Activities

Involvement in co-curricular activities benefits students in a variety of ways. College students who are actively involved tend to be seen as thriving. However, instead of their increased out-of-classroom involvement taking away from their classes and negatively impacting their academic performance, co-curricular involvement often has the opposite effect. This type of involvement often leads students to feel a greater sense of belonging and develop a greater sense of satisfaction with their school. 

Research from the Center for the Study of Student Life at Ohio State University found that students who demonstrate some level of co-curricular involvement are more successful both in college and after graduation than those who do not. Additionally, the study found that employers rated students who demonstrated at least some co-curricular involvement based on their resumes as more hireable than those who did not. A closer look at the study’s findings reveals that the students rated as highly-involved were three times more likely to be considered for a job than students who were not involved. And, when it comes to career readiness, highly-involved students were deemed 18% more career ready than the uninvolved students – very likely a result of the “soft skills” that co-curricular involvement helps develop.

Furthermore, the results of the university’s 2018-2019 Ohio State Graduation Survey found that students who were somewhat involved in at least one co-curricular activity were 2.1 times more likely to demonstrate satisfaction with their experience at the university, 1.8 times more likely to obtain a job offer by graduation and 1.7 times more likely to show interest in furthering their education with graduate or professional school.

Students’ participation in co-curricular activities generally enhances: 

What Are Extracurricular Activities?

Extracurricular activities take place outside the classroom and serve as add-ons to students' classroom learning. Taking a closer look at the word “extracurricular,” the meaning is in the prefix extra. This prefix means “in addition to,” so when added to “curricular,” the term refers to activities for students that serve additional purposes. Extracurricular activities typically take place off campus and are not always affiliated with the school or its curriculum, so it makes sense that these types of activities typically do not offer course credit or relate to coursework.

Interestingly, the term “extracurricular” is oftentimes associated with activities for high school students which are particularly emphasized as part of the college admissions process. This is because it is more common for such activities to be considered separate from the public school curriculum, whereas, within a higher education setting, the trending ideology is to offer these activities in conjunction with the academic curriculum to complement in-classroom learning with the types of skills that cannot be achieved solely through academics.

Examples of Extracurricular Activities

  • Off-campus part-time jobs
  • Leadership programs not affiliated with a college or university
  • Religious organizations
  • Social activities and events

Benefits of Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities provide many of the same benefits that co-curricular activities do. They include:

  • Practical skill development
  • Increased sense of well-being
  • Enhanced confidence
  • Improved social life
  • Better academic performance
  • Increased likelihood of post-graduation success

How Does Experiential Learning Compare?

If you’re wondering how the term “experiential learning” fits in, this is a great question. Experiential learning is closely related to co-curricular involvement and is, at times, used interchangeably. It is an overarching term that refers to learning that results from hands-on activities that occur both inside and outside the classroom. Curricular experiential learning activities are built into the curriculum and result in college credit. Co-curricular activities are not part of the formal academic curriculum and are not typically offered for college credit, yet can work together with the more formal academic curriculum to offer students enhanced learning benefits they may not have experienced.

Providing a Holistic Learning Experience

How can the two types of activities be combined to provide a holistic learning experience for students? Rather than thinking of co-curricular and extracurricular activities as separate, distinct entities from each other, the key is to combine both types of activities when recognizing the benefits they have for students. Thinking of them as complementary to classroom learning is crucial to providing a holistic learning experience for students that more effectively aids in student development. In fact, according to Andrew Murfin, the deputy head of co-curricular engagement at the Bryanston School, there just may be a new term to encompass both co-curricular and extracurricular: “super-curricular.”

Having a clear way to demonstrate students’ records of co-curricular and extracurricular involvement alongside their academic records provides a more comprehensive picture of students’ college experiences. Suitable’s Co-Curricular Transcripts deliver a complete picture that isn’t possible through simply listing activities on a resume. These Co-Curricular Transcripts provide a measurable way to tell each student’s unique journey through higher education. Starting with a space for an introduction with a brief bio, they show students’ individual progress toward acquiring a variety of skills and competencies, ones which are important to both higher education leaders and employers. This dynamic record of co-curricular involvement can be used to display students’ individual co-curricular journeys throughout all four years of college, both holistically and on a year-to-year basis.

Through a comprehensive digital record of student co-curricular vs. extracurricular involvement, it’s clear how these outside-of-class experiences contribute to and enhance students both during their education and upon entering the professional world.

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Mark Visco Jr.

Mark Visco Jr.

Chief Executive Officer