If you have a college student in your life, you know there’s no shortage of advice on making the most of the pursuit of higher education. Some tips for new college students seem obvious: complete homework assignments, be organized, get plenty of sleep, and be an active participant in class. Actively participating outside of the classroom, however, is another key way to maximize the college experience. The learning that occurs in other areas of college life stays with students and shapes future success.

Community colleges provide excellent opportunities for active involvement for all students with nearly any interest. Because many students attend community college for two years before graduating, new students can make an immediate impact and even take on a leadership role right out of the gate. The same can be said for our student-athletes. The active recruitment within athletic teams’ depth charts means first-year students can find significant playing time and continue to hone their athletic skills.

At Waubonsee Community College, we’ve seen a longtime trend of our active and involved students moving on to significant leadership positions in their communities. We have alumni who are mayors, police chiefs, attorneys, conservationists and even a college president in the case of our 2011 Distinguished Alumnus Dr. John Avendano, who is president of Kankakee Community College. I know that a big part of their success is tied to their opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities while students at Waubonsee. Their leadership qualities were fostered both in the classroom and also by what they did outside of the classroom.

In recent years, more students have decided to attend community colleges directly from high school seeking the complete college experience. That’s why at Waubonsee, we opened a new Student Center on our Sugar Grove Campus in 2009. Now, in addition to having centralized student services, students can find all types of clubs, arts groups, academic organizations and other extracurricular options that allow them to match their interests. Just like students who pick the major that best suits their passions, students can also choose the extracurricular activities they find most appealing. 

Beyond the individual advantages gained by students who whole-heartedly embrace the full college experience, the community sees tangible long- and short-term benefits. The interpersonal and leadership skills gained through extracurricular activities in college help form our future leaders. Many student groups also make a more immediate positive impact by raising money, donating time and energy to worthy local causes, and volunteering for service projects throughout our community. Every year, many Waubonsee students can be found giving back to their communities in numerous ways.

The last major benefit of getting involved is perhaps the most obvious. It’s fun! Connecting with peers, faculty and staff outside of the classroom allows students to engage with others they might have never met. The stimulating discussions and activities are invigorating. College is about learning and expanding your mind. What better way to do that than by hearing diverse perspectives and pushing for personal growth? Extracurricular involvement is a great way to become the ideal “well-rounded” student and can create some of the most lasting memories of the college experience.