Benefits of Electives and Extracurricular Activities
Now that September is past and you have settled into your school
routine, we thought it would be a good time to discuss electives and extracurricular activities. What are the differences between them? How do they benefit your teen? And, how do you best document them? Let's start by discussing electives.
Electives are considered part of the academic course load that makes up your teen's high school program. They are evaluated and awarded credit and then included on a high school transcript. An elective is a course that is not required, but a course that your teen opts to take.
Even though your plate may be really full with trying to teach the core courses such as English, history, science, math and foreign language, keep in mind that elective courses are important to include in your high school program. Choosing some courses of interest to your teen will motivate him and provide the needed panacea to complete those less interesting, but "required" courses. These electives help colleges and employers to learn more about your teen -- his interests, abilities, character traits, and so forth. You can also use elective courses to give your teen samplings of various careers to consider. Including one or two such courses each year of high school will fulfill the number of credits most colleges expect to see on your transcript.
There is an array of choices for elective courses. It's wise to choose a mix of courses such as academic and practical courses, as well as courses in your student's areas of interest. For example, your son may wish to study astronomy or your daughter may have an interest in computers. Maybe you want your teens to learn some life skills (financial management, first aid, home management, etc.) before leaving the nest. All of these courses fall under the heading of electives and will be given credits and grades when included on the transcript.
If you would like a list of possible electives, the article "Preparing for College" will give you some ideas.
Likewise, on our high school website in the Individual Curriculum section, http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?id=5578, you will find a variety of courses to use as electives. Under Life Skills we provide sources and resources for teaching these useful subjects.
Now let's turn our attention to extracurricular activities. These are defined as activities that fall outside of the academic program. Such activities are not awarded credits or grades, and they are not included on the high school transcript. However, extracurricular activities are a key component of your high school program, even though they are not considered a part of the coursework completed.
It's important to leave time for extracurricular activities because they enrich your teen's high school years. As with electives, extracurricular activities can motivate your teen to develop her abilities, serve others, teach a skill she has to others, and more. This participation is another window through which colleges and employers learn about your child. Additionally, extracurricular pursuits may provide sources for letters of recommendation for both college and employment applications. And don't forget -- these opportunities are also fun for your teen!
Often, parents do not have trouble finding extracurricular activities for their child to join. Rather, the tendency is over-commitment and participation in too many extracurricular activities to the detriment of your teen's academic work. A good rule of thumb is to have your teen participate wholeheartedly in just a few extracurricular activities while focusing and excelling in those he chooses.
Sometimes your teen's post high school path will help to determine what activities in which to be involved. For instance, if your son will enlist in the military after high school, then participation in a sport to develop team spirit or in Boy Scouts to learn leadership and survival skills will prepare him well. If you daughter is thinking about a career of public service, then volunteering in the community or on political campaigns will give her a close up view of possible careers. Maybe your teen has hobbies. Encourage him to spend time in these; you never know if they'll lead to a lifetime career.
A frequent question we are asked is, "Should I use this activity as
extracurricular or as an elective?" This can be a fuzzy area because
there is a personal aspect to defining an activity as extracurricular
or an elective. Not only does your decision rest on what the activity
involves, but also on what your teen plans to do after high school.
Let's say that your daughter is a dancer and has roles in her studio's dance recitals. You may choose this activity to fulfill your daughter's PE credit and show it on her transcript, by naming the course, giving a grade and awarding credit. On the other hand, your daughter may be pursuing dance as a future career and isn't just taking lessons, but is also taking exams to achieve various levels of expertise, going to summer dance camps, auditioning for dancing roles in theater productions and so on. In this instance, you may want to use this activity as extracurricular by keeping it off the transcript and including it on an extracurricular sheet. On this attached document you will be able to briefly describe her level of expertise and experience. Remember that on a transcript you are limited to course title, grade, and credit earned. If the activity warrants more description, it is probably better to consider it an extracurricular activity rather than an elective.
Whether you use an activity as an elective or extracurricular, it is important to keep records. For an elective course, a course description, number of hours logged or the textbook used, grade given, and credit accrued are all necessary records.
Even though the extracurricular activities do not appear on the transcript, it's important to keep track of them. Parents think they will never forget when Johnny hit that homerun to help his team win the championship and receive the trophy. You won't forget the event, but you may have difficulty remembering who the coach was and dates of participation. Keep a simple time log, note any honors or awards received, and save contact information for coaches, teachers, or supervisors who had oversight of your teen.
These records will come in handy when your teen is completing college applications, applying for scholarships, or preparing a resume for job applications.
Again, please remember that there is no right or wrong way to think of a particular activity. But, in the end, you'll need to make a distinction between calling something an elective or extracurricular activity.
Enjoy the beauty of fall and join us next month as we discuss ways to receive high school credit while becoming physically fit -- just in time for those holiday smorgasbords!
With respect for you diligently teaching your teens,
Becky Cooke and Diane Kummer
HSLDA High School Coordinators
This resource is an article from the Homeschooling Thru Highschool newsletter (10/9/2008), and is provided by the Home School Legal Defense Association as a service to the homeschooling community.