Home » Library » College Activities: Not-So-Incidental Learning

College Activities: Not-So-Incidental Learning

So, you’re in college or off to college soon.

Big question: Are you having fun yet?

If the answer is “no,” what I say is this — get yourself out of the classroom, your nose out of that book, flee the lab, and vacate the library. If you don’t, you’re going to miss out on a large part of your college education. That’s right! The college experience offers a great deal more than scholarship — it also offers countless opportunities to gain confidence and know-how in making things happen.

A long-lost college friend contacted me the other day. She reports that she is now highly successful in college development work: designing and producing an award-winning newsletter and promotional videos, writing and supervising large-scale grants, and planning and executing fundraising events. She loves her work and does it well. “A lot of this stuff,” she confides, “is just my work with the Distinguished Visitors Program and the university concert association ‘grown up.’” My friend was referring to her undergraduate extracurricular activities.

As I thought about it, I realized that, like her, a great many of my college friends are engaged in careers related to what they did in their “free time” while at school. Oddly enough, almost none of them is making a living at jobs related to their undergraduate majors.

Knowing this, I find it ironic that I don’t remember my professors, my parents, or my advisor talking with me about what I did outside of the classroom (except when they thought it was interfering with my grade-point average). The admissions people did stress the sports, cultural activities, clubs, and opportunities for “student life” as part of their marketing strategy. But once I was in school, no one talked with me about how to take advantage of the many enjoyable and rewarding opportunities available. No one helped me to understand that, far from “goofing off,” participating in these activities would ultimately have tremendous value for me personally and professionally.

The activities of campus life are not incidental to the “real” work of college. They are the forum for mastering the organizational and people skills that are requisite to being successful in almost any profession. Campus activities provide practice in working with others to solve problems, meet deadlines, prepare and spend within a budget, make money, make something happen, and make sure that others know about it. And, unlike high school, college-level clubs and activities often have little adult involvement; students have the freedom to test their abilities, to make and learn from mistakes, and to celebrate successes that are indeed all their own.

College Activities: Not-So-Incidental Learning

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2020). College Activities: Not-So-Incidental Learning. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.