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College Activities: Not-So-Incidental Learning

Knowing First-Hand

My husband and I freely admit that we spent as much time on campus activities as we did in our respective majors. And both of us feel strongly that we use the skills we learned in those activities almost every day.

I met the friend quoted at the beginning of this article when we both served in the school concert association. Our little group had full responsibility for bringing famous musicians and performing artists to campus. We negotiated the contracts, managed the budget, arranged the schedule, worked with the tech people to set the stage, did the publicity, designed and published the programs, and hosted the performer for six to eight events each year.

I’ve been managing human services agencies for years. My three advanced degrees in education and psychology taught me what I needed to know to be a teacher and psychologist, but they offered nothing in the way of management skills. The basis for my self-confidence and skill as a manager (the other half of what I do) lies squarely in my experiences with those undergraduate concerts.

My husband was active in student government. When he was in school, the student senate not only argued for issues of student policy but also organized, distributed, and monitored a multimillion-dollar budget generated by student fees to support the various campus student organizations. Student senators learned about the politics of negotiation, became fluent in Robert’s Rules of Order, served on subcommittees, developed a working knowledge of constitutional law, and gained an intuitive understanding of legislative process.

My husband’s degree in forestry does not contribute to his daily work as an expert in electrical code or to his involvement in town government. But his days as a student senator laid important groundwork for his current expertise and political knowhow.

Join the Fun!

Involvement in campus activities is the other piece (maybe even the more important piece) of your college education. If you can find something to do that is an extension of your academic work, so much the better! But putting on a show, participating in student government, publishing the student newspaper, staging a protest, or managing a team all require you to stretch your skills in organizing people, ideas, time, money, and material.

It almost doesn’t matter what activity you choose. It matters a great deal that you choose something that takes you out of the books, out of your head, and into the world of doing. It matters a great deal that you jump in and find the competence and confidence that comes from being really involved in something. It matters a great deal that you discover the excitement and joy that comes from making something happen.

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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 August 6, 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.