College and Student Debt: Part Two: Extra-Curricular Activities

by Nathan on December 10, 2011

As we discussed in Part One, the major you choose will greatly impact your ability to pay off your student loans when you graduate college. The conclusion we reached was that the process for selecting a major was ultimately a trade-off between two competing needs: that to pay off your debt after graduation and that of an education that will set the foundation for a lifetime of learning. And the best option was, if possible, to double major in 1. A science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) or business discipline and 2. A liberal art such as history or English.


In Part Two we will address what you can do while on campus that is non-work related that will best position you for a job from which you can pay off your debt.

Some of my fondest memories and best-spent time when I was on campus were from my extra-curricular activities (ECs), meaning clubs, sports teams, etc. Within my major I was heavily involved in the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) and a teaching assistant; I was in the student government and on the campus appeals board, and a member of a fraternity.

To some people, these activities are fluff for a resume or time taken away from studying. And those claims aren’t wholly untrue. However, the possible experiences you can take away from your ECs – if you take advantage of them properly – give them a tremendous potential for your personal growth and ability to get a lucrative job after graduation (and thus pay off your debt). The benefits of ECs can be broken into two categories: 1. Network and 2. Skills.

1.      Make friends and grow a network

When you’re in a club of whatever stripe, you are immediately and continuously exposed to new people, with whom you make friends and you build a network. (Note: The term ‘network’ can a slimy connotation to it. Some people like collecting business cards and are perfectly fine only making a shallow-enough connection with someone so they can call on them for something they want, such as a job. I personally like building genuine relationships with people based on friendship, learning and mutual benefit. This often doesn’t make me the best person at a networking event, but I at least feel genuine about myself.)

Many of my best friends were made during my time spent in the ECs I was involved in. In fact, looking back, I would say almost all of the people that I call my close friends I was associated with in one way or another through an EC activity.

Of course, having a lot of friends doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get a good job. But it does present you with more opportunities to find a job than if you hadn’t joined an EC and thus knew less people. I, for instance, became close friends with a guy that I was in IIE with. Before serving on the board together, I never knew him or recognized him in any of my classes. But over a year or so, we developed a friendship. And it was through him that I learned about an internship opportunity with the company that he had worked for the following two summers (he was moving on to a full-time position elsewhere). I had interviewed with that company before, but hadn’t had any luck getting an offer. However, I gave him my resume, he sent it on to his manager from the previous summer, and I got an interview with her shortly thereafter. My friend vouched for me and, through my resume and successful interview, I got the job. Now this isn’t to say that I got the job just because my friend plopped my resume in front of his old boss and told her I was a good guy. What it means is that through a friend that I met through an EC, I heard about an offshoot internship opportunity that was available only outside of the normal channels of attaining internships. And it was through this internship – the experiences and training I garnered – that I landed my first job right out of college.

Through an EC activity, you not only develop friendships with people through whom you can potentially find a job, but you can also make business contacts. These business contacts are representatives of a public, private, or non-profit organization and are in a position to give you a job.

When I eventually became president of IIE, I had tremendous opportunities to meet with representatives from various companies and firms. IIE held almost weekly events where recruiters or hiring managers would come on campus to present about their company, discuss various internship or full-time opportunities, and accept resumes. These events were open to any industrial engineering major, but as a member of the club, particularly as an officer, you were a point of contract for the company, which allowed you to cultivate a relationship with them behind the scenes.

Even if the club of your major isn’t your thing, there are other ways to meet such representatives. Let’s say you’re an English major but are interested in journalism. Volunteering or working for your student newspaper is a way to get your articles and writing out into the general public. Local newspapers or newspapers within proximity to your college often scan student newspapers for talent. A friend of mine, who was a business major, was interested in all things sports. So he joined the student newspaper as a sports writer and eventually got promoted to be the sports section editor. After school he went on to be a writer from a small AA sports team. And in another instance, a different friend sold advertisements for the same school newspaper, got promoted to advertising manager, and after school worked for an advertising firm, all because he had that experience.

Through your ECs you will have the opportunity to meet many people – whether friends or business contacts – that can directly or indirectly help you get a job.

2.      Develop additional skills

Being actively involved in ECs will also give you the chance to build skills that you won’t necessarily have the opportunity to learn in the classroom. (Sure, some classes teach some of the skills you’d learn in an EC, such as teamwork. But it doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t keep on developing those skills). Thought of another way, what you’re doing – by participating in an EC – is using time outside of class that you might have wasted (i.e., playing video games, watching t.v., playing on facebook) to grow and develop other aspects of yourself. So instead of wasting time you’re using your time for personal growth.

Being said, the skills that you will particularly learn in an EC, aside from learning whatever that EC specifically does (such as basketball skills while on the basketball team), are largely organizational. Meaning, you’re learning how to work in an organization. This can come in many forms.

  • Project management: You can learn how to manage the entire lifecycle of some sort of project, let’s say hosting an event on alternative energy. You come up with the idea, write out a plan on how to do it, convincing other people in your club it’s a good idea to do the event, set deadlines and secure funding for the event, and finally host the event on alternative energy.
  • Leadership: It is arguable whether leadership is inherent or can be learned. In any case, an EC can serve as great practice in developing your skills as a leader. By serving as the leader of an EC, you can set the vision for your organization (let’s say again the alternative energy club), come up with goals on how to accomplish that vision, inspire everyone in the club to join in, and include other people in executing your vision and thereby help them develop their own skills.
  • People skills: By this I mean learning how to work with people. Human beings are sensitive creatures with strong emotions and self-interests that might not be in line with your interests. It’s a fact of human nature. So learning how to successfully maneuver in an environment where you need harmony among people, a job after college is one such environment, is very important. One time when I was president of IIE, I accidentally forgot to put someone’s picture on our website (we had individual profiles). This guy thought I did it deliberately and took my error personally. At first I was very offended that he thought I had a beef with him, which I certainly did not, but luckily I slept on his initial email, replied nicely and apologetically, and fixed the problem immediately. Also to note, during my internship, my boss taught me about email etiquette, which is so important in the workplace this day and age. Like I said before, when in doubt, don’t press the send button.
  • Etc. There are countless other life skills that you can learn in an EC.

What you’re doing is practicing the skills you’ll need for the job market. By participating in an EC or two, hopefully in a leadership capacity, you’re demonstrating to the job market that you’re ahead of the curve: you’re a leader among your peers, savvy with etiquette, and can get things done. And businesses care about these things. (Granted, some businesses only care about GPA.) Another one of my friends spent most of his EC time working on various automotive-related things and, despite a low GPA, landed one of the best jobs on-campus for a top automobile company. He told me it was all because of his ECs.


In short, don’t waste your time outside of the classroom. Take on a few ECs where you will meet a lot of people, make friends, and grow a network. And especially do things where you can learn skills that you won’t necessarily in class. All of these things will make you much more marketable when the time comes to find a good job where you can pay back your loan debt.

For third and final part of this series, we will discuss the role of work experience during college in helping you find a job where you can begin to pay back your debt. I promise that I will get this last essay out much sooner than part two!

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