February 8, 2018

College Students: Move Beyond the Classroom to Make an Impact on Employers


If you’re in your senior year of college, you’re probably thinking about your post-graduation job opportunities. While your professors may not admit it, your GPA doesn’t matter to your future career nearly as much as you might think.

Extracurricular Activities and the Well-Rounded Student

Back in in high school, guidance counselors and college admissions officers were constantly talking about your GPA. In order to be a competitive college applicant, they said, you needed a very specific grade point average – and they were right! Your grades played a major role in your admission to – or rejection from – a university.

These same counselors and admissions folks likely told you to participate in extracurricular activities to make your application even more attractive. This time around, as you prepare to line up a job after graduation, your extracurricular involvement in groups and activities outside of the classroom might actually have more of an impact on your attractiveness as a candidate than your grades do.

Employers simply don’t view classroom GPA as a good indicator of whether or not you will be successful in a specific job. They want to see that you have the real-world skills and  personality traits required by the role.

Ayaat Dahleh, a second-year student in the Doctor of Philosophy in Integrated Biomedical Sciences program at Rush University’s Graduate College, is a great example of a student who has made the most of her time in school. Dahleh is involved in a number of school organizations and groups, each of which has taught her things that can’t be learned from textbooks and exam prep.

“By being involved, I see new faces and hear different opinions, which is very rewarding and a growing experience,” Dahleh said in a profile on the Rush University website. “I told myself before I came to Rush that I was here for the degree but also here to grow as a person. Engaging in these activities is how I choose to grow.”

Understanding the Full Value of Extracurricular Involvement

Extracurricular activities do three things for you. First, they help you gain experience in specific areas you may want to pursue professionally after graduation.

“For example, if you think a career in finance is in your future, then serving as treasurer of an organization or club, no matter what the nature of the group, can be a real boon to your resume,” Michelle Tullier writes for Monster. “Similarly, handling the publicity for an event can get you one step closer to a career in advertising or public relations.”

Second, extracurriculars show future employers that you’re an ambitious self-starter who isn’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get dirty. While all of your peers were out drinking away their weekends, you were disciplined and focused.

Finally, extracurriculars help you build connections. Getting an internship with a company doesn’t just give you something to put on a resume – it could very well directly lead to a full-time job opportunity after graduation.

How to Get Involved

If you’re nearing graduation and have yet to move your focus past the classroom, it’s time for you to change that. Chances are you have plenty of clubs to choose from, no matter the size of your school. Larger schools may even host club fairs or publish handbooks containing information on all of the different on-campus organizations. Do your research, attend meetings of groups in which you might be interested, and go from there.

As a rule of thumb, employers value quality over quantity. It’s much better to devote a lot of time and energy to one club, working your way up into a leadership role, than it is to join six different groups and fail to make an impact in any of them.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in tech, social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Larry is an independent business consultant specializing in tech, social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter (@LarryAlton3) and LinkedIn.