If you’re reading this blog then no doubt you’re aware of the many benefits extra-curricular involvement can bring to your undergraduate studies. The University of Toronto offers numerous opportunities for involvement, at all levels of the institution, spanning all categories of interest and activity — social, academic, athletic, etc. Extra-curricular involvement undoubtedly enhances your undergraduate experience as it allows you to not only partake in activities which you enjoy, but introduces you to individuals who also enjoy the activity you enjoy. Extra-curricular involvement builds community, teaches you life-long skills, and, perhaps most importantly, is fun.
However, while extra-curricular involvement is something I think every student should engage in (in some capacity, anyway), I would advise that students be mindful of the sheer amount of extra-curricular activities they partake in. I simply know of too many students who are stressed out about the sheer number of things they have to on top of the regular work associated with being a student at one of the top universities in the world (not to mention other non-school related commitments that you may be caught up in; be it family, work, a significant other, etc.). These students end up regretting their involvement and look at their non-academic work with disdain.
To be clear, I’m not saying students should purposefully limit themselves. If you feel that you can adequately balance high involvement with the rest of the stuff that is going on in your life then I say go for it; all the power to you! But I know I’m not like this, as much as I wish I was. Everyone has different priorities of what is important to them and everyone handles different things differently (go figure). If the amount of involvement you engage in is hampering your overall quality of life then maybe it’s time to reassess what you’re doing and re-evaluate what you want to get out of your undergraduate experience. Extracurricular involvement is fun, definitely worthwhile and rewarding, sure, but if it begins to seriously affect your grades or your mental well-being then it’s up to you to determine what is ultimately best for you.
I know all this may be easier said than done. Students who get involved and continue to take on more and more extracurricular activities do so precisely because they find it enjoyable and rewarding as I’ve explained above. However, many students may fail to anticipate the sheer amount of work that comes with certain types of involvement. Students need to remember that they are students first and they shouldn’t feel guilty if they have to withdraw from one of their extra-curricular activities in order to focus on their studies.
There is, however, an ideal time for students to take some risks and dabble with the limits of their involvement. The ideal time for this is in a student’s second year of study. First-years should definitely get involved in some capacity, but I understand that you may still be ‘learning the ropes’ of what undergraduate studies entails. Upper year students may want to be careful of overburdening themselves with non-academic related things as you will want to do the best you can academically in your final years — especially if you have plans for future study at the post-graduate level. Second-years, you are in that ideal ‘sweet spot’ of involvement: familiar with what university life is like but not under threat of graduating or achieving a pristine Grad School worthy GPA. If you’re a second-year student reading this (or if you will be next year) now is the time to do it all! Experience all that the university has to offer now, as it’ll allow you to better refine your extracurricular endeavours in your later years of study.