Better than a Bachelor’s

Why extracurricular activities might be your biggest asset when you look for work

Conners cites her work with MUSE Magazine as some of her best experience when it comes to the workforce.
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One of my bosses told me this summer that she once got a job because of her experience planting trees.

The job was business related, prestigious and had absolutely nothing to do with trees or planting, but her interviewer shared her interest.

So they talked about tree planting during the interview. And then they talked a bit about the job that she was interviewing for. And then she got hired. Maybe her employer was biased towards tree planters, maybe she just got lucky. Either way, she attributed tree planting, of all things, to landing her the job.

Similar to my boss’ experience, many students will have their extracurricular activities to thank for postgraduate employment — more so than their degree.

As a long-time executive member of MUSE Magazine at Queen’s and advocate for extracurricular involvement, I thought about how extracurricular activities change the way students value their university experience.

Here was a successful woman who found professional value in a personal interest. Yes, my boss was highly educated and qualified for the position. It would be wrong to say that tree planting was the direct cause of her being hired. But there’s no doubt that it played a role in the success of her interview.

It’s only one example, but it’s proof that success in a career isn’t predetermined by academic accomplishments. For university students, what goes on outside the classroom is equally, if not more, important than what goes on inside the classroom, especially when it comes to finding employment post-graduation.

There’s no doubt that obtaining a degree is important, for both personal and professional purposes. But extracurricular activities should never take a backseat to academics. At the very least, the two should be viewed as equal.

Our generation is being faced with two truths: one, more and more degrees are being handed out to young Canadian adults than ever before. Two, the job market is exceptionally difficult right now.

Being a highly educated, degree-wielding adult is becoming commonplace, yet employment for recent grads armed with only a bachelor’s degree is becoming increasingly rare.

This is a difficult concept for students to accept — and rightly so. Many of us are used to speaking about our university experience strictly in terms of academics and projected career paths. A desire for a successful career is one of the first reasons students pursue post-secondary education in the first place.

However, a degree — that piece of paper that’s supposed to qualify us for a spot in the “real world”— may not actually be the definitive key to professional success.

Extracurricular involvement is incredible for both personal and social reasons, but it’s also a learning tool in its own right — one that should be utilized by all students.

There’s exceptional value in diversity and well-roundedness. I don’t know a thing about tree planting, but when my boss shared her background with me, she immediately piqued my interest. I wanted to know more about her, and her experiences.

Judging by my own reaction, I could understand how her mixed-bag resume would impress an employer, and separate her from the vast sea of qualified candidates. From these experiences, she seemed insightful, curious and engaged in the world around her.

For those who pursue more general degrees, extracurricular involvement also plays a role in resume building. They provide exposure to a professional environment, and an opportunity to develop critical social and working skills.

According to a study by Active Learning in Higher Education, published in 2011: extracurricular activities distinguish graduates in the job market and are useful in demonstrating key skills and competencies desired by employers.

Obtaining a degree shows employers that an individual is disciplined, hardworking and committed, but not that someone will be a standout employee. Those who stand out possess all of the aforementioned skills, but are also socially adept, confident and demonstrate leadership, communication, teamwork and problem solving skills.

These are all skills that develop naturally in an extracurricular environment. Most of my “real life” skills have developed through my involvement with MUSE Magazine and benefited me personally and professionally. Having this extracurricular experience on my resume immediately breaks the ice with employers, and I find myself at ease discussing my passion with them.

Academic studies should only encompass half of one’s education at university. The rest should be dedicated to learning outside of the classroom, in the various fields of interest that may not be accessible to students in an academic setting.

Queen’s doesn’t have a journalism program, for example, so my interest in journalism prompted me to become involved with MUSE Magazine, while also studying English Language and Literature.

Extracurricular involvement exists at universities to provide students with an opportunity to discover their passions, build upon their interests and grow into well-rounded, enriched individuals. Failing to become involved in an extracurricular activity is a disservice to both your university experience and your own education.

Like many things in life, university is what you make of it. The value of an education depends on how much initiative is taken.

There’s no limit to learning at university. When receiving a diploma on graduation day, students should walk off the stage feeling as though they are carrying much more than a degree.

Abigail Conners is editor-in-chief at MUSE Magazine and a fourth-year English major.

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