This study answered novel questions about the connection between high school extracurricular dosage (number of activities and participation duration) and the attainment of a bachelor’s degree. Using data from the Common Application and the National Student Clearinghouse (N = 311,308), we found that greater extracurricular participation positively predicted bachelor’s degree attainment. However, among students who ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree, participating in more than a moderate number of high school activities (3 or 4) predicted decreasing odds of earning a bachelor’s degree on time (within 4 years). This effect intensified as participation duration increased, such that students who participated in the greatest number of high school activities for the most years were the most likely to delay college graduation.
tags: college success
Previous experiments have shown that college students benefit when they understand that challenges in the transition to college are common and improvable and, thus, that early struggles need not portend a permanent lack of belonging or potential. Could such an approach—called a lay theory intervention—be effective before college matriculation? The lay theory interventions raised first-year full-time college enrollment among students from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds exiting a high-performing charter high school network or entering a public flagship university (experiments 1 and 2) and, at a selective private university, raised disadvantaged students’ cumulative first-year grade point average (experiment 3). These gains correspond to 31–40% reductions of the raw (unadjusted) institutional achievement gaps between students from disadvantaged and nondisadvantaged backgrounds at those institutions. Further, follow-up surveys suggest that the interventions improved disadvantaged students’ overall college experiences, promoting use of student support services and the development of friendship networks and mentor relationships.