Extracurricular activities

Why is this investment worth making? Weighing the cost versus the value of extracurricular activities

Since 2012, At The Core has helped hundreds of students with career exploration and self assessment through our Guided Self Assessment process. To learn about how the service works, parents fill out a form when they book the informational meeting to share a bit about their situation (needs, questions, etc.). A mom who had been referred to us for her high school junior shared this question on her form: “Why is this investment worth making?” What a powerful question! We all have asked this question many times during the challenging years of parenting, and we thought it was very worth exploring, especially as it relates to the cost and potential value of extracurricular activities.

Think of how many times we have asked that question over the years.

Raising a child born in 2022 is estimated to cost $272,049. That estimate does not include higher education. That’s, of course, an average/estimate based on some basic assumptions. Every family has variations in their own expenses and income, and that variability drives the actual amount available for the “extra stuff.” Many families place a high value on trying for admissions at certain colleges and given the competition for those spots, it’s common to seek experiences that can enhance an eventual college application.

But what is really “an investment worth making?”

Every parent of a college-bound student wants them to find success in college – to apply, to get accepted, to successfully complete college, and to transition to the working world.

During the high school years, opportunities will arise that have a price tag on them. And one by one, parents must weigh the potential value.

Common types of investment opportunities that arise include:

  • An extracurricular activity (a season of dance lessons or travel volleyball or, or, or)
  • An academic support (tutoring, ACT/SAT prep)
  • A career exploration activity (perhaps an expensive program on a college campus)
  • College prep activities (essay coaching, application support)
  • Perhaps the biggest expense of them all – college itself

What guidelines can you use to evaluate opportunities?

1) Remember the purpose of extras – it’s how your child chooses to spend their time outside of school. This list of experiences will be part of a college application. Remember that there are many free activities through your child’s school, activities that generate income for your child (aka “work”), and activities that will cost you something.

2) Size up costs completely. Ask others to share their experiences. Unexpected costs for an activity are not welcome! If an organization is new to you, get the details in writing and ask questions to be clear on the details. Remember, just because you got asked to be on an expensive team doesn’t mean you need accept the offer.

3) Size up the value/benefits – as best as you can figure, what are the good things that come to your child from the experience? Be realistic about the potential impact of an extra. We see many families who invest in a sport with the expectation/hope that their child will earn athletic scholarship money, and for most, that just does not ever pan out. We see students who get burned out after years of immersion and don’t want to continue. And, those expensive summer camps on the campus of a prestigious university are not as beneficial on a college application as some expect them to be.

4) Set a reasonable budget for “extras” for a year. If you’re considering an extra that involves travel, consider the impact on the whole family. Do younger children want to tag along? Will the travel expenses for the family to be able to attend the events put the extra out of reach?

5) Don’t forget the real reasons why your student is heading to college – “to get a better job.” Be sure to balance out a heavy dance or baseball schedule with something related to career exploration and thinking.

6) Evaluate year to year – does my child want to continue this extra thing? Were the benefits we anticipated actually realized last year? Can it fit our family budget for next year? Are there other opportunities that are better to try at this time?

7) Seek balance – both financially and mentally (for the time commitment required). There are so many choices that one can get overwhelmed, overscheduled, and ultimately unhappy with the realities of the situation. If you’re experiencing this, regroup and rethink how to find your family footing again.

Back to that mom who asked the important question, “Why is this investment worth making?”

She wanted to know if their investment in Guided Self Assessment for her child would be worth it. We were able to share the words of others before her who’ve stated empathically that it is certainly worth it.

Why? The purpose of Guided Self Assessment is to provide a student with a thinking partner who will ask probing questions to support the student’s deeper thinking about their interests, skills, values, etc. The student will take possession of this new knowledge, and we’ll then introduce them to potential careers and support them to take those first steps researching careers.

The value of this thinking, exploration, and learning lasts a lifetime. We all need these skills throughout our adult lives! Our students get this early leg up on the process, and they will come back to this thinking they did in Guided Self Assessment again and again.

After all, students tell us that the real reason they’re going to college is to get a better job, and that’s so much easier when the student has an idea of what those potential jobs could look like and how to continue to evaluate their options.

When viewed through the lens of the long-term benefit provided, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have such a trusted partner to walk alongside your student and develop an understanding of their strengths has immense value.

And that mom? Turns out, her family decided the answer was “yes.” If you recognize your student needs a hand with self assessment, career thinking, and college major exploration, take a moment right now to book a free 30-minute meeting with us to find out more about Guided Self Assessment. It’s an investment that hundreds of families have chosen to make!

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