Survey shows extracurricular participation affects academic performance

January 10, 2020

Participation in extracurricular activities is among the top five factors that affect individual academic performance at Brandeis, a survey conducted through the American College Health Association (ACHA) in fall 2018 found.

Leah Berkenwald ’07, the Wellness Program Manager for the Health and Wellness Promotion (HAWP), told The Hoot that she was not surprised that “participation in extracurricular activities” was in the top five factors affecting academic performance at Brandeis. 

“I’ve worked at a handful of schools and I’ve never seen it [participation in extracurricular activities] in the top five before,” Berkenwald explained. “And I think it speaks to the culture at Brandeis. While we believe in the value of extracurricular involvement, we need to figure out how to balance it with our well-being… I do see how seriously students take their extracurricular responsibilities and while I admire that, I wish they didn’t put so much pressure on themselves.”

The national survey data showed that the top five factors impacting individual academic performance in fall 2018 were: stress (34.1 percent), anxiety (27.4 percent), sleep difficulties (22.1 percent), depression (18.2 percent) and cold/flu/sore throat (14.4 percent). The Brandeis-specific data found that the top factors in fall 2018 were: stress (35.6 percent), anxiety (27.4 percent), sleep difficulties (22.3 percent), depression (17.6 percent) and participation in extracurricular activities (15.8 percent). Participation in extracurricular activities ranked eighth in the national data, while cold/flu/sore throat ranked sixth for Brandeis-specific data. 

Since 2014, the percentage of students reporting “participation in extracurricular activities” as a factor of stress has gone down steadily at Brandeis. In 2014, 22.7 percent of students at Brandeis that completed the survey marked “participation in extracurricular activities” as an academic stressor. It was the fourth highest factor that year. 

In 2016, “participation in extracurricular activities” was also the fourth highest factor, with 18.4 percent of students checking the box. 

The survey, the National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA), is conducted every semester to member institutions across the country. The university has conducted the ACHA-NCHA surveys on campus since fall 2014, completing it every other year, with the most recent survey conducted in fall 2018. 

As part of the survey, students had the opportunity to report on which factors affected their individual academic performance in school. The survey defines this as “receiv[ing] a lower grade on an exam, or an important project; receiv[ing] a lower grade in the course; receiv[ing] an incomplete or dropp[ing] the course; or experienc[ing] a significant disruption in thesis, dissertation, research, or practicum work,” according to the survey results. Students were given a list of 31 different factors and were asked to select all that applied to them. 

Berkenwald told The Brandeis Hoot in an interview that she was not on campus when the university decided to start participating in the survey, but noted that a lot of schools in New England also partake.

“It is a great way to track trends over time and do benchmarking against the national averages,” Berkenwald said.

The ACHA is an organization that has served as the voice for student health and wellness since 1920, according to its website. “Through advocacy, research and education, ACHA stands at the forefront of issues that impact the health and wellness of our college students,” it states. There are over one thousand institutions of higher education that are part of the ACHA, totalling over 10 million college students reached. 

“The ACHA-NCHA is a nationally recognized research survey that can assist you in collecting precise data about your students’ health habits, behaviors, and perceptions,” according to its website. The survey asks questions on a wide range of health issues including: alcohol, tobacco, drug use, sexual health, weight, nutrition, mental health and personal safety and violence. The ACHA-NCHA is currently on its second iteration.

This is the first part in a series analyzing data from the ACHA-NCHA survey.

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