This article was originally published on It has been republished here with permission.

While instructing college preparation courses, parents sometimes ask if their children should participate in high school extracurricular activities. They wonder if high school teams and clubs are still beneficial for college readiness and life skills. Parents ask this because they are aware of the increased competition for college admission and a good job. Parents point to the reality that only a small percentage of those with a college degree earn the "big money" or obtain the "dream job." They often wonder if the time invested in extracurricular activities would be better spent studying. Parents phrase the question in multiple ways, "How do the elite think about education and how does it differ from the average person?" "Why do average people get the same degree, but land in lower paying jobs than the elite?" In reality parents are asking how to best prepare their children to be successful in college, their career and personal life.

To answer the question, I draw from my own experiences as well as the experiences of the many successful individuals I have interviewed. However, before we can answer this question, we must realize that education is so much more than just obtaining knowledge from books.

The secret to academic success? Hard Work

Education is a term that has many facets, definitions and names. They include the school of hard knocks, street smarts, experience, degree, diploma, certification, common sense, social norms and many more. All of these types of education are important. However, a parent who enables their child to be among the elite in college starts with a focus on one specific facet before the student ever applies to a college. That facet of education can be summed up in two words: HARD WORK.

Hard Work is a fundamental piece of being educated. Yet, understanding how to help your child internalize this facet of hard work is often unknowingly overlooked. Concerned parents may wonder how to focus their children's efforts and help them internalize the value of working hard. One major way is to encourage extracurricular activities in high school.

Learning extends beyond the classroom

Every successful adult interviewed had one common experience. They participated in a competitive team or club. Their parents saw the benefit of encouraging their child to find and dedicate himself to a high school activity, club or team. These successful parents then used the opportunity to reinforce the many lessons that were associated with these activities. Children were generally allowed to choose the desired activity while concurrently the parents, with the child, defined the expectation that the child would meet to balance life with the activity. Children were expected to balance school work, competing on the team and completing chores at home, all before screen time or going out with friends. This was crucial because the child learned that success demanded hard work and some personal sacrifice. Among the things both parents and students learned was how much effort success demanded. They also realized how priorities needed to be set and how to be a team member while still maintaining family, job and social life. Finally, the most important lesson the child learned was to sacrifice their immediate comforts in order to enjoy the lasting rewards of success.

Or, there's always the easy route..

Contrast this to the parents of the average student. Their child often joined a club, but the emphasis to balance life was not stressed. Sometimes the student was allowed to quit when it got tough. Other times, success in the club was the only focus, and the rest of the student's life was neglected. This sadly sent a message to their child that you can succeed without having to balance life, work hard, endure discomfort and sacrifice now to build a better future. Unfortunately, this sets the student up to learn these tough lessons when there is more at stake in their adult lives.

To be a winner - get in the game

Competition and the need for hard work will always be a part of life. Learning to work hard, adapt and overcome failures will be necessary for success at all levels. Using extracurricular high school activities that encourage competition and hard work remain a viable way for the effective parent to help their child internalize these facets of education. Moreover, this is a rare chance for someone other than the parent to reinforce the lessons of hard work, sacrifice, teamwork, balancing life and social skills. Teenagers often accept and internalize these lessons when they are expressed and reinforced by someone other than their parent.

To answer the first question of how to best prepare your child to be successful in college, extracurricular high school activities continue to be an important facet of education utilized by elite families. In conclusion, anyone wanting their child to be successful in all facets of life should consider encouraging them to be part of an extracurricular high school activity. Any team or club that demands hard work and accountability will give this training.

BE ELITE! Will your activity be band, sports, academic or something else?

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