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Fall is a time for many new experiences as new students move onto campus for the very first time. While it’s a time for firsts, fall is also a time for new beginnings. At the start of the new academic year, returning students have the opportunity to start the semester with a clean slate. Whether you are a new or returning student, the air is abuzz with exciting new opportunities. Now might be the time to reconsider your study habits, commit to a workout routine, or simply plan how you’ll get to class. Since the fall semester is full of opportunities, students should take advantage of this time to consider finding other interests outside of class to get the most out of their college experience.

Morgen Snowadzky, acting assistant director of student organizations and administration at Virginia Tech, describes some of the benefits of finding other interests outside of class.

“Most people who come to college are looking to learn skills so they can find a job after college, but engaging in interests beyond our academics can help us be a whole holistic person” , said Snowadzky.

It’s no secret that college can be overwhelming. At the start of the semester, it can be easy to get caught up in the endless cycle of homework, deadlines, and exams. If a student spends most of their time on classwork, it can be difficult to find time to prioritize. This is especially true for new students who have not yet experienced the rigors of college courses. However, what students need to remember is that prioritizing their well-being is just as important to success as schoolwork.

“There is also a very clear academic benefit to getting involved in things outside of the classroom, so we know that students learn best when they are able to talk about their academics outside of the classroom. (in a) more informal way,” Snowadzky said.

Extracurricular activities and hobbies can help break up the monotony of college life and allow students to take a well-deserved break from class. A study conducted by the University of British Columbia suggests that extracurricular activities have a positive effect on mental health, leading to lower levels of depression and anxiety. The same study also found that students who participate in extracurricular activities show higher levels of life satisfaction.

Mental health is integral to our quality of life – college students are no exception. Because mental health directly correlated academic performance, students who engage in extracurricular activities and other hobbies can see results both inside and outside the classroom. Therefore, it is important for students to step away from their laptops, take a break from their lessons, and cultivate other interests.

“There are positive mental health benefits to being part of an organization,” Snowadzky said. “There’s research that not only shows that it’s helpful to have a social network so people can support you when you’re navigating difficult things or celebrate you when you accomplish things, but provide social support to people also has great benefits.

Extracurricular activities and hobbies are also a great way to meet new people. New students may arrive on campus with very few, if any, friends. The same can be said of returning students. Following COVID-19 restrictions, returning students may not have had many opportunities to make friends in their previous years on campus. These students, who may be looking for ways to meet new people, should look no further than extracurricular activities. Clubs and student-run organizations allow people to bond around common interests and make new friendships. Whether students work together on an intramural football team or make up an arrangement with their acapella group, extracurricular activities allow them to find a core group of friends with similar interests. These friendships can then be passed on throughout college and help create a greater sense of community on campus.

“Students who are engaged and connected feel a stronger sense of connection to the institution by being involved in (organizations) and are more likely to persist through graduation and graduate within five years,” Snowadzky said. “Being at Virginia Tech, you need the next step of ‘what is Virginia Tech to me’ and not just ‘what is Virginia Tech as a whole.’ It kind of makes our very large campus community feel a bit more manageable to connect with as well.

While extracurricular activities help forge friendships, they also provide the perfect excuse to try something new. College is a time to step out of comfort zones and embrace change. A great way for students to do this is to foster different interests and try an activity they may not have considered before.

“Developing a new skill with other people who are also at different stages of learning can be something anyone can get into,” Snowadzky said.

When I was a freshman, I was interested in writing and was looking for ways to fuel that passion without committing to it as a major. I was passionate about increasing women’s participation in STEM and wanted to use my writing as a platform to highlight the issue. My writing had never been published before, so I decided to join the Collegiate Times. About a month later, I had my first piece featured on the website. It was daunting to try something new and make my writings available to the public. However, it was one of the most enriching experiences because I was able to turn my passion for a subject into a CT position.

This semester, students may find themselves in similar situations – wanting to try something new but fearful of the unknown. Getting involved in extracurricular activities can be scary, but it’s also worth it. Without realizing it, students may find a new interest that stays with them throughout their lives. It can become a safe space – a resource to turn to when life seems overwhelming.

However, some students may not wish to join a student organization, and there are many other opportunities on campus for those still looking to get involved.

“There are so many other ways for students to feel that sense of connection and contribution to campus. Some other examples beyond our student organizations: many of our departments have leadership opportunities, think about orientation team members, consider becoming a college ambassador. Many of these opportunities are great places to get involved and connect with other people,” Snowazdky said.

There is so much more to the college experience than academics. This semester, students should consider finding those other interests to fully immerse themselves in all that college has to offer. With approximately 850 recognized student organizations, Virginia Tech is so unique in the amount of resources available to students looking to get involved in different clubs and activities. This year, Hokies can expect to get involved in the community with Gobblerfest and other events throughout the semester, such as GobblerFair and Hokie Shuffle. Regardless of what they may choose, extracurricular activities and hobbies have many benefits that students should take advantage of this year. The benefits can be seen in all aspects of life – not just academics.