Extracurricular activities for social engagement

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Disparity Rating  
Disparity rating: Inconclusive impact on disparities

Strategies with this rating do not have enough evidence to assess potential impact on disparities.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

Extracurricular activities include any organized social, art, or physical activities for school-aged youth that occur during out-of-school time, usually before- or after-school or during the summer. Extracurricular activities can be offered through school, community, or religious organizations. Examples include clubs, school newspapers, music groups, student councils, debate teams, theater, volunteering programs, sports, and youth groups; programs sometimes include academic components.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased self-esteem

  • Improved youth behavior

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Increased self-confidence

  • Improved social skills

  • Improved social networks

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is strong evidence that extracurricular activities increase self-esteem and positive social behaviors among children and adolescents1, 2, 3. Extracurricular activities are also a suggested strategy to increase social support systems, develop social skills and relationships, and enhance neighborhood cohesion4, 5. There are a variety of these types of activities and programs, however, and some are more effective than others6.

Creative extracurricular activities such as music, dance, drama, and visual arts can increase participants’ self-confidence, self-esteem, and positive behaviors7. After-school activities appear to improve school belonging, motivation, and academic achievement among immigrant high school students8. Additionally, developing friendships through school-based after school extracurricular activities is linked to school belonging and positive academic achievement9. Elementary school students appear to have greater social engagement benefits when they are highly engaged in after school programming than when they are less engaged10.

Extracurricular activities with academic components can modestly improve grades, test scores, and academic proficiency along with social benefits1, 2, 6, 10, 11, 12. Some studies indicate that participation in extracurricular activities may decrease problem behaviors such as substance use, risky sexual activity, and delinquency1, 6, 12, 13, while others suggest no effect on such behaviors14, 15.

Students’ attendance at extracurricular activities may be enhanced by supportive environments, age-appropriate structures, positive relationships between participants and staff, and diverse activities that foster child development and engage participants. These characteristics can also improve student outcomes16, 17, 18. Barriers to recruitment, attendance, and quality implementation of extracurricular activities include scheduling conflicts, lack of parental support, and lack of space19.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated inconclusive impact on disparities.

It is unclear what impact extracurricular activities for social engagement can have on disparities in social engagement and skills among school-aged children and adolescents.

School-aged children and adolescents do not have the same opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities for social engagement. Participation in extracurricular activities is low among youth experiencing disadvantages, especially non-Hispanic Black13 and Hispanic students25. Youth from disadvantaged backgrounds and youth from racial and ethnic minority groups may benefit more from participating in extracurricular activities than white youth26. After-school activities appear to improve school belonging, motivation, and academic achievement among high school students that identify as immigrants8.

What is the relevant historical background?

After-school programs were introduced in the latter part of the nineteenth century after restrictions in child labor laws were enacted. As children exited the labor force, subsequent education laws passed in the late 1800s increased formal educational expectations which led to children spending more time at school27. Other changes in the labor force, such as the growing number of women working outside of the home, also impacted the demand for after-school programs. After-school programs bridged the gap between the end of the school day and the end of the workday to ensure that children were being cared for27.

Since the 1990s, after-school activities have gotten considerable attention. Research has indicated the benefits children see when participating in after-school programs and extracurricular activities. Extracurricular activities help expose school-age children and adolescents to different learning environments and can engage children in social and emotional growth28. Many funding opportunities have been created to increase implementation of such programs27.

Equity Considerations
  • Do the schools in your community offer extracurricular activities for social engagement? If not, how can you facilitate the implementation of such activities? Are there extracurricular activities that you could incorporate a social engagement component to?
  • Who is participating in extracurricular activities for social engagement in your community? What barriers are there that may prevent school-age children and adolescents from participating?
  • What organizations in your community could you partner with to provide extracurricular activities for social engagement?
Implementation Examples

Examples of extracurricular programs include Triple Play, offered at over 4,000 Boys and Girls Clubs across the country20; Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program, offered in 1,500 clubs in rural, urban, and suburban settings in 32 states and Washington, D.C.21; 4-H Afterschool, nationally implemented through public universities and Cooperative Extension (4-H); After-School All-Stars, serving low income and at-risk youth in 12 states22; and WINGS, providing social and emotional learning programs in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia23.

California’s Proposition 49, the After School Education and Safety Program Act of 2002, expanded after-school programs and extracurricular activities to benefit children; sports to increase physical fitness, tutoring to improve academic performance, and youth development programs to enhance social skills and responsible behavior24.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

ASA - Afterschool Alliance (ASA). Keep kids safe and inspire them to learn.

CSPV-Elliott 2002 - Elliott DS, Grady JM, Shaw TE, Aultman-Bettridge T, Beaulieu MT. Safe communities ~ Safe schools guide to effective program selection: A tool for community violence prevention efforts. Boulder: Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (CSPV); 2002.

IES WWC-Beckett 2009 - Beckett M, Borman G, Capizzano J, et al. Structuring out-of-school time to improve academic achievement. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), U.S. Department of Education (U.S. ED); NCEE 2009-012.

HOST-PA - Healthy Out-of-School Time (HOST) Coalition. Resources: Physical activity (PA).


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1 Durlak 2010 - Durlak JA, Weissberg RP, Pachan M. A meta-analysis of after-school programs that seek to promote personal and social skills in children and adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology. 2010;45(3-4):294–309.

2 HFRP-Little 2008 - Little PMD, Wimer C, Weiss HB. After school programs in the 21st century: Their potential and what it takes to achieve it. Cambridge: Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP); 2008: Brief Number 10.

3 YG-Afterschool - Youth.gov (YG), Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs (IWGYP). Afterschool programs.

4 CG-Anderson 2003a - Anderson LM, Scrimshaw SC, Fullilove MT, Fielding JE, Task Force on Community Preventive Services. The Community Guide’s model for linking the social environment to health. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2003;24(3S):12-20.

5 Urban-Moore 1999 - Moore K, Ehrle J. Children’s environment and behavior: Participation in extracurricular activities. Washington, D.C.: Assessing the New Federalism (ANF), Urban Institute; 1999.

6 Farb 2012 - Farb AF, Matjasko JL. Recent advances in research on school-based extracurricular activities and adolescent development. Developmental Review. 2012;32(1):1–48.

7 Bungay 2013 - Bungay H, Vella-Burrows T. The effects of participating in creative activities on the health and well-being of children and young people: A rapid review of the literature. Perspectives in Public Health. 2013;133(1):44-52.

8 Camacho 2015 - Camacho DE, Fuligni AJ. Extracurricular participation among adolescents from immigrant families. Empirical Research. 2015;44(6):1251-1262.

9 Knifsend 2018 - Knifsend CA, Camacho-Thompson DE, Juvonen J, Graham S. Friends in activities, school-related affect, and academic outcomes in diverse middle schools. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 2018;47(6):1208-1220.

10 Grogan 2014 - Grogan KE, Henrich CC, Malikina MV. Student engagement in after-school programs, academic skills, and social competence among elementary school students. Child Development Research. 2014:498506.

11 RAND-Bodilly 2005 - Bodilly S, Beckett MK. Making out-of-school-time matter: Evidence for an action agenda. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2005.

12 Vandell 2007 - Vandell DL, Reisner ER, Pierce KM. Outcomes linked to high-quality afterschool programs: Longitudinal findings from the study of promising afterschool programs. Irvine: University of California, Irvine, Department of Education; 2007.

13 Meier 2018 - Meier A, Hartman B, Larson R. A quarter century of participation in school-based extracurricular activities: Inequalities by race, class, gender and age? Journal of Youth Adolescence. 2018;47(6):1299-1316.

14 Taheri 2015 - Taheri SA, Welsh BC. After-school programs for delinquency prevention: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Criminology & Penology. 2015:1-19.

15 Kremer 2015 - Kremer KP, Maynard BR, Polanin JR, Vaughn MG, Sarteschi CM. Effects of after-school programs with at-risk youth on attendance and externalizing behaviors: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 2015;4(3):616-636.

16 Leos-Urbel 2015 - Leos-Urbel J. What works after school? The relationship between after-school program quality, program attendance, and academic outcomes. Youth Society. 2015;47(5):684-706.

17 Vandell 2013 - Vandell DL. Afterschool program quality and student outcomes: reflections on positive key findings on learning and development from recent research. In: Expanding minds and opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success. Expanded Learning & Afterschool Project; 2013:10-16.

18 ASA - Afterschool Alliance (ASA). Keep kids safe and inspire them to learn.

19 Tibbitts 2019 - Tibbitts B, Porter A, Sebire SJ, et al. Action 3:30R: Process evaluation of a cluster randomised feasibility study of a revised teaching assistant-led extracurricular physical activity intervention for 8 to 10 year olds. BMC Public Health. 2019;19(1):1111.

20 Triple Play - Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Triple Play: A game plan for mind, body, and soul.

21 TOP - Wyman Teen Outreach Program (TOP). Teen Outreach Program: Help transform teens and change communities.

22 ASAS - After-School All-Stars (ASA). Comprehensive after-school programs.

23 WINGS - WINGS for Kids (WING). WINGS: Helping kids soar.

24 CA-After school - California Department of Education. After school education & safety program.

25 Kitchens 2018 - Kitchens KE, Gormley W. The Hispanic extracurricular participation gap. Social Science Quarterly. 2018;99(5):1776-1790.

26 Heath 2018 - Heath RD, Anderson C, Turner AC, Payne CM. Extracurricular activities and disadvantaged youth: A complicated—but promising—story. Urban Education. 2018:1-35.

27 Mahoney 2009 - Mahoney JL, Parente ME, Zigler EF. Afterschool programs in America: Origins, growth, popularity, and politics. Journal of Youth Development. 2009;4(3):090403FA002.

28 Gorski 2021 - Gorski KJ. In school for after school: The relationship between extracurricular participation and school engagement. Sociological Forum. 2021;36(1):248-270.