Student involvement in college is a big part of the higher education experience in traditional universities. Because most traditional students are leaving their parents’ houses, saying goodbye to their social circles from their hometowns and high schools, and entering a whole new world for the first time, getting involved outside of the classroom is a vital part of creating a life on campus.

So even though many of you have set up a life for yourself already – with family, friends, community activities, etc. – and you’re taking courses from the comfort of your own home instead of starting in a new city, you should be interested in getting involved with your university as well! And this is why…

(You may begin to notice that I’m a fan of bullet points.)

  • Getting involved outside the classroom allows you to connect to your university on another level – which means it’s one more thing you have to disconnect from if you would end up leaving in the middle of your education. That’s why involvement actually helps with retention rates at universities. And while that seems beneficial to the insiders at the institution who want to keep you as a student, it’s also beneficial to you, the person who wants to graduate with that college degree and may find some extra motivation to stay with it until the end pretty useful!

  • Who doesn’t want to make more friends!? While I’m sure there are actually many people who aren’t looking to make friends when they choose to attend an online college, graduating with a few new unique people in your life can’t be a bad thing. Especially because a lot of online students have the privilege of being able to connect with people all over the world, so who knows – you may end up with a pen pal in Russia or New Zealand!

  • Speaking of friends, being able to connect with others who share your experience of attending an online school can be very helpful as you work on your degree. The classroom may not be the easiest place to ask others for tips on topics for papers or to ask about how to reach out to a professor about a grade, but joining a student organization or interest group gives you a forum to talk with other students that you may not have access to without getting involved. You may also have the chance to learn new ideas from folks that share an interest but have a different level of knowledge, which can be beneficial both inside the classroom as well as in your “real life” too.

  • Networking. Online university students have one thing in common that not all 18-22 year old traditional college students always have – you are here for an education in order to ideally better your life and your career. It’s not just “something you’re supposed to do after high school” – it’s a big decision that you’ve made with a lot of thought put into it. A huge part of building a career these days is networking and knowing the “right people.” By getting involved with different groups and communities, you are stretching your branches on the networking tree to more people – which can really only help, and not hurt, your job search and career opportunities.

  • And finally (though I could continue with this list for quite some time), getting involved outside the classroom can add to your resume… that other vital part of the job search. You may take on a leadership role within a student group – something as small as a committee member for a one-time webinar or a bi-monthly newsletter, or as large as the president of the organization – and that’s something you can definitely list on your resume. Additionally, if you are a member of a nationally-affiliated organization, the name alone can stand out on your resume.

This was a wordy list, but one that is pretty important (though my role as a Student Life Specialist makes me a bit biased toward student involvement). And I’ve given you a lot of “whys” when it comes to involvement, but what about the “hows?” The unique aspect of online education can sometimes make finding out about organizations and student engagement a bit challenging – after all, you won’t be walking around a campus plastered with flyers for an upcoming meeting or guest speakers. You’ll need to seek it out on your own a bit more, but luckily I’m here to help with that!

So let’s call this a two-part post, and you can look forward to part two in the near future, in which I will begin to tackle the “hows” of getting involved!