In this series, we’ll unpack extracurricular activities and elective courses, look at the unique advantages of each, and make it easy for you to identify and incorporate both into your teen’s homeschooling journey—hopefully in a way that’s fun for both of you!

Let’s start with looking at what these two sorta similar, yet distinct things actually are.

Defining the Terms: Elective Courses vs. Extracurricular Activities

Elective courses . . .

  • are an integral part of your teen’s academic studies,
  • do not typically fall into one of the core academic areas (English, math, science, history, and foreign language),
  • entail less student work than core academic courses, and
  • are documented on the high school transcript and in course descriptions.

Extracurricular activities . . .

  • are not part of your teen’s academic studies,
  • are not required for the completion of high school;
  • provide opportunities to learn new skills, gain leadership abilities, serve others, broaden knowledge, or qualify for training (or just have fun!); and
  • are documented on an extracurricular activity sheet.

Your High Schooler Needs Both

So if elective courses do not generally fit into core academic subjects, and extracurricular activities are not considered academic at all, you may be wondering, “Why should I include them in my teen’s high school experience?”

Electives and extracurriculars have long-range benefits in the years after high school, when graduates are pursuing college, careers, and other goals of early adulthood.

Employers, recruiters, internships, apprenticeships, colleges, and scholarship organizations will want to know your teen’s interests and passions outside of the classroom (as demonstrated in extracurricular activities), and they will want to see a high school transcript with a variety of core and other academic courses on it (including electives).

But electives and extracurriculars won’t just benefit your student after graduation.

These types of courses and activities allow your high schooler to explore and grow in areas outside of core academics, providing a truly well-rounded education. Through electives and extracurricular activities, your teen can develop skills and talents, evaluate career interests, build relationships with friends and mentors, and much more.

Wait: Is It an Elective or Extracurricular? Making the Fine Distinctions

Two homeschooled teens may be involved in the same activity, but one teen’s parents treats it as extracurricular while the other teen’s parent views it as an elective course. Who’s right? They both might be! The parents decide how to view the course or activity based on various factors, and there’s no unqualified right or wrong answer here.

We encourage you to use your best judgment in discerning if an activity should be listed as an elective course on your teen’s transcript or as an extracurricular activity on the extracurricular sheet. Considering these seven points below may help.

(By the way, you’ll  want to avoid ever double-counting an activity as an elective and, at the same time, an extracurricular. Remember that the extra in extracurricular means “outside” of the academic curriculum.)

  1. If your teen were in public or private school, would the activity show up on his or her transcript? If not, then it’s probably wise not to include it on your student’s homeschool transcript.

  2. Is your student’s transcript overflowing with elective courses? If so, some of the elective courses may be best considered as extracurricular activities.

  3. If an activity warrants more explanation and detail than what appears on a transcript (course title, final grade, and credit awarded), it likely is better recognized on the extracurricular sheet.

  4. If an activity has educational value and lends itself to evaluation tools such as papers, projects, tests, or quizzes, then it’s probably well suited to be an elective course.

  5. It’s possible for an activity (such as piano lessons) to be considered an elective course during one school year, but then to be considered an extracurricular activity in another school year.

  6. Does your teen’s transcript have more than 32 credits (64 credits in Indiana or Idaho, 160 credits in New Jersey, or 320 credits in California)? Then consider turning some of the extra courses into extracurricular activities.

  7. Is your teen competing in a varsity-level sport? You may want to categorize some of the hours of participation as an extracurricular activity (game/meet schedule, win/loss record, and team practices); list these hours on the extracurricular sheet. You can then use the remaining hours of participation as training or conditioning exercise hours for a physical education elective, which will appear on the transcript.

OK, now that you’ve got the basic difference between elective courses and extracurricular activities down, are you intrigued? Ready to learn more?

Next up, you can read about choosing and documenting elective courses and check out a ton of sample electives . . . Or maybe you’re interested in planning your own electives . . .  Or perhaps you’d like to go deeper on your teen’s extracurricular options. Just click on the bar below to pick your next step!