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Why should you march in college?

Maybe you’re coming from a very competitive high school marching band. Maybe you’re just interested in marching for the first time in college. Either way, marching in college is vastly different to marching in high school. Take the marching away and college in general is vastly different from high school. Here are some of the reasons why you should march in college!

The Scary Truth about College .  Although the United States leads the world in students who begin college, the U.S. ranks 12th in the world in student degree completions (OECD, 2015). This in spite that no other country spends more money on higher education than the United States (OECD, 2013). The scary truth is that according to the U.S. Department of Education (2014) fewer than 40% of students who enroll in a public four-year degree program graduate within four years and fewer than 60% of students graduate within six years.

This is why researchers and colleges have been looking into best practices for how to keep students in school through graduation, only until recent years has research been directed at the college marching band specifically.

Educational Resilience .   Educational resilience can be described as successfully overcoming threats to educational development (Wang et al., 1994). At some point your college career you may experience adversity, challenge, pressure, and stress (Martin and Marsh, 2006), and these conditions place you at risk of doing poorly in school and, potentially, dropping out of school (Alva, 1991).  Resilience includes external environmental protective factors that can mitigate these kinds of risks. Some external protective factors are caring relationships, high expectations, and meaningful participation (Bernard, 1991; 2004). Research has shown that protective factors, like the ones above, lead to positive outcomes more often than the other way around, or risk factors leading to negative outcomes (Benard, 2004; Werner & Smith, 1992).  The college marching band is one of the greatest college organizations that can foster resilience across all three external factors of caring relationships, high expectations, and meaningful participation.

Caring Relationships .  Joining band in college provides you with hundreds of new friends, all of whom have a similar interest (band). Band students often remain friends with their college marching band friends for life.

The relationship you have with your band director and other adult staff can also be very meaningful.  While most college freshman will eventually connect with their professors after seeing them for a couple of hours per week, after the semester is over students may never see that professor again.  With college marching bands, the relationship with the director and other adult staff often extends beyond just one semester. It can be a year long or from before a student's first day of classes to their last. Band occurs for many hours per week, and can last for years, allowing the relationship to grow.

High Expectations . “To be early is to be on-time and to be on time is to be late.”  Many high school bands use this mantra; these expectations do not end in college.  In fact, high expectations are often self-motivated because band members do not want to let down their peers in the band while performing in front of thousands of people. Research has shown that the lessons learned on the field do in fact translate to the academic setting.  Being early to class usually leads good grades!

Meaningful Participation .  College Marching Bands provide an invaluable opportunity for meaningful participation. Rehearsing and performing with hundreds of friends provides a shared experience that few other organizations can match. The hours spent at band camp bonding, traveling to an away game, hearing the crowd’s reaction during the performance provide an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment.

Comparing Marching Band Students with Non-Marching Band Students .  Using data and scales from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) Dr. David Healy from Boston College compared the college engagement of members of 20 different college marching bands with data from the same colleges from non-marching band members.  Comparing data from marching band members and non-marching band members he found the following:

  • College Marching Band students are more likely than non-band students to work with faculty members on activities other than coursework including committees, orientation, and student life activities.
  • College Marching Band students are also more likely than their non-band peers to participate in a community-based project (e.g. service learning) as part of a course.
  • College Marching Band students are more likely to teach or tutor other students.  
  • College Marching Band students are more likely than their non-band peers to have serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity as well as students who are very different in terms of their religious beliefs, political opinions, or personal values.
  • College Marching Band members are also more likely than their non-band peers to examine the strengths and weaknesses of their own views on a topic or issue, try to better understand someone else’s views by imagining how an issue looks from his or her perspective, and learn something that changed the way they understand an issue or concept.
Final Thoughts

Fit.  Joining a group that gives you purpose, a fit on campus, and a diverse family of more than 200 other students representing all majors on our campus is a great start to college. That new family of more than 200 is also a great resource for not only getting adjusted to college life, the campus, but most college students rely on their peers for study help.

Waiting a semester or a year to join the college marching band is the worst advice .  Band kids are used to being busy, so you will find something else to spend your time on and it may not be as productive and positive as the marching band.  Also, after a year of being a freshman, rarely if ever, will a sophomore join a group as a new member.

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