Work in a high school or any other educational setting. The institution may have its own ‘student union’ – this is a building with the express purpose of providing specific services to pupils.

This building, also known as a student activity center, contains various amenities that students can access during their leisure time, such as at lunchtime or during a free period. The term student union may also refer to a representative body of students, precisely one who works in the interests of pupils to ensure their school meets their needs, but this is more common in other countries.

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What is a student union?

A student union building usually contains game rooms, dining facilities, offices, and general leisure spaces with the overall aim of helping pupils by giving them more options in terms of how they use their time. High school or university can often be a difficult transition for students, and facilities such as these might help break up their school day. Leisure time is beneficial for youth development as it helps improve a student’s focus while letting them develop their passions. If your place of work doesn’t currently have a student union, this could be a worthwhile investment.

The student union is effectively a community center specifically for students. The school may use it to host various events and activities, but this typically depends on the institution’s budget. These spaces are for pupils to use in the ways they see fit, within reason – though it’s also common for them to use their free time in other ways, including spending time off-campus. The best way to ensure the student union does its job is to put effort, as well as money, into maintaining and promoting it and ensuring students have access to high-quality facilities.

How students use the student union

How students use the activity center is generally up to them, though the available resources and spaces usually influence how the pupils use it. There’s also often a clear difference in the quality of these spaces in a high school compared to a university, which could affect how the student body uses the facilities. If you work at a school that’s currently considering implementing a student union or has one with little use, it can help to understand how students use these spaces across the country. Their uses can include:

Club meetings

High schools and universities have societies and clubs that require a meeting space – instead of an empty classroom. They could use a dedicated area of the student union. This helps to make their meetings feel official and impactful without the likelihood of a teacher interrupting to take back the classroom. High school has a range of student clubs, and providing devoted spaces for these groups can allow them to flourish. This shows that the school or university takes these groups seriously and is willing to invest significant resources to help facilitate their usual activities.

Religious spaces

For religious students, the spaces in a student union may help them to practice their religion; one of the rooms could be specifically for students who pray. Some university student activity centers across the country provide facilities such as this, with Eastern Michigan University offering a kiva for Native American attendees. The Ohio State University union has an interfaith prayer room that accommodates all spiritual beliefs, allowing everyone to feel represented and accepted. This is more common at university unions as they often reflect a wider body of students, but high schools with significant religious populations could also benefit.


Many students use these unions simply for the leisure and fun they can provide – such as with a dedicated games room or games spread throughout the entire center. In either case, these facilities may vary drastically; the school may offer ping pong, foosball, pool, and other table-based games that are simple to install; safety is usually an essential factor in which games are available. Some institutions, such as Central Michigan University, even have dedicated bowling alleys at their student activity center. No matter the setting, collaborative leisure time is essential for students and can be helpful for their development.

Medical services

Some high schools have several types of medical services available at the student center; this can be where the guidance counselor has their office, for example. The union might also have general-purpose counselors who provide walk-in sessions to those who need one-to-one support. High school can be difficult at any age, and the benefits of teenage counseling are apparent. The school nurse can also have their office within the union, offering a welcoming presence to students. Though these facilities may be limited, they play an essential part in helping to maintain student health across every grade.

Study rooms

Even within the student activity center, school attendees may want a dedicated space to work in peace, such as if the library is complete. These rooms might look similar, if not identical, to a classroom, but they are available throughout the entire day and offer a quiet area for pupils to de-stress and look over their work. They can also complete homework they received earlier in the day, which might be due later. Students at the school might have significant disruption at home or lack specific resources in study rooms so that they can be essential facilities for some.

Why do universities have more student union facilities?

Much of a student union’s functionality is reserved for universities, which are generally more likely to have a student union than high schools. However, it’s still possible to have a valuable and well-funded activity center in any educational setting, though budget is a critical factor in the disparity. US universities have substantially more funding than public high schools, especially with each student’s contributions, so they typically have better facilities. These could also reflect the age of the students; for example, a high school may view certain facilities as unsafe for teenagers, but universities are often more lenient in this regard.

The benefits of student activity centers

With the various purposes they fulfill, it’s clear that student activity centers benefit pupils in high school or university. They aim to promote a thriving school community that elevates the school, as a strong community leads to higher student engagement and satisfaction. This is essential to a healthy high school atmosphere, and the same holds for universities – comprehensive leisure facilities are a vital investment. Various additional benefits of upgrading or maintaining a student union include:

  • Helping students connect and even form friendships when they would otherwise not run into each other. A student activity center is a vital social space (outside its designated quiet areas), and offers various activities for students to partake in together or just a place to sit down and talk.
  • Mixing leisure with studying throughout the day might help to improve overall academic performance; this is part of why breaks are so important. Some students might particularly struggle to focus, so activities or time to decompress could help them pay more attention in their lessons later that day.
  • They allow students to develop their interests, as they might be more inclined to participate in clubs or groups if they have a regular meeting space. Another example is prayer rooms – which can encourage students to explore alternative beliefs that might resonate with them in some way.
  • A dedicated space for students typically helps their growing independence, though some level of supervision is still critical. The fact that this activity center is specifically for students can help them feel their needs are being respected and that they can use their free time as they choose.
  • Though many of the facilities and functions of a student union could be replicated throughout the campus, a student activity center brings these many features together in one location. This could be more convenient for students, acting as a ‘central hub’ of sorts, which also helps promote further socializing.
  • Student activity centers allow staff to signpost opportunities and events, such as club trips or charity competitions. This shows students how they can get involved and even introduce them to a new group.

Student activity centers are a great addition to any educational institution and could significantly contribute to student retention and satisfaction. If your school or university doesn’t already have a student union, it could be a worthwhile investment that helps boost clubs, socialization, and focus across all grades. Student unions give pupils opportunities and facilities they might otherwise not have access to – which could even include a computer to complete homework. By working to understand the typical needs of students at your institution and trying your best to accommodate these, you can help them reach their full potential.