With more than 3,200 participating schools, DECA is one of the most popular organizations for high school students. It has an excellent reputation and many successful program alumni. But is joining DECA right for you?
In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about DECA and the opportunities and benefits it offers for high school students. If DECA is a good fit for your interests and career goals, it’s definitely worth joining!
What Is DECA?
DECA gives high school students hands-on experience in marketing, business, and entrepreneurship. Its goal is to prepare future leaders for successful careers in fields like marketing, management, hospitality, and finance. 177,000 high school students currently participate in DECA.
Founded in 1946, DECA originally stood for “Distributive Education Clubs of America.” The group now calls itself “An Association of Marketing Students” but continues to use the DECA acronym. As technology and educational research advance, DECA’s programs and activities continuously evolve to better prepare students for the modern workforce.
DECA chapters typically participate in community service projects, business-related challenges and learning experiences, and competitions at regional, state, and national levels. Members practice and fundraise for competitions, and many chapters invite a range of successful guest speakers and mentors to work with the students.
What Are the Benefits of Joining DECA?
DECA provides its members with an abundance of skills, knowledge, real-world experience, connections, and exciting opportunities. In fact, 91% of DECA members say their participation prepared them for college and careers. Members also say DECA influenced their college and career plans, as well as their interest in entrepreneurship and owning a business.
You’ll engage in realistic business scenarios and compete with other entrepreneurial minds from across the country. You’ll meet successful business leaders who may connect you with an internship or even a career in the future. And you’ll have the opportunity to win awards, recognition, and scholarship money.
Joining DECA is an excellent way to prepare for college and career success, impress college admissions officers, and jumpstart future business opportunities.
If you’re passionate about marketing and business, you can meet students with similar interests and career goals from all over the country through DECA. You might connect with a future business partner, college roommate, or simply a few lifelong friends.
And DECA doesn’t only connect you with students your age. You’ll also meet and learn from successful business professionals, many of them DECA alumni. These connections can lead to internships or job opportunities in the future.
Demonstrate Leadership Ability
More than 92% of DECA members say their experience empowered them to be effective leaders. Through activities and leadership conferences, DECA gives students countless opportunities to develop leadership skills like communication, problem-solving, and teamwork. These skills will serve you well throughout college and your career.
Demonstrating leadership ability in high school also makes your college applications more competitive. Colleges look for high school leaders because they’re likely to become leaders in college too.
You’ll also have the chance to take on formal leadership roles through DECA, another bonus for your college applications. You can lead a chapter, state, or even national office, or you can run a DECA program or initiative.
Enjoy Unique Opportunities and Experiences
In addition to building valuable skills and connections, DECA provides unique experiences for high school students. These experiences equip students with hands-on practice, in-depth knowledge, and essential 21st-century skills for the workplace.
Here are a few of the experiences you can choose to participate in as a DECA member:
DECA teams up with corporate partners to offer a variety of innovative challenges, each with a specific focus and set of tasks to complete. These challenges include:
- Digital Presentation Skills: Utilize a Virtual Business Simulation to demonstrate your digital presentation skills in a one-to-two-minute digital presentation.
- Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Create a DE&I strategy, along with a marketing and communications plan, that the Muscular Dystrophy Association can use to promote DE&I to the high school and college-age demographic.
- Entrepreneur of Tomorrow: Propose and pitch a new product idea for a specific market segment, along with a marketing and distribution strategy.
- Ethical Leadership: Develop a 60-second public service announcement (PSA) video describing the nature and importance of ethics.
- Lead4Change: In teams, complete and submit a community service project after finishing a series of lessons about 21st Century Skills.
- Social Impact Leader of Tomorrow: Produce the next big cause marketing idea for the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Four-member teams develop a creative fundraising campaign with NPCF branding, including a social media component and video.
- Social Innovation: Design an innovative solution to increase access to entrepreneurship for underrepresented groups.
- Social Media Marketing: Using the social media marketing simulation Mimic Social, manage a fictitious company’s weekly social media ad budget, schedule and promote content, target specific audiences, and analyze your success through multiple rounds of the simulation.
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DECA chapters participate in campaigns related to membership, promotion, ethical leadership, community service, and advocacy. These campaigns are designed to grow the chapter and build lasting partnerships within the school and community. Working on the campaigns also helps members develop valuable skills for the workforce.
Chapters can submit their campaigns and gain recognition and awards from DECA. Winning campaigns may qualify DECA chapters for special opportunities, like participation in emerging leadership academies.
Some DECA chapters participate in certified school-business enterprises (SBE). SBEs are school-based learning laboratories that give students practical, realistic learning experiences.
These enterprises provide goods or services through permanent locations, mobile kiosks, or Internet marketing. Offerings may include food and beverage items, school supplies, spirit wear, signs and banners, or services like advertising sales and creative design.
Many DECA students gain their first work experience through participating in an SBE. They build skills in professional business, leadership, and management. Students may attend the annual School-based Enterprise Academy, where they share ideas with other SBEs, attend professional development sessions related to entrepreneurship, and compete in an SBE-specific competition focused on best practices.
DECA conferences connect DECA students across the nation with corporate professionals as they learn industry-related content and trends.
DECA offers conferences in leadership, career development, and career pathways. Career pathways conferences, like the Sports and Entertainment Marketing Conference, feature highly specialized content aligned with specific career paths. All conferences directly support the development of 21st-century skills.
Conference sessions cover topics like:
- Creativity and innovations
- Financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy
- Communication and collaboration
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Leadership and responsibility
Students attend networking events and often tour iconic landmarks and businesses in the city where the conference is based, like NBC Studios in New York, Universal Studios in Orlando, memorials and museums in Washington, D.C., and more. Many conferences also feature college and career exhibits, where students can learn about a variety of universities and career options.
DECA competitions engage participants in creatively solving real-world business problems and scenarios. Winning or placing in DECA competitions can provide another boost to your college applications. These industry-validated competitive events involve a written component and an interactive component judged by an industry professional.
Members can compete in competitions related to business management and administration, hospitality and tourism, entrepreneurship, marketing, finance, and personal financial literacy. Examples of DECA competitions include:
- Business Growth Plan
- Professional Selling
- Retail Merchandising Series
- Virtual Business Challenge-Fashion
- Virtual Business Challenge-Sports
- Financial Consulting
- Stock Market Game
- Innovation Plan
- International Business Plan
- Marketing Management Team Decision Making
- Start-up Business Plan
- Entrepreneurship Team Decision Making
- Community Awareness Project
- Virtual Business Challenge-Restaurant
- Virtual Business Challenge- Hotel Management
Awards and Scholarships
In addition to placing in competitions, DECA members can win awards like the DECA Emerging Leader Honor Award, which looks impressive on college applications.
Even better, DECA’s scholarship program annually provides more than $200,000 in scholarships to DECA members. Scholarships are merit-based and typically funded by DECA’s corporate partners. Each scholarship is administered based on guidelines set by the donor, which usually include academic performance, leadership ability, DECA involvement, and community service.
A few examples of DECA scholarships include:
- Marriott International- Provides five $2,000 scholarships to DECA members interested in hospitality and tourism.
- Publix- Provides five $1,000 scholarships to members who are Publix associates.
- Whataburger- Provides five $1,000 scholarships to members interested in the restaurant/food service industry.
- College scholarships- Schools like Johnson & Wales University and Berkeley Colleges directly offer scholarships to DECA members.
So, participating in DECA can not only improve your chances of getting into college, but it can also help you pay your college tuition.
DECA in College
If you enjoy your experience with DECA, it doesn’t have to stop when you graduate from high school. You can continue your DECA involvement throughout your college career. 200 campuses around the world offer DECA programs to continue preparing students for successful careers.
Like high school chapters, college chapters provide challenges, competitions, educational conferences, and scholarship opportunities. These experiences go a long way toward helping DECA students get into top-notch graduate programs or land a job right out of undergrad.
Final Thoughts: Should I Join DECA?
There’s no question that joining DECA is extremely beneficial for high school students.
You’ll gain the skills, knowledge, and experience that top companies look for in their applicants. By taking on leadership roles and earning awards and recognition, you’ll also enhance the competitiveness of your college applications.
You may even win scholarships to help you pay for your college education. And once you get to college, you can continue participating in DECA, making more connections, gaining access to more opportunities, and further enhancing your professional skills.
But when it comes to extracurricular participation, colleges want to see what you’re genuinely passionate about. So, if you’re into marketing, entrepreneurship, hospitality, or business management, joining DECA will absolutely benefit you!
If not, high schools offer other organizations that are a better fit for your interests and goals. Extracurricular participation is ultimately about pursuing your passions and sharpening your strengths, so find clubs and opportunities that are right for you.