What Is Deca? Your Ultimate Guide to a Top Business and Leadership Extracurricular

29/05/202414 minute read
What Is Deca? Your Ultimate Guide to a Top Business and Leadership Extracurricular

Are you an ambitious high school student looking to make a mark in the world of business and leadership? Then you’ll want to learn more about DECA in high school and its many avenues for learning about business and leadership, making it an intriguing choice when it comes to finding your ideal extracurricular.

From hands-on business simulations and competitive events to leadership development, educational conferences, and scholarship opportunities, DECA is a great way to meet like-minded peers, while developing a broad range of 21st-century professional skills and exploring future possibilities as a business major or professional.

Keep reading to find out more about DECA and why it can elevate your high school experience and set you on a path to success.


Are you an inquisitive, motivated high school student with an eye toward degrees and careers in business services, such as marketing, entrepreneurship, human resources, or hospitality? If so, you’re probably looking for extracurricular activities where you can explore fields like these and meet peers with similar interests, which makes DECA an excellent extracurricular option.

From developing leadership skills with a business emphasis, to preparing for college admissions and resume and network building, DECA offers high school students business-oriented educational opportunities with avenues to enjoy both collaboration with peers and spirited competition.

Even better, it’s a high school extracurricular that helps students pursue personal growth, earn awards and honors, and connect directly with similar programs and networks in college too. Ready to learn more? Let's dive in!

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What is DECA?

History and Mission

Founded in 1946, DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) is a nonprofit student organization focused on preparing emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality, and management. With more than 225,000 members across high schools and colleges, DECA aims to prepare young people for better success in college admissions, in business degree programs, and in careers by offering a range of engaging activities and opportunities, primarily as extracurriculars, but also in the form of classroom curriculum.

In high school, DECA helps students become more academically prepared, community-oriented, and adept in leadership by using a well-rounded approach to extracurricular programming, including:

  • instructional materials, conferences, and competitions with a focus on business, leadership, and 21st-century skills
  • opportunities for recognition, through awards, scholarships, and competitive events
  • academic and professional networks for connecting DECA members — students, educators, and industry partners
  • support for career preparation with creative ways for high school students to develop and apply leadership, management, and entrepreneurship skills

Thematic educational events and programs include national educational conferences where students take part in workshop-style academies and competitive events with peers from around the globe. DECA also offers goal-oriented emerging leaders programs to help members in high school build leadership knowledge, skills, and confidence.

Chapter structures allow members to work in larger groups with peers at their own high school, exercising leadership and management skills while building deeper connections with their team members.

Education is key to everything DECA does, including the creation of classroom curriculum and activities that emphasize relevant learning, practical business and leadership skills, and fun competition.

  • Instructional materials and activities are anchored in a 21st-century skills approach, that prioritizes leadership, teamwork and collaboration, communication, innovation, and creative problem solving.
  • Educational content also focuses on practical business skills in fields such as marketing, business management and administration, hospitality and tourism, and finance.

If teachers at a school are not yet involved with DECA or using DECA curriculum, a student chapter can take the initiative — encouraging teachers to include DECA activities in their classes.

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Membership

DECA uses a membership structure. Membership is open to high school and college students eager to develop their business acumen. Members work as teams organized into school-based chapters belonging to larger associations of chapters. Currently, DECA has well over 3,500 high school chapters and more than 200 college chapters.

DECA Spans High School & College

DECA's programs vary depending on education level, focusing more on career prep for college students and a mix of leadership development, real-world experience, and academic readiness for high school students.

One thing that’s remarkable about DECA is the variety of differentiated activities and multi-tiered aspirational leadership development opportunities built into its programming and national events, making it easy for members — both individuals and teams — to find and pursue activities most aligned with their interests.

From personal growth programs focused on leadership development, to opening and managing a School-Based Enterprise with other chapter members, and more, DECA offers both new and continuing members, spanning high school and college chapters, fun ways to engage, grow, learn, and connect.

Why Join DECA?

If you’re a high school student, you'll want to consider all the potential benefits of joining DECA.

First and foremost, DECA is a great opportunity to extend yourself and your learning well beyond the classroom, with fun ways to explore business leadership and management skills without waiting for college.

Of course, any student can benefit personally and academically from participating in a well-regarded extracurricular program like this, but DECA also offers an ideal option for students with a keen interest in business fields, such as marketing, management, human resources, entrepreneurship, or tourism and hospitality.

Joining DECA is also a great way to elevate your extracurricular resume before applying to college. Beyond just being a member, getting involved in DECA should motivate you to take initiative and stand out, with tiered recognition programs for outstanding service or accomplishments in leadership within DECA — as a motivated chapter member, chapter leader, or association leader — in community service initiatives you take on with your chapter, by vying for Honor Awards, or competing for scholarships supported by DECA's many industry partners.

Another cool feature of DECA is that it honors your drive for individual excellence and your competitive spirit, while also opening doors to new friendships and rewarding peer networks.

Leadership Development & Personal Growth

Through Leadership Academies held at DECA Conferences, such as the Emerging Leader Series, you can benefit from challenging activities that foster critical thinking, problem-solving, and effective communication.

DECA’s Emerging Leader Series prepares DECA members to be effective leaders in college and careers. Each of these academies are available at the DECA International Career Development Conference, and Elevate and Empower are also offered at the DECA Emerging Leader Series.

Chapter Campaigns

Participating in DECA’s Chapter Campaigns is a win-win: a spirited way to motivate both individuals and teams to demonstrate leadership and initiative-taking while bringing recognition to their chapter.

Initiatives or challenges can include campaigns to increase chapter membership and visibility, engaging in leadership challenges related to marketing, ethical leadership, or effective advocacy, or carrying out community service efforts.

Honor Awards for Emerging Leaders

DECA's Emerging Leader Honor Award recognizes members excelling in a broad range of complementary skills empowering effective leadership, such as goal setting, consensus building, and project implementation, along with other 21st-century skills such as collaboration, problem solving, and innovation.

Honor Awards also require you to step up your game, requiring a 3.2 GPA minimum as well as engagement at the chapter, association, and organizational levels.

Taking a deeper dive into these aspirational challenges — tailored to students at different levels of seniority and participation —  is a great way to demonstrate drive, grow personally, and solidify your standing as a community-oriented leader.

Bridge Opportunities for Career Education in Business

  • DECA’s Competitive Events are aligned with the National Curriculum Standards but also incorporate the insights of DECA's industry and business partners, offering students the chance to excel in both learning and applying new skills and concepts. Either individually or in teams, through role-plays, case studies, and online simulations, you'll participate in scenarios that simulate business challenges and require you to apply real-life business and leadership skills.
  • The  School-Based Enterprise Program provides a template high school chapter members can use to engage in a real-world entrepreneurial experience by starting up and managing a business at their school.
  • The DECA Corporate Challenges Program offers high school teachers activities to use in their classrooms. Infused with 21st-century skills, insights from DECA's corporate partners, and competitive challenges, the activities promote relevant and practical workplace skills and keep you motivated while testing your ability to apply what you're learning in order to confront real-world problems.

DECA Scholarships

As an extracurricular choice, DECA stands out for the ways it helps high school students earn recognition for their involvement and accomplishments. In addition to the leadership honor awards, DECA members can also compete for merit-based DECA scholarships supported by more than $200,000 in partner funding

Educational Conferences

Educational conferences feature a strong educational stamp and are touted by the organizers as “targeted, highly-focused learning experiences” that “bring members into the larger DECA community while providing unique opportunities to extend classroom learning.”

You can select which educational conferences you most want to attend based on the keynote educational themes:

  • Leadership conferences focus on leadership development and college and career preparation through a variety of engaging workshops and speakers all aimed at helping students develop and apply 21st-century skills.
  • Career pathway conferences feature highly specialized content that aligns with specific career pathways and courses, with opportunities to connect classroom instruction with conference participation.
  • Career development conferences (CDCs) provide a venue for DECA’s Competitive Events Program as well as additional career and leadership development programs. Chartered associations host their own CDCs to determine which members earn the right to represent them at the International Career Development Conference.

All together, DECA's programs, benefits, and opportunities are a lot to take in.

The good news is that for now you just need to decide if DECA is the right extracurricular for you, and the best choice for your interests, passions, and college admissions goals.

If you decide DECA is the right extracurricular for you personally, keep reading to find out how to join DECA and then, you can start charting your own path among DECA’s many opportunities, one step and one year at a time.

How to Join DECA?

Joining DECA in high school is simple. Locate a nearby DECA chapter by asking your school advisor or by searching online. Express your interest, fill out an application with online registration support, and pay the membership fee.

If your school doesn’t have a DECA chapter, consider starting one!

Starting a Chapter at Your High School

  1. Find a Chapter Advisor: Approach interested teachers with a detailed proposal.
  2. Get Approval from Your State’s DECA Chartered Association: Meet all outlined requirements.
  3. Secure School Approval: Check with your principal on the process for starting a club.
  4. Submit a New Chapter Request Form: This takes about a week to process.
  5. Register and Pay Dues: Submit your members' roster and dues to become official!

Is DECA in College too?

Absolutely! DECA offers robust programs for college students, focusing heavily on career preparation, leadership development, and getting connected with a global network of DECA students.

DECA College Programs

While the underlying mission remains the same across both high school and college, DECA for college students includes more advanced career prep education and local and global networking opportunities.

Benefits for College Students

DECA for college students offers numerous benefits, including:

  • networking opportunities with business leaders
  • resume-building experiences through competitions and community involvement
  • scholarship opportunities that can help offset the financial burden of college tuition

How to Join (in College)

Similar to high school, joining DECA in college involves finding a nearby chapter and expressing your interest, with online registration support. Membership enables your access to DECA's academic and professional networks and helps you track a wide array of opportunities for professional growth.

Final Thoughts

DECA is a top-notch extracurricular program with international scope, diverse programs, and one offering you many opportunities to learn relevant, up-to-date professional skills and accelerate your leadership development as you build your resume. All of this makes joining DECA an incredible opportunity for business-oriented high school students who want to enjoy teams and networks while also accessing opportunities to test and hone individual leadership ability.

Whether you’re looking to develop leadership skills, gain real-world experience, or prepare for your college and career journey, DECA has something valuable to offer.

For a deeper exploration of the important role your extracurriculars will play in your personal college journey, we strongly encourage you to think carefully about your options, as soon as you start high school if possible, or even earlier!

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