Sophomore Robin Wilke, 15, is involved with, by her count, 16 clubs and organizations at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda. And, she said, she isn't just a name on a membership list. She participates.

At the University of Virginia, freshman Amber McCrady, 18, has signed up for the Salsa Club and at least five other groups.

Junior Max Ace, 16, just started the Philosophy Club, one of 27 organizations that have sprung to life since Briar Woods High School opened this fall in Ashburn. That's more than one club for every 18 students, with more clubs forming all the time, said Activity Director Mark Patterson.

At a time when sociologists bemoan how disconnected Americans are from one another and how traditional associations are withering, young people in the so-called millennial generation are showing new interest in forming bonds through clubs and other organizations, said administrators, teachers and students.

Through a combination of societal and personal factors, people born since the early 1980s are not only largely goal-oriented, sociologists say, but also more communal than their predecessors in Generation X, in part because their lives have been highly structured.

"This is the play-date generation," said Judith Kidd, associate dean of student life and activities for Harvard College at Harvard University. "Things are always arranged, very much so. It's also a driven generation. They don't know what to do with downtime. They come to campus with day planners."

Furthermore, the kinds of groups that are proliferating -- public service organizations and cultural and ethnic groups, for example -- reveal new patterns of interest, as well as a greater trust in public institutions than earlier generations, administrators and students say.

"Members of this generation are joiners," said R. Alan Leffers, dean of students at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, "and it is less about simply focusing on a career; they are looking for some meaning in their life."

Clubs, with their open enrollments, and organizations such as honor societies, which often are restricted, have long been staples of school life. But their popularity has risen and fallen, depending upon the times. Some in the so-called slacker generation of the 1990s saw school clubs as too establishment. Now things are changing.

"The basic trend for student organizations has been more, more, more," said Marisa Tjerandsen, assistant director of student involvement with George Washington University's student activities center.

In 2001-02, GWU had 200 registered groups. Last year, there were 380, and more than 400 are expected by the end of the school year.

Harvard students who like tiddlywinks have a society just for them. For those seeking someone to dance with, countless school clubs concentrate on the waltz, salsa and most other kinds of dances. There are drama clubs and sailing groups, skiing associations and debate societies -- the list is endless.

For Robin, an A and B student in a top academic program at Walter Johnson, clubs provide the structure she craves: "I really, really, really don't like free time. I love to have every minute where I know what I'm going to do."

There are, of course, the high school students who join clubs simply to impress college admissions officers with their busy, interesting, well-rounded lives. Rose Jaffe, 17, a senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, said at her school's fall club fair, up to 60 students signed up for a Peace Project she was heading, but only a few have participated.

"Everybody signs up for everything, but they don't go to the meetings," she said.

Max said he joined a slew of clubs with college admissions in mind while attending Stone Bridge High School in Loudoun County. He quickly realized, he said, that he disliked most of the activities and that resume padding was not for him. He stuck with a few favorites and carried his love for philosophy with him when he transferred.

"I just like the sense of community that it brings," said Max, who also is active in the Latin Club.

Felipe Cocco, 17, a Walter Johnson debate club member, said his school encourages students to get involved with extracurricular activities -- and he thinks it bolsters the educational experience when kids are really interested. Debate, he said, has made him learn to think about things in a new way.

The Brazil native said he had to research and debate the issue of whether the United States had the obligation to mitigate international conflict. He began thinking the answer was yes but came to change his mind.

"It's a great thing, when students do these activities for the right reasons," he said.

In college, students say, they, too, are looking to make connections when not trying to boost their resumes. Girls are more likely than boys to join non-athletic organizations, and now, girls are a majority of the students in higher education.

"The biggest thing is you get to meet tons of people," Amber said. "You can meet a lot of first-years through dorm life and your classes, but it is easier to associate with people who have the same interests as you. A sure way to do that is through a club."

Another reason some campuses have so many clubs: many students like to be leaders -- and will start a club, just like the one next door, so they can be president. Some schools, for example, have a half-dozen environmental clubs.

Whatever the reason for the renewed interest in extracurricular clubs and organizations, research shows that involvement in after-school activities has a positive impact on class work.

And at the college level, where as many as one-third of entering freshmen fail to enroll the next fall, organizations can help students feel invested in campus life.

"It really helps connect you to other students and your school," said Bethany LaLonde, a senior at Cazenovia College in New York.

"I'm always going to club meetings," she said.

"I actually find that a way of connecting with my peers. It's a way of sitting down together, talking about issues and meeting other students I might not know otherwise."

Walter Johnson students Samantha Tanzer, left, Bobby Youssefi and Steven Braun debate the necessity of judicial activism in protecting U.S. citizens' rights.Debate team members surround coach William "Rusty" McCrady at Walter Johnson High, where students are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities. For some students, clubs are to pad college applications, but for many, participation is the motivation.