- Student-athletes do around 20 – 30% worse than their non-athlete classmates academically.
- Contemporary student-athletes are motivated to keep their grades up in various ways.
- Being an athlete simply means you have less time to spend studying.
It should come as no surprise that athletes are busier than other people; probably off buying Richard Mille’s and Maybachs. But throw the student conundrum in there, and you’ve got yourself an individual stressed to the max, and with time, something has to give.
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That something is usually their grades… or is it? Let’s look at the reality of student-athletes.
Why Do College Student-Athletes Struggle Academically?
Let’s not mess around at all and jump right into the main question: why do student-athletes struggle more than other students? They have their free time to train and should (theoretically) have the same study time as their peers.
Good plan. Doesn’t work.
The reality is that students need to spend a lot of time studying, working on projects, and socializing to develop interpersonal skills. Not to mention the fact that most students probably also have jobs since the cost of living is unbearable.
It’s estimated that between 2008 – 2018, college tuition fees increased by more than 30%, whereas the average household income only increased by 8% during the same period. By the end of 2019, the student loan debt exceeded more than $1.7 trillion!
“Well, then, like, get a job!” – A boomer, probably
They already do. 43% of all full-time undergraduate students and 81% of part-time students are already employed, according to the Digest of Education Statistics. With the minimum hourly wage set at $7.25 (as of January 2023), it doesn’t look good.
See, based on where you live, your monthly financial requirements as a student can range from $2,300 – $3,000, which includes everything.
Sprinkle a little math on that, and a student would have to work 317 – 413 hours per month to afford “living.” A month contains just over 700 hours, meaning that as a student, you would need to work from 8 AM to 8 PM (08h00 – 20h00) to afford life.
This leaves you with four hours (max) to study, work on projects, attend classes, socialize, exercise, cook, sh*t, shower, and shave.
Lovely. So even before we look at athletes, the economy has made it nearly impossible for students to afford studies — unless they take out a loan. Seems like a conspiracy if you ask me.
The Life of a College Athlete
We’ve all seen the stars on screen, flexing in Ferraris while sporting the latest Royal Oak. So, clearly, there is money in sports but perhaps not at the college level.
For the longest time, college students weren’t allowed to get paid, but in recent years, that’s changed. While it’s still incredibly uncommon for athletes to be paid for their performances at the college level, they can make money in different ways.
For example, Olivia Dunne is a college gymnast with over 6.7 million TikTok followers, and after the NCAA allowed college athletes to sign sponsorship/affiliate deals, she made use of her large following.
She’s signed deals with Vuori, Spotify, American Eagle, and L’Oreal. Now, it’s unclear just how much she makes, but other TikTokkers (with far fewer views) claim to make $10K – $15K per month.
That said, Olivia still trains a lot and is one of the best athletes in her sport. The same goes for other athletes. The NCAA limits training to only four hours per day, but most athletes (trying to be the best, no doubt) blow this out of the water with extra cardio, resistance training, or studying tactics.
This doesn’t even include other things that are vital to being an athlete, like:
- Pre – and post-hab are the building blocks to avoiding injuries and could potentially save your career. Most athletes report spending 45 – 60 minutes on each per day.
- Traveling to other states or countries to compete is the basis of any career in sports. You need to set out days at a time to compete.
- Meal prepping can take forever. Ever heard one of the great athletes ever say, “Nah, man, I just eat what I want, man.” No. So you better spend time and money making sure your body is fueled properly.
- Injuries might not take time, as the other factors did, but they do take time from your development as an athlete.
- Social drills are actually very important to athletes. “Drills” might be the wrong word, but spending time to bond and develop a relationship with teammates can make or break your team.
As you can see, the amount of time it takes to be a good college athlete is insane. It truly is something most people don’t understand.
For reference, I did a bodybuilding contest in college (BSc Chemistry), and this is how an average day would look:
- 03h00: Get up and get dressed
- 03h15 – 04h15: Cardio (which was jogging around the block in darkness because I couldn’t afford a treadmill)
- 05h00: Resistance training at the gym
- 07h00 – 14h00: Work in a supplement store
- 14h30 – 18h00: Classes
- 18h45 – 21h15: Homework, projects, and studying
- 21h15 – 22h15: Meal prep for the next day
- 22h15 – 22h30: Shower, etc
- 22h45: Bedtime
Bodybuilding isn’t even a hard sport! Bodybuilding is the art of dieting and not wasting muscle — it’s barely a sport. It requires zero skill apart from posing, and it still sucked being a college athlete. It’s unbearable how much time, effort, money, and stress it takes to be a college athlete.
Are College Student-Athletes As Smart As Other Students?
With all these stats and facts thrown at you, you’re probably asking yourself, “well, how does this impact their studies?” Truth is, it depends on the type of person you’re dealing with.
When mentioning the gymnast Oliva above, I initially thought, “I bet she has it easier,” and then I remembered just how hard it could be to make good content for socials. Imagine all the things she needs to do as an athlete — and student — and then throw media creator on that as well.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a single contemporary study or scientific literature I could find looking at the stats, but a 2003 study by Patrick James Rishe had some interesting results:
- Firstly, he found that the graduation rate among athletes was 4% higher than their peers.
- Among all athletes, female basketball players had the highest passing rate, while male basketball rates were the lowest.
- Female athletes outperformed male athletes with a graduation rate of more than 10% higher.
- In every single socioeconomic status and ethnic group, the athletes outperformed their peers when it came to graduation rates.
When looking at these numbers, it’s blatantly obvious that athletic endeavors help college students. What’s more, Patrick noted that even at the high school level, schools with bigger athletic programs have more graduates.
So, yes, college student-athletes are as smart as other students. Perhaps, even smarter.
But why is this? Is it the sport or the exercise that is helping these people?
Does Exercise Help With Academics?
In 2023, we’re bombarded with Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts with opinions and “facts” being thrown left and right, and for good reason. Claims like those create clout, and clout creates money. It’s business.
I, however, am not in the business. I have the job of educating you, the reader.
So, let’s look at the cold hard facts — does exercise help with academics?
Right off the bat, we know that most forms of exercise have been shown to be really effective at relieving stress, depression, and anxiety.
Exercise has also been shown to improve sleep, energy, mental alertness, and mood. Exercise also boosts blood flow to the brain, improving cognitive ability. Some studies also suggest that exercise can slow the deterioration of the brain and memory loss.
The list goes on and on (and on… really, it never ends).
The benefits of exercise are so massive that you’re shooting yourself in the foot by not doing so, especially as a college student!
But what about time? We did see that a lot of college students simply don’t have the time to exercise.
The truth is every bit helps. You don’t need to do 5 hours of exercise a day or even a week. Many people feel the benefits after just 20 minutes every day, and it doesn’t even need to be that intense.
Incline walking, hiking, biking, yoga, bodyweight training, and sports with friends are all great options — easy to do and relatively safe. You’re only limited by your mind and your own emotions, really.
I heard a quote today, and it might help you when you’re trying to improve your grades with exercise:
“Just make the decision to listen to your mind and realize it’s on par with your feelings.”
And it really is as simple as that. Again, you don’t need to be a college athlete to get the benefits of training. Every single bit helps, meaning smaller lifestyle tweaks might help as well, like:
- Walking more between places to increase your step count
- Eating a balanced diet and not taking your diet too far in either direction (which could lead to eating disorders)
- Trying to get somewhat of a decent sleep schedule going
- Building a social network in your exercise region to make it more fun
These are just some of the options you can do to increase your skills or grades in college.
College Students Do Struggle to Some Extent
Upon reviewing the studies a bit deeper, there are some problems student-athletes face:
- While they have a greater graduation rate compared to non-athletes, it was never determined if athletes took easier courses compared to their peers.
- The studies also showed that both females and males who weren’t getting paid (in any form) to perform athletically performed better in college.
The second point proved something remarkable: Athletes are more determined, more invested, and willing to do more work than their non-athletic counterparts. A bold claim, but one that would appear to be supported by science.
It could be that the athletes develop a sense of what’s needed for success. A sense of sacrifice, a sense of dedication, and persistence that non-athletes just don’t have. You also can’t forget how athletes get a monumental mental and cognitive boost from exercise.
There are, of course, outliers in each group (students and student athletes). For example, there will always be the athlete who chooses the bench over Beethoven. Or the student who prefers Pythagoras over pull-ups.
That’s okay! As long as you are succeeding in life, do what you must. That said, having a college degree would help in life, but it certainly is no longer essential.
So, Do College Student-Athletes Struggle Academically?
Looking at the grades these students are getting, it wouldn’t appear that they’re struggling more than the regular student. And if nothing else, we learned that even if you’re not a college athlete, you should still exercise!
As we’ve seen from so many studies, you don’t need to be a real athlete to get all the benefits from exercise. A simple 20 – 30 minute workout a couple of times a week will do you just fine.
Just try to choose something you enjoy. Get together with your peers, try new things, and see what you enjoy exercise-wise above all others. You might meet some new people and discover things about yourself that you never even knew!
As for the athletes, keep going. Give each part of your life the time of day it deserves, and you’ll make the best of each and every day.
(For those wondering, I ended up taking 2nd at that contest as well as getting my degree in Chemistry.)