College students who participate in recreational sports are more likely to have better grades compared to their peers that are not as active.

Researchers at Michigan State University examined how taking part in various sports activities can help people perform better in school. They looked at the grade point average of nearly 1,800 students who recently joined the university as freshmen.

By the end of their first year at MSU, students who participated in intramural sports had a GPA of 3.25. This is noticeably higher compared to the 3.07 GPA of those who did not take part in such activities.

Aside from having better grades, students who played recreational activities were also less likely to fail or drop out of any of their classes during their first year. These individuals were 40 percent more likely to advance to their sophomore year.

Findings showed that those who are active in sports were 2.5 times more likely to return to the university and continue their education.

Benefits Of Taking Part In Recreational Sports

In the United States, college students must earn at least 120 credit hours to graduate with a bachelor's degree. This means that they need to spend a total of 30 credit hours per school year to finish school in four years.

Kerri Vasold, a graduate of MSU's kinesiology Ph.D. program and lead author of the study, noted how students who played recreational sports only dropped or failed an average of six credits at the end of the school year. Meanwhile, those who did not play dropped or failed an average 7.7 credits.

While the two credit difference between the two groups may not look much at first glance, Vasold explained that it can have a significant effect on how long students would take to graduate. It can also put a huge strain on their college expenses.

The MSU study offers the most solid evidence so far on the importance of intramural sports play on a student's success in college. Earlier research on the subject mostly made use of survey results. However, Vasold and her team decided to pull hard numbers taken from Michigan State's registrar office to provide more compelling evidence.

The researchers matched the students based on several factors, such as their gender, race, socioeconomic status, and GPA from high school. They also factored in whether the participants lived on the MSU campus and if they were first-generation students.

The team then compared these data to whether the students took part in intramural sports in school.

Study co-author Jim Pivarnik said the only difference that they found between the students was whether they took part in recreational sports or not.

He said the strength of their study is on how tightly controlled they executed it.

"You can't just say one person was smarter in high school than the other or his or her socioeconomic status was better," Pivarnik pointed out.

"We addressed all that, with all things being equal."

How Many Recreational Sports Should Be Taken?

Vasold and her colleagues believe college students should play at least four to seven different sports throughout a school year. This is based on new data that the team discovered and will be published in a separate study soon.

However, the researchers warned students about overdoing things just to reap the potential benefits of recreational play.

"Don't go crazy. Don't join 20 teams," Pivarnik said.

"Grab some friends, find a moderate number of activities and get involved in something different. The four-to-seven range seems to be effective and is linked to a higher GPA."

The findings of the Michigan State University are featured in the Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice.

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