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Want Kids to Go to College? Pair Them With Smart Peers in Extracurriculars

If parents want their children to continue their education past high school, pushing them to enroll in extracurricular activities alongside studious peers may be the way to go, suggests a study published online earlier this month in the journal Social Science Research.

According to the study, participating in any extracurricular activity during high school increased the odds of a student enrolling in college. When paired in those activities with peers who have higher-than-normal grade point averages, students are twice as likely to continue on their academic careers after high school.

"Tell your parents, whatever they ground you from, it shouldn't be from practice or a club activity," study co-author Lance Erickson, a sociologist at Brigham Young University,  said in a statement. "If they ground you from a school club, you are more likely to end up living at their house because you won't be going to college."

The study authors examined data of 8,087 high schoolers across 80 high schools from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, limiting the sample to those who participated in 10 or fewer extracurricular activities. Seventy-one percent of the students in the study population participated in any form of extracurricular activities, with 49 percent in sports, 30 percent in performance-based activities (such as drama, etc.), 27 percent in academic-based activities, and 16 percent in school leadership.

Overall, students who participated in extracurriculars were 1.3 times as likely to attend a four-year college (versus not enrolling in any college) than those who weren't active in extracurriculars. The mean GPA of the students involved in each extracurricular activity appeared to have a positive effect on college enrollment, too. Students on teams with a one-point increase in mean GPA (i.e., a team or group with a mean GPA of 3.7 versus 2.7) were more than twice as likely to enroll in a four-year college. This held true across all four disciplines of extracurricular activities.

"In these high-achieving [extracurricular] environments, peers likely play a role in modeling high achievement, creating norms of college-going, and providing paths to information about how post-secondary education works, how to apply, and what opportunities are available to youth like themselves," the authors surmise.

Academic extracurriculars had additional predictive powers of college enrollment, while sports, performance and student leadership didn't specifically increase the odds of college enrollment. Students involved in sports, for instance, were 1.273 times as likely to enroll in a four-year university compared to those who didn't participate in sports. Given that participation in any extracurriculars increased the chances of college enrollment by 1.3 times, sports weren't found to significantly move the needle in that regard.

Among the groups with the highest GPAs were honor society, math, science, debate, student council, orchestra, and tennis. Football and wrestling came in with the lowest mean GPAs, by far, and the lowest percentage of students who would later enroll in a four-year college (both under 80 percent).

Participating in multiple extracurricular activities had no added impact on college enrollment, according to the study. Then again, it's not as though having a lengthy list of extracurriculars on a college application will hurt an applicant.

Want all the latest K-12 sports news? Follow @SchooledinSport on Twitter.

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