Students with studious roommates earn higher college grades

Peer networks can affect the major students choose and how connected they feel to their institution.

Students' friends and roommates may also affect their study habits and grades, writes Jill Barshay for the Hechinger Report. That's the finding from a working paper recently circulated at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

For the study, two economists and a mathematician mined student data collected by Berea College. Students were asked to list four best friends at the end of each semester, keep a daily log of their time, and answer questions about their high school study habits. The trio of researchers also looked at the students' first-year roommate assignments, high school grades, and college grades.

From this information, the researchers calculated the average amount of time each student's college friends had reported studying in high school.

They found that for every additional 10 hours a week a student's friend had spent studying in high school, the student's study time increased by almost 25 minutes a day. And the student's GPA rose by almost a tenth of a point.

Related: The 2 most effective study strategies—and why students probably don't know them

The researchers also analyzed peer influences among roughly 180 first-year roommates who were randomly assigned by the college. They found that for every additional 10 hours a week a student's roommate studied in high school, the student's study time increased by 13 minutes a day. And the student's GPA increased by a little more than a tenth of a point.

While studious peers can influence students to study more, the researchers found that the opposite is also true. If students have friends or roommates who don't study a lot, they're likely to study less and earn lower grades.

"It’s no fun to study by yourself," says Nirav Mehta, an economist at the University of Western Ontario and one of the study’s authors. "If you want to goof off, and your friends are at the library, then you’re going to go to the library, too. And while you’re there... you’re probably going to get some studying done too."

Peers may influence how well students do in college, but there are other factors (family background, academic preparation) that also play a role, notes Barshay. The study doesn't shed light on whether peer relationships are more (or less) important than other factors, she adds.

Campus leaders and faculty can't necessarily help students make studious friends. But they can help students learn effective study habits. Many campuses host workshops to teach students how to manage their study time, prepare for finals, and where to go for academic help (Barshay, Hechinger Report, 11/12).

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