Strategic Indulgence Could Be Key to Maximizing the College Experience

Strategic Indulgence Could Be Key to Maximizing the College Experience

Having a great college experience is not just about grades. Engaging in non-academic activities, including social gatherings around college sports, can build social identity as well as improve self-esteem and psychological well-being.

But, research on academic achievement in the context of college sports in particular has focused on avoiding temptations to maximize student performance and has shown that spending time on game-related activities is related to poor learning outcomes.

Luckily, research recently published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, showed that there might be a middle path. The key to balance is being selective about when to indulge, and making plans to compensate for the indulgence. Instead of avoiding temptations like a plague, students can make plans to enjoy them without compromising their overall long-term goals.

College basketball sports fans

Cameron Crazies and fans of the Duke Blue Devils. Photos credit: Lance King—Getty Images

According to the study, high-performing students are also good at making decisions so that they can enjoy college game days without hurting their academic performance. These students make good strategic decisions in how they use their time.

The research study, compared the decision-making process of high-GPA students and low-GPA students leading up to, during, and after a college basketball game day. In a series of three studies, they compared anywhere from 216 to 530 high- and low-GPA students.

The experiences represented in the studies included watching the game on television, meeting up with friends or actually attending a game. The high-GPA students in the studies made choices to balance their study time around game days and social activities, while low-GPA students did not demonstrate such strategic balancing.

While making a “strategic indulgence” choice, the high-GPA students reported more enjoyment when they engaged in game-related activities, as they planned other times to study and stayed focused on their long-term academic goals.

Can people who are not great at making these “strategic indulgence” choices learn these habits?


Students can get better at engaging in non-academic activities such as college sports in a “smart” way and be better decision makers in long-term goal pursuits.


Authored by:  Kiara Moore, PHD, LCSW

Source: Jia,L, Hirt, ER, Koh, AHQ. (2018) How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too. Social Psychological and Personality Science, doi: 194855061878940.