Research finds that in-school friendships are associated with academic achievement

In the online Journal of Research on Adolescence, Willamette University psychology professor Melissa Witkow and UCLA professor Andrew Fuligni examine the relationship between number of in-school friendships and academic achievement.

"Relationships are complex, and it can be difficult to parse factors responsible for high-achieving students," Witkow said. "This study found that adolescents with more in-school friends, relative to out-of-school friends, had higher grade point averages."

While it may not surprise anyone to learn that adolescents who have good relationships with high-achieving friends are more likely themselves to be high-achieving, this study addresses whether having more friends in the same school is associated with higher academic achievement.

The study surveyed more than 600 ethnically diverse students from Los Angeles area high schools. Older students were selected because they are more likely to have friends outside of their schools, enabling researchers to focus specifically how the number of in-school friends relates to academic achievement.

"It may be that kids with more in-school friends spend more time studying because their schedules are similar to those of their friends," Witkow said. "Their friends are therefore likely to need to study on the same days as them."

Earlier studies have shown that students who share common experiences tend to talk about those experiences together and that having friends in the same school creates a sense of belonging, both of which are important to academic motivation and success.

"This is a first step in demonstrating that having relatively more or fewer in-school friends is associated with achievement in adolescence," Witkow said.

She also noted that friendships outside of school are not necessarily detrimental to academic achievement, especially when those friendships form from other academic settings.

Witkow's next steps involve working with nine Willamette students to survey adolescents at a Salem high school on a number of social- and academic-related topics.

During the next year, they will analyze the data to address questions such as how students spend their time in comparison with their friends and how those differences can affect the way they feel about their friendships and academics.

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Good Grades? It's All in Who You Know: Having Friends Who Attend the Same School Is Key, Study Shows