On December 16th, Chris Paul became the latest athlete to return to school and earn a college degree – despite playing in an NBA game the day before. He started attending Winston-Salem State University in the fall of 2020 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications two years later.
While it was a huge moment for the 37-year-old, he remained humble during the ceremony and ‘didn’t want it to be about me,’ according to an interview with Andscape. “You know, all these students here have fought their butts off for a while to get their degree,” said Paul, who didn’t want to steal their thunder.
Paul was originally a student at Wake Forest University between 2003 and 2005, where he played point guard for two seasons – he averaged 15.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 2.5 steals in 63 games played. He entered the 2005 NBA Draft and was the No. 4 overall pick by the New Orleans Hornets.
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15 Other Famous Athletes to Earn a College Degree
Earning a college degree is something Chris Paul always dreamed about and, while his basketball career got in the way initially, he wasn’t about to let that happen again. In fact, he played in an NBA game on Thursday (the day before the graduation ceremony) and Saturday (the day after the ceremony).
On December 15, he put up 15 points, 13 assists, and 8 assists in a 111-95 victory over the Clippers – at this point, he wasn’t a college graduate. On December 17, he put up 18 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds in a 118-114 victory over the Pelicans – at this point, he was a college graduate. Isn’t that ncredible?!
Chris Paul’s path to a college degree is one that many athletes have taken in the past. Since most athletes are discovered early on in their college career, a lot of them leave school early to begin their professional sports career – just to return later on and get that college degree. Here are some others!
15. Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry attended Charlotte Christian High School before playing three years of college basketball at Davidson College. He left the school as a junior and entered the 2009 NBA Draft, where he was selected by the Golden State Warriors with the No. 7 overall pick. He has excelled in the NBA ever since.
When he left college in 2009, he announced his intent to one day return for his college degree. It took him 13 years, but he finally completed his bachelor’s degree in May 2022 – majoring in sociology – and had his No. 30 jersey retired by the school a few months later (jersey retirement is reserved for graduates).
14. Shaquille O’Neal
Shaquille O’Neal attended Fulda American High School and Robert G. Cole High School before playing three years of college basketball at Louisiana State University (LSU). He decided to enter the 1992 NBA Draft and was selected by the Orlando Magic with the No. 1 overall pick. He played for 19 seasons.
When O’Neal left college in 1992, he made a promise to his mother that he would one day return to school and finish his bachelor’s degree. 8 years later, he completed his bachelor’s degree at LSU, but he didn’t stop there. The Hall of Famer also earned an MBA degree in 2005 and an Ed.D degree in 2012.
13. Michelle Kwan
Michelle Kwan started figure skating at the age of five and started competing in the juniors by 1991 – at just 11 years old. She went on to win two Olympic medals and nine World Championships medals – five of which were gold medals – for the United States. She retired from competition in 2006 – she was 26.
Kwan was homeschooled for a few years before graduating from Rim of the World High School in 1998. She spent a year at UCLA, but transferred schools and didn’t earn her bachelor’s degree until 2009 – a major in international studies and minor in political science. She earned a master’s degree in 2011.
12. Venus Williams
Venus Williams was discovered at the age of 7 and began taking tennis seriously shortly after. By the age of 14, she was making her professional tennis debut and the rest is history. Since 1994, she has a career 816-269 singles record with 49 career singles titles and seven career Grand Slam singles titles.
During her career, she decided to attend college and eventually earned her associate degree in fashion design in 2007 – she attended the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. Eight years later, she received her bachelor’s degree in business administration at Indiana University East and may return for an MBA.
11. Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan attended Emsley A. Laney High School before playing three years of college basketball at the University of North Carolina (UNC). He decided to forego his senior year and entered the 1984 NBA Draft, where he was selected by the Chicago Bulls with the No. 3 overall pick – the rest is history.
In 1986, two years after entering the NBA and winning an Olympic gold medal, Jordan returned to UNC and completed his bachelor’s degree in geography. Believe it or not, Michael Jordan always wanted to be a weatherman and treated it as his Plan B if his career in basketball or baseball never worked out – it did.
10. Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald attended Penn Hills High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was just a three-star prospect as he entered college. He played four years of college football at the University of Pittsburgh and entered the 2014 NFL Draft (without a degree), where he was the No. 13 pick by the St. Louis Rams.
Donald has enjoyed a legendary career on the defensive side of the ball and, despite receiving a wide variety of accolades for his excellence on the field, he wanted more out of life. On April 27, 2020 – a few months before the start of the 2020 regular season – he graduated with a degree in communications.
9. Troy Polamalu
Troy Polamalu attended Douglas High School in Winston, Oregon before playing four years of college football at the University of Southern California (USC). Despite an injury at the end of his college career, Polamalu entered the 2003 NFL Draft and was selected by the Steelers with the No. 16 overall pick.
Polamalu never received his college degree during his college football days, but had a lot of time on his hands during the 2011 NFL lockout – eight years into his career. He used that time wisely and returned to USC, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history – inspiring other famous athletes to do the same.
8. Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger attended Findlay High School in Findlay, Ohio before playing four years of college football at Miami University (OH). He didn’t earn his college degree, but decided to enter the 2004 NFL Draft, where he was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the No. 11 overall pick – the rest is history.
Roethlisberger was teammates with Troy Polamalu for most of his career, including during the 2011 NFL lockout. He returned to Miami University in 2012 after Polamalu graduated the year prior and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Education – he would’ve finished sooner, but football got in the way.
7. Jameis Winston
Jameis Winston attended Hueytown High School in Hueytown, Alabama before playing three years of college football at Florida State University – he was the starting quarterback for two of those years. After his sophomore season, he entered the 2015 NFL Draft, where the Buccaneers selected him No. 1 overall.
Winston would later return to Florida State University – online classes – after suffering a knee injury early into the 2021 season. During that time, he was also attending Saints’ team practices and going through the rehab process. He graduated in May 2022 with a degree in social sciences and a minor in business.
6. Marcus Stroman
Marcus Stroman attended Patchogue-Medford High School in Medford, New York before playing two years of college baseball at Duke University in 2011 and 2012 – despite being drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 18th round of the 2009 MLB Draft. He was later the No. 22 overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Stroman made his MLB debut on May 4, 2014 and had an incredible rookie season, finishing with an 11-6 record in 20 starts (26 appearances). A torn ACL during 2015 Spring Training gave him time to return to Duke, where he graduated with a major in sociology and minor in Markets and Management Studies.
5. Vince Carter
Vince Carter attended Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, Florida before playing three years of college basketball at the University of North Carolina (UNC). He decided to forego his final year and entered the 1998 NBA Draft, where he was selected by the Warriors with the No. 5 overall draft pick.
At the time, Carter wasn’t a college graduate – but he did decide to continue his studies throughout his first two years in the league. By August 2000, just a few months before the start of his third season in the NBA, Carter graduated from UNC with a degree in African-American studies – a proud moment for him.
4. Cam Newton
Cam Newton attended Westlake High School in Atlanta, Georgia before playing four years of college football. He played his first two years at the University of Florida, but was a freshman backup and suffered a season-ending injury as a sophomore. After a year at Blinn College, he transferred to Auburn University.
After a stellar season at Auburn, Newton entered the 2011 NFL Draft and was selected by the Carolina Panthers with the No. 1 overall pick. Four years later, Newton finished what he started by returning to Auburn and graduating with a degree in sociology in 2015 – fulfilling a promise he made to his mother.
3. Jeff Green
Jeff Green attended Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland before playing three years of college basketball at Georgetown University – he was touted as one of the smartest basketball players his head coach had ever had the pleasure of coaching. He was drafted by the Celtics No. 5 overall in 2007.
While he decided to forgo his senior year of college, Green continued to attend summer classes for the first four years of his NBA career. In 2012, after missing the 2011-12 season due to heart surgery, he graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in English (major) and theology (minor).
2. Leon Lett
Leon Lett attended Fairhope High School in Fairhope, Alabama before playing two years of college football at Emporia State University. He was a good player, but didn’t receive a lot of attention leading up to the 1991 NFL Draft due to a knee injury suffered late in the season – he missed the final three games.
Lett was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the seventh round (No. 173 overall) in 1991 and enjoyed a productive, yet controversial, career over the next 11 years. In 2009, he joined the UNLV football team as a volunteer assistant coach and graduated that same year with a degree in sociology and history.
1. Eric Karros
Eric Karros attended Patrick Henry High School in San Diego, California before being drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the sixth round of the 1988 MLB Draft. He decided to play college baseball for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) that same year – he played three years of college ball.
Karros didn’t make his major league debut until September 1, 1991 at the age of 23. He only appeared in 14 games, but had a breakout season in 1992 – earning Rookie of the Year honors. At the time, he continued his studies at UCLA and graduated from the university in 1993 with a degree in economics.
Why Do Some Famous Athletes Go Back to School to Earn a College Degree?
While many famous athletes have returned to school either during or after their playing career – as you can see above – it’s not something that happens often. In fact, a strong majority of superstar athletes never return to school and use their career earnings to either retire for good or invest in other things.
With that being said, why do some athletes decide to return to school for their college degree? For some of those athletes, it has always been a dream of theirs – one they’re not willing to give up on. For others, it’s something they promised their parents, grandparents, or family– they don’t want to let them down.
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Other reasons why athletes return to school include wanting to finish what they started, wanting to switch career paths when they retire, needing a source of income because they spent all their earnings, injuries, or simply wanting something to do – retirement can get boring. Everyone has their own unique reasons!
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