Not every student finishes college when they’re 22 years old. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 8.1 million college students who are over the age of 24.
These five athletes make up a tiny portion of those 8.1 million students. Even after becoming a sports superstar, they went back to college to earn their degrees.
Check out how they managed to find success as students as well as athletes and why a degree was important to them:
MJ studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1984. Despite his tremendous success in the NBA, Jordan went back to UNC to finish his bachelor’s degree in geography.
“My father used to say that it’s never too late to do anything you wanted to do,” he told The New York Times. “And he said, ‘You never know what you can accomplish until you try.’”
The billionaire basketball star owns seven restaurants, a car dealership and a majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets. When he bought his 90 percent stake in the Charlotte Hornets in 2010, the team was worth $175 million. Today, the Hornets are valued at over $780 million.
The two-time Olympic medalist took her first college classes at UCLA in the fall of 1999. She left UCLA to focus on her figure skating career but returned to college years later. In 2009, Kwan graduated from the University of Denver with a degree in international studies. The skater continued her education further by earning a master’s degree in international relations from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Diplomacy in 2011.
Her masters in international relations had led to a distinguished career in international diplomacy. She has served as a public diplomacy ambassador and a senior advisor to the U.S. State Department.
Four-time NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal left Louisiana State University early to play in the NBA. Eight years later, he graduated with his bachelor’s from LSU. University chancellor Dr. Mark A. Emmert said at the time, ″I’d like to thank Mr. O’Neal for dramatically increasing the starting salary of this graduating class.″
In 2012, O’Neal earned a doctorate degree in education from Barry University. “This is for my mother, who always stressed the importance of education,” he told CNN. “I am proud to have achieved a doctoral degree and wish to thank my professors and Barry University for helping make this dream a reality. I’m smart enough to know that, even at my tender age, my pursuit of education is never finished.”
Celebrated NFL safety Troy Polamalu began studying at the University of Southern California in 1999. He was just short of finishing his degree in history, when he was he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2003.
At age 30, reports ESPN, he took advantage of an NFL lockout to go back to school and finish his degree. After graduating in 2011, the six-time Pro Bowler wrote on his website, “I decided to finish what I started and walked that stage today not only because it was very important to me personally, but because I want to emphasize the importance of education, and that nothing should supersede it.”
“The majority of top picks in the NFL get drafted before they complete their college education,” Polamalu continued. “I truly love football and it’s such an immense blessing and privilege as an athlete to be given the rare opportunity to use those talents at the highest professional level, but it’s certainly not a replacement for an education.”
Tennis star Venus Williams always wanted to study business but did not achieve her goal until she was 35 years old. In 2007, Williams earned an associate’s degree from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. In 2015, she also earned a bachelor’s in business administration from Indiana University.
In a statement from Indiana University Williams said, “I’ve learned so much. It was always my dream to have a business degree and I ended up going to art school so many times, but in the back of my head I felt like I needed the tools to be a better leader, to be a better planner, to be better at all of the things I wanted to do in my businesses because I’m so hands-on.”
Business and Economics Dean David Frantz worked closely with Williams, and said, “Venus had a certain openness to learning that we cannot teach and we celebrate. The drive and the tenacity that Venus shows on the tennis court, we saw in her studies.”