The Sport Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University calculated that the average graduate who played sport while studying earns £5,824 (18 per cent) more than those who did not.
Twenty-one per cent of graduates who were sporty students had experienced a period of unemployment during their career, compared with per cent of those who did not participate.
The centre conducted the survey on nearly 6,000 students on behalf of British Universities & Colleges Sport.
Simon Shibli, co-director of the centre, said that sport was a way students could demonstrate ambition, drive, motivation and leadership to prospective employers.
“The results of this research are proof positive that sport in higher education provides a recognised and valuable part of the student experience,” he said.
“Involvement in sport makes a real, measurable and positive impact not just on the student experience, but also on life beyond higher education.”
The study also surveyed 112 graduate recruiting companies, 94 per cent of which said there was a “clear link between university sport participation and valuable skills and strengths in potential employees”.
Karen Rothery, chief executive of BUCS, said: “In a challenging economic climate, employers increasingly require candidates to demonstrate achievements beyond academic ability – key attributes such as team work, communication skills and leadership that can be developed through sport make a student stand out.”