Career Advice Blog

What to Expect as a College Athlete: Part 3


Because of the demands of intercollegiate athletic participation, you might inadvertently compromise your social activities as you progress through university, and you may continually struggle to fulfill your athletic and academic responsibilities. Some people never seem to get the hang of college and sports as a combination, depending, of course, on their work ethic and the academic match to their university.


Time previously allocated to your social life will be in short supply, and it is difficult to sustain relationships in your first year of college. The social needs of college athletes are met almost exclusively through friendships with teammates and often within the context of athletic events. As an example, many athletes form housing groups by renting off-campus accommodations with teammates. These houses and apartments become generally known as the “swimmers’ house” or the “volleyball players’ house,” etc. and are often passed from graduating to incoming athletes.


The friends you meet in college athletics will stay with you a lifetime. There is no substitute for sharing the ups and downs of training, the psychological growth that comes with dealing with teammates and coaches, success and failure in competition, and the challenges and disappointments of making the team. You will be able to call on your college teammates for anything you will need later on in life: support, career assistance, a kick in the ass, and best of all, someone who can share with you the terrific stories and memories of your college experience.


Yes, I approve of the college sports experience, but it is not for everybody. It is truly a lifetime reward– an experience that while filled with tremendous challenges continues to a great ride for those that take it. Are you ready?




What to Expect as a College Athlete: Part 2


Academically, your initial arrival at university will be a difficult transition. You have to adapt to the quantity and complexity of schoolwork and the style of studying needed for academic success in an environment of lecture-style teaching, large classes, and limited interaction with professors. Learning to navigate through the university system will involve managing course selection, fulfilling degree requirements, and completing administrative tasks such as registration– responsibilities which will usually be assisted by the athletic department but still will be new and confusing.


Contrary to popular opinion that student-athletes in lucrative sports use college athletics as a stepping stone to professional sport and have little intention of pursuing a degree, most athletes are initially optimistic about obtaining a degree when they first enter college. Unfortunately, with such a strong emphasis today on maximizing performance (winning), many student-athletes’ athletic, social, and classroom experiences create an anti-intellectual environment that, over time, inhibits academic success. Many athletes regularly adjust their academic plans throughout their college years, repeatedly lowering their educational goals. Fatigue from training, traveling, competition, insufficient time for studying, isolation from the general student population, differential treatment from faculty, and pressures from coaches and alumni both prompt and reinforce disengagement from academic matters that culminate for many in academic failure and non-completion.


The adjustment period between high school and university is made easier by being on a team. Being involved in any subgroup of the university makes the transition easier, and sports, fraternities, or sororities are great support groups. On a sports team, you don’t feel all alone, you don’t feel like a number, and you have the luxury of learning the ropes from older teammates and academic/athletic advisors usually resident in the athletic department.

What to Expect as a College Athlete: Part 1


Almost everybody who has participated in or follows college athletics knows how great the experience can be. I’m a big believer in the college athletic experience, provided the athlete is aware that not all the experiences associated with college athletics are rosy. Here is a brief look inside the college athlete experience.


When you first arrive at college, you cannot help but feel an exuberant enthusiasm for your sport and athletics. There are usually three motives and themes identified for participating in athletics at the university level. Initially, many students express a love or a passion for their sport and just want to keep playing for as long as they can. Others seek the personal success and sense of satisfaction associated with training hard and competing well. A smaller group of students are driven by the need to prove their athletic ability to themselves and others. Almost every athlete initially grinds really hard to prove their ability to coaches, either to validate their coaches’ selection or to garner their coaches’ attention and praise.


The athletic environment at college will certainly fulfill your desire for athletic success. Training and competition at the university level is notably different from the high school experiences. The intensity and quantity of training, intra-team competition, and demanding coaching styles often found in high-level sports will challenge and stimulate you. In addition, you will find yourself surrounded by very talented athletes. Some teammates might be former or contending Olympic athletes and/or high-ranking competitors on the national university scene. Your teammates will usually foster an atmosphere of athletic excellence and concentration that you will find both intimidating and inspiring.


But the grind will take a toll on your young body. Unless you are very disciplined, you will find very little time to study or complete schoolwork and will feel regularly fatigued from daily routines of early morning, afternoon, or evening practices, physical conditioning, academic classes, and household chores. You might quickly fall behind on schoolwork, and as your athletic season intensifies, you might have less and less time to complete mounting piles of readings and assignments. The time and physical demands are similar for both male and female student-athletes competing in their first year of intercollegiate sports.




The Power of the Mentor


The term “mentor” is seductive. To many, it is assumed that having a mentor is the magic key to finding a job and securing lifelong career success. Many bigger athletic departments provide formal and informal mentoring programs that incorporate a strong network of coaches, academic advisors, administrators, and alumni athlete organizations– all committed to providing a support system for current student-athletes. Many professional sports leagues and player associations also provide access to former athletes and individuals that can assist you in making the transition to a work career that much easier.


When you have completed competitive athletics, it is of paramount importance  that all former athletes consider developing a strong career mentor relationship to help guide them through this difficult transition. A job mentor serves as a catalyst and a partner, providing support in your job search and guiding you toward professional success and fulfillment. Mentors can offer a fresh perspective on seemingly daunting issues and can provide creative but proven career advice for handling the challenges you may face in your career and your life.


A good mentoring relationship is reciprocal. Because mentoring is a two-way street, it’s important to understand what’s involved. There is a mutual time commitment, a shared emotional investment in each other, and the creation of a trust and bond between two individuals. Meaningful mentoring relationships are difficult to develop, delicate to manage, and change over time as the partners learn to communicate with each other.


Of course, mentoring is not a new concept. The original Mentor can he traced to Greek mythology. Today, mentoring is an accepted process that links an experienced individual with someone who needs support and guidance. A good mentor relationship can help almost every young person who is just starting out in their career and can facilitate career development and expand opportunities for those who are traditionally hindered by organizational barriers (such as women and minorities). Today, many organizations are using formal mentoring programs, often geared specifically to women and minorities as a way of helping them break into the “Good ‘Ol Boy Network” and burst through the seemingly impenetrable glass ceiling.


For many athletes, their coach in later life (who they developed the most respect for and successfully opened a communication dialog with) is the most likely mentor they seek out. The problem with an athletic coach as an advisor for your career is that oftentimes coaches come directly from academia or sports themselves and possess no “real world” experiences. Compounding the problem, coaches in today’s highly competitive landscape often lack skills and time to effectively mentor the growing legions of former athletes that seek their attention.




Which NCAA Division is Right For Me?


In theory…


  • NCAA Division I schools are generally large universities and set both minimum and maximum financial aid award limits for student-athletes.
  • NCAA Division II schools have maximum award limits and generally attract local or in-state student-athletes.
  • NCAA Division III schools do not award athletic scholarships.


In practice, however, these distinctions don’t mean a lot. Many Division III schools find ways to supply merit scholarships to promising student-athletes, while, contrary to popular myth, most awards at Division I schools do not come close to covering tuition and room and board.


What really sets NCAA schools in Division I apart from their Division II and III counterparts is the greater emphasis on athletics over academics:


Division I (athletics are a priority): 

  • Athletes train in their sport throughout the year and compete and travel during at least half the academic year. The athletics department generally offers academic support via study halls and tutors to help students balance their academic and athletic schedules. But student-athletes at Division I institutions can expect the demands of their sport to equal or exceed the demands of academics, and they generally view their athletic participation as their primary or sole extracurricular activity.


Division II (community-focused balance of athletics and academics):

  • Athletes at Division II schools are often commuter students or students focused on a vocational degree. Their sports involvement is generally confined to competition against other regional institutions.


Division III (academics are the priority):

  • Athletes at Division III schools, often selective liberal arts colleges, generally compete in a more limited season. Though the competition may be as stiff as at a Division I school, the athletic department is funded like any other department at the institution, and there is no formal academic support system for athletes. Academics have clear priority at Division III institutions.