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Athletics in College: General Considerations

Introduction

Participation in varsity athletics in college has a number of benefits and also presents the student-athlete with several challenges. Here are a few things to consider or keep in mind you begin college as a varsity athlete or if you are trying to decide if athletics in college is right for you.

Benefits

  • Varsity level athletes have an advantage in gaining admission to colleges. High school athletes who are good enough to play at the college level are, as you’d expect, valuable prospects for colleges looking to maintain or build athletics programs. You have a better chance of being admitted to a better school if you are an athlete.
  • Top level athletes might also be able to get scholarship funding for college. This can obviously help many young people attend colleges that may otherwise be a financial challenge for them. It is important to understand though that even a full tuition scholarship does not cover costs of living. If you are being considered for an athletic scholarship, make sure to find out how much other things (room and board for example) will cost and make sure you have a plan for handling these expenses.
  • College athletes often have access to extra academic advising and support. Colleges recognize that student athletes have time constraints and other challenges (more on this below) that can present special difficulties in handling academic work. As a result, most large athletics programs offer special support for student athletes.
  • Student athletes have lower rates of depression and anxiety. It turns out that student athletes have lower rates of these emotional complaints than other students. Maybe it is the camaraderie, the support and structure or the healthful effects of exercise – but athletes are a pretty healthy group.
  • Student athletes can be made to feel like celebrities and special characters on campus.

Challenges

  • Participating in athletics at the college level takes a lot of time. Practices, conditioning, games and travel are more intensive than you will have experienced at the high school level. As a result, if you participate in athletics in college, you’ll have less time for academics, socializing and just hanging out. But successful student athletes get really good at managing and making the most of their time.
  • The demands of college athletics can be really stressful physically. Conditioning and competing can be intense and injuries are a possibility.
  • College athletes have higher rates of alcohol, opioid (pain killer) and steroid use than other students.
  • College athletes can sometimes feel isolated from much of the typical campus life (being a celebrity can have its drawbacks).

Helpful Tips

  • If you decide to participate in college athletics, make sure to use the supports provided to assure you have a good plan to manage your finances.
  • Use academic and advising supports as much as available. Remember that most college athletes will not make their professional career from sports. Get an education while you are in college!
  • Talk to older student athletes about how they have learned to manage their time, get their schoolwork done and find time to sleep and socialize.
  • Take advantage of the off-season to do some of the things you can’t do during the season.
  • Try to look for ways to balance your social life between team and non-team connections.
  • Try to keep perspective – varsity athletes are often treated like celebrities on campus and this can also cause feelings isolation. The most successful student athletes look for ways to balance their celebrity status with just being a regular student on campus.
  • Beware of prescription drugs that are sometimes used for pain management or performance enhancement (or partying). Even prescription drugs when not prescribed by a doctor or when used in a way other than prescribed are illegal and can be dangerous to your health!

More Information

For more information on considerations for student athletes, read these resources:

High School to College – Considerations in Continuing Sports

High School vs. College Sports Expectations

Get Help Now

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text HOME to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, text or call 988.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.

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