Have you ever been Intrigued by Student-Athletes?

[Intended for: students who aspire to play sports for their college, and most importantly, their parents.]

As a student at UCLA, considered a competitor of Ivy league institutions, yet incontestably one of the most celebrated athletic universities in the country, I often heard the faculty complaining about the accommodations that they were asked (pressured) to provide, to student-athletes so that their athletic engagement would not have a negative impact on their academic progress. This gave non-athletic students like me, the impression that the athletes were “the privileged few.”

During the time I spent at UCLA, I ended up painting a not-so-flattering image of student athletes for “being accepted to the school not based on academic merits, but because of their athletic promise that the school want to exploit to secure their athletic supremacy. UCLA recruits athletes solely on their ability to play for them, regardless of their academic potential, simply so that UCLA could win in the athletic arena!” Or so was my misconception!

That is how I did indeed perceive college athletic recruiting, in general!

Years later, when I started working as a high school teacher in the suburbs of Philadelphia, it was fascinating to see that every other student seemed convinced that their dream of playing for a national team at professional level would materialize; playing on their college team was to them, the first step toward achieving their ultimate goal of joining a nationally-acclaimed team in their respective sport.

Occasionally, a couple students ended up being recruited by colleges on a partial to full ride, while most others were not successful and had to fend for themselves to make it to college, if they did. Often times, their academic records would not meet standard requirements. So, they would experience their first disappointment, especially where they would have prioritized sports over academics, convinced that their athletic prowess would see them through—but find out they were on the wrong track all along!

If student athletes are to avoid such disappointments, they need to be college-ready, with or without any athletic advantage. It does not suffice to play sports well. Academics is equally important, if not more! Gathering information, and following each step of the recruiting process, starting with the NCAA registration, and establishing eligibility to play on the college team, are crucial.

Counterintuitively, the over-abundance of information online not helping, keeping it simple might be best: registering with the NCAA Eligibility Centre to access more pertinent information, the NJCAA if planning to attend a community college, and the NAIA, if the student wants to join the NAIA rather than the larger NCAA, or simply wants to compare the two.

Parents and students should carefully assess which of these organizations caters best to their athletic recruitment, preparation, and needs- both athletic and academic. In a nutshell, a student aspiring to play sports in college, should be aware that: 

  1. Division III NCAA recruits are not awarded any type of financial award other than academic scholarships and need-based aid.
  2. Fewer than 2% of student athletes go on to play professionally. Student-athletes should therefore prepare for a non-athletic career as well. 
  3. Students should proactively establish communication with their schools of interest, and the athletic recruiter of the sports they wish to play in college.
  4. No matter how great a student athlete is in college, he will have to focus more on the academics; after all academics come first. 
  5. Students who play sports in college tend to graduate at a higher rate than the general student body.

To play or not to play sports in college is not a decision to be taken casually. As much as it appears prestigious and exciting to be on a varsity team, it can turn into a hindrance to the unprepared and undisciplined student. For adequate college and career preparation, student athletes should (i) plan (ii) register (iii) study and (iv) graduate.

In retrospect, the UCLA athletes, or any student-athlete for that matter, are not as privileged as they appear. They not only have more to juggle than non-athlete applicants in the already challenging race of college admissions, but they have more to cope with, throughout college—so they can maintain their place on their school’s athletic team.

Anjanita MahadooStudyUSA