Attending College as a Student Athlete

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Leaving home and adjusting to campus life often poses a challenge. College students must learn to manage their time well and make healthy decisions. Items to consider include diet, exercise, sleep, and study time. The loss of structure and prior support networks can damage student mental and physical health. Playing on a team helps learners overcome these challenges by making new friends and forming a community.

Sports also provide a natural structure that grounds and disciplines student athletes. Student athletes benefit from college athletics departments that monitor athletes’ academic performance and ensure targeted academic support as needed. Many schools offer scholarships to Division I athletes. So, attending college as a student athlete can save learners thousands of dollars. This page surveys college athletics, including eligibility rules, financing, rights, and insurance needs for college athletes.

Balancing School and College Sports



College athletes need advanced time management skills to balance a demanding training and travel schedule with classes, work, and social life. Learners often benefit from taking some time up front to analyze and prioritize their activities’ importance. Athletes can free up time by identifying and eliminating less valuable activities.

Learning good study habits can help students reduce procrastination, stress, and last-minute cramming. Using apps and calendars can help athletes plan in advance by keeping track of deadlines and sports schedules.

Talented varsity athletes often benefit from scholarships. Many colleges recruit varsity athletes, but students can also use personal recruitive services. Non-recruited athletes can engage in walk-on tryouts for college sports. Aspiring college athletes should register with the NCAA Eligibility Center, play on club or Amateur Athletic Union teams, fill out recruiting questionnaires, and reach out to coaches.

Students often run club sports, and the NCAA does not regulate these college athletics. Club sports teams play against other college club teams but do not require the time commitment that NCAA varsity collegiate sports do. Schools sometimes recruit club athletes, but most of these students join club sports through tryouts and do not receive scholarships.

Less competitive than collegiate and club sports, college intramural sports prioritize participation and recreation. These organized sports and athletic activities invite staff, faculty, and students to play. Intramural athletes can participate without prior sports experience. Intramural sports may offer competitive and recreational divisions to fit athletes of differing levels.

Some athletes participate in extracurricular sports activities in their community. Many geographical areas offer community club sports teams unaffiliated with educational institutions. These teams typically accept athletes based on available spots, although some teams may choose players based on talent or experience.

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Benefits of Being a Student Athlete



Student athletic participation yields many benefits. Playing sports often helps students stay in shape, enjoy themselves, and join a tight-knit community. College athletics participation also cultivates valuable skills and discipline. It can also provide structure and increase graduation rates. Top athletes may receive sizable athletics scholarships, which help prevent student debt. Learn more about these benefits below.


  • Higher Graduation Rates

    Participation in college athletics often cultivates self-discipline, commitment, and general wellness. Collegiate sports athletes also usually receive extra academic support, supervision, and encouragement from the athletics department. This added support can help learners keep their grades up and eventually reach graduation. According to the NCAA, 90% of first-year, full-time Division I college athletes graduate within six years.


  • Staying in Shape

    Many college students suffer physically from the changes in diet and lifestyle that often accompany college life. Athletics involvement can help enrollees avoid various common health issues such as irregular sleep. Regular exercise can also help students manage mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.


  • Prioritization Skills and Discipline

    Athletics participation may require several hours per day, so student athletes often need to prioritize their activities and manage their time carefully. Athletes also need self-discipline because they often must wake up early and practice hard.


  • Valuable Skills that Translate to the Working World

    A successful professional life often requires punctuality, communication, and collaboration. Functioning as a team and working toward shared goals, student athletes exercise these skills regularly. Good athletics environments also emphasize honesty, positive thinking, supportive relationships, and ethical choices.


  • Structure

    College course offerings usually offer more schedule flexibility and variety than secondary school courses. Many students celebrate this freedom by staying up later and partying more than they did in high school. College athletes usually need to stick to regular practice schedules. This added structure tends to support healthier habits and better time management.


  • Scholarships

    Many colleges and universities offer sports scholarships to talented athletes. This funding is particularly important to students who could not otherwise afford college. Scholarships often cover part or all of tuition and fees. Some athletes also receive free room and board.


  • Close-Knit Community

    Athletes spend a lot of time with their team members, coaches, and athletes from other sports. This frequent contact can support feelings of interpersonal and community connectedness. This close-knit community can also help students adjust to being away from home.


  • It's Enjoyable

    Participating in vigorous exercise can boost students’ moods. Working toward and achieving athletics goals may also improve life satisfaction and self-esteem. College athletes often enjoy activities that can increase mental focus, strengthen the body, and improve sleep quality.


Eligibility

Aspiring athletes need to register for eligibility through the NCAA Eligibility Center. Division I-eligible student athletes need a high school diploma and a minimum 2.3 GPA in 16 foundational high school courses. These course requirements include four years of English, three years of mathematics, and two years each of natural science and social science.

Division I athletes also need acceptable standardized test scores. Students’ SAT or ACT scores need to match core-course GPAs on a sliding scale. The NCAA also insists that student athletes maintain amateur status. Amateurism means that student athletes do not accept pay, prize money, or gifts for athletic performance. Transfer students must undergo an amateurism review to compete at their new school.

Money



Some college athletes receive full scholarships, which can amount to six figures over four years. However, even “full” athletic scholarships sometimes leave students with substantial expenses. Full scholarships typically only cover education-related costs, such as tuition, fees, books, and room and board. Other potential indirect, out-of-pocket expenses may include insurance, transportation, and personal expenses.

According to Forbes, top NCAA Division I schools make over 8 billion dollars annually from collegiate athletics. Less than 7% of that money goes into athletics scholarships and stipends. Many athletes and organizations currently advocate for better compensation for college athletes.

Unionization



The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) resists student athlete unionization because the NCAA refuses to recognize student athletes as university employees. However, special associations, such as the College Athete’s Players Association (CAPA), currently advocate for student athletes’ rights.

CAPA is petitioning the National Labor Relations Board and hoping to create a national player’s association that would change NCAA rules that many athletes find unjust. CAPA seeks to protect student athletes from unfair medical expenses and lost or inadequate sports scholarships.

Injuries and Medical Insurance



The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) requires all division-level student athletes to hold health insurance. Student athletes need a medical insurance policy that covers at least as much as the NCAA’s Catastrophic Injury Insurance Program deductible. Students who play football, basketball, soccer, and gymnastics tend to incur particularly serious and frequent injuries. These students should invest in robust insurance plans.

Athletes can often choose between university health insurance plans, private student plans, employer-provided health insurance, and their parents’ insurance plans. University plans often cost less than private plans. Athletes should know what their insurance covers for both on-the-field and off-the-field injuries.

Unionization



The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) resists student athlete unionization because the NCAA refuses to recognize student athletes as university employees. However, special associations, such as the College Athete’s Players Association (CAPA), currently advocate for student athletes’ rights.

CAPA is petitioning the National Labor Relations Board and hoping to create a national player’s association that would change NCAA rules that many athletes find unjust. CAPA seeks to protect student athletes from unfair medical expenses and lost or inadequate sports scholarships.

Injuries and Medical Insurance

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) requires all division-level student athletes to hold health insurance. Student athletes need a medical insurance policy that covers at least as much as the NCAA’s Catastrophic Injury Insurance Program deductible. Students who play football, basketball, soccer, and gymnastics tend to incur particularly serious and frequent injuries. These students should invest in robust insurance plans.

Athletes can often choose between university health insurance plans, private student plans, employer-provided health insurance, and their parents’ insurance plans. University plans often cost less than private plans. Athletes should know what their insurance covers for both on-the-field and off-the-field injuries.

State, City, and College Bills of Rights



Student athletes’ rights often vary by state and city. The congressional Student Right-to-Know Act requires Title IV funding-eligible schools to disclose full-time students’ graduation rates, including specific graduation rates for athletic scholarship recipients. State governments increasingly allow athletes to receive endorsements, sponsorships, or compensation for their image in marketing.

In December, 2020, Senator Cory A. Booker of the U.S. Congress proposed a federal College Athletes Bill of Rights that seeks further protection of student athletes’ rights. If passed, the bill would protect athletes’ rights to market themselves, receive compensation for relevant expenses, and access agent representation. It would also allow athletes to transfer schools, enter professional sports drafts, and fully participate in intercollegiate athletics competitions.

Resources


  • Cold Turkey This website blocker helps students resist internet distractions while studying. The service respects user privacy by not gathering user data. Users make a one-time purchase, rather than paying for a subscription.
  • Headspace Originally founded as an events company in 2010, this online resource site provides guided meditations, videos, articles, and animations. Headspace can help student athletes improve their focus, relaxation, and awareness.
  • HelloMind This online platform offers hypnotherapy treatments that address common difficulties such as fear, negative thought patterns, stress, and craving issues. Users can use five-minute quick fixes or longer hypnosis sessions.
  • iStudiezPro This application offers user-friendly tools and methods for homework and assignment management. Users can sort and prioritize tasks, keep track of deadlines, and record grades.
  • myHomework This free, cross-platform planner helps users stay organized. Students can easily manage assignments and classes, track progress, and meet due dates.
  • stickK This application employs data-driven techniques that help users change behavior. Users can set goals and stick to them by signing commitment contracts that leverage loss-aversion and accountability.

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