The Benefits of Being a Student Athlete
The vast majority of college athletes never go on to compete professionally. So why do they do it? There are numerous upsides to playing a sport in college. Here are eight:
Higher graduation rates
In 2003, the NCAA introduced academic reforms that required Division I and II athletes to progress through their degree at a certain rate. By 2017, NCAA athlete graduation rates had gone from 74% to 87%. The federal government uses a different measure but still reported slightly higher rates for student athletes — according to ESPN, graduation rates among college athletes were at 67%, compared to 65% for students overall. However, prospective student athletes should understand that each college and team’s graduation rates vary.
Staying in shape
Ah, the college cafeteria and its endless — and free! — supply of soda and soft-serve ice cream. Best of all, mom and dad aren’t there to tell you not to eat too much. Little wonder that by Thanksgiving break, many freshmen have put on weight. College athletes may not be able to resist some tasty desserts, but at least they’ll burn it off when training and practicing.
Prioritization skills and discipline
Prioritization is a skill that many veteran working professionals still haven’t mastered. College athletes, on the other hand, have no other choice but to cut out the nonessential. “Being a student athlete, there are choices you have to make,” says Percy. “You can’t have the big party social life, be committed to your sport, get good grades and get enough sleep.”
Valuable skills that translate to the working world
All that discipline comes in handy during career searches. “As an athlete we have grueling schedules, between trying to get enough sleep, staying on top of our studying and constantly reaching for peak athletic performance, we never really get a break,” says Olson. “Day in and day out we constantly have to be responsible with our time because we don’t have a ton of it, and the struggle between academics and athletics will always be a waging war no matter the sport or the school. However, it is also the reason we are hired by top companies right out of college, why so many athletes go professional and why employers might prioritize a collegiate athlete during an interview process. We’ve proven, for years, we can handle the stress of full workloads, time management, deadlines and teamwork.”
Speaking of time management, athletic schedules really do refine that skill. Percy says her time management was actually better during swim season. “As swimming got more relaxed and our schedules weren’t as rigid, I found it harder to be productive. When you have a deadline and have to get the work done in two hours, you find a way. When you have time to fill, the same work seems to stretch into six hours. After years of managing school work and pool work, I like the structure.”
Not every athlete is eligible for athletic scholarships, but those who are often welcome the opportunity to reduce their future financial debts and get a college education at a discounted rate.
Winning and losing as part of a team is a life-altering experience. According to Olson, the biggest benefit of being a student athlete is the family and community you develop between your teammates, coaches and alumni. “Today, the majority of my connections originate from the rowing community,” she says. Percy agrees: “You get close to your teammates in a way that transcends friendship. The people I lived and trained with are some of the most important people in my life. We grew up together, they’ve seen me at my breaking points, and I know I can trust them.”
From an outside perspective, being a student athlete sounds grueling. And there are probably a lot of college athletes who say they’d hang up their shoes and pack away their uniform after senior year, if not before. But most still stick with it. Why? Because it really is fun. “To enjoy spending time physically working that hard sounds crazy, but I loved it,” says Percy.