Playing college sports is like a full-time job on top of your classwork, clubs, hobbies, social life, and mental health. Between practices, games, and traveling to other schools, the life of a student athlete is more rigorous than most.
The good news is that collegiate athletes graduate at a higher rate than the rest of the student body, and may be better equipped for joining the workforce post-grad because of their superior teamwork and time management skills. Despite these supposed advantages, handling college life is difficult for these high-achievers. Balancing all the aspects of university can feel overwhelming, but with the right habits and practices, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience.
Here are 10 college tips that will make your life as a student-athlete easy, fun, and successful.
1. Prioritize Academics.
The NCAA estimates that the average D-I student-athlete spends 38.5 hours on athletics and 34 hours on academics in a week. Even though you may actually spend more time on your sport than on your academics, that doesn’t mean academics are any less important. You are required to maintain a certain GPA in order to keep playing, so schoolwork has to be a priority. Even if becoming a professional athlete is your goal, letting your grades slip could get you kicked off the team and ruin your dream career.
College sports are going to take up a lot of your time, but academics still have to be the top priority, which means you may need to skip some social events or quit some other clubs to make sure you have adequate time for studies. The worst thing you can do is overextend yourself.
Prioritizing your education doesn’t mean you need to entirely sacrifice having a social life, though. For a lot of student athletes, their best college friends play on the same team as them. Having a set of friends with the same interests and goals is extremely rewarding. You should communicate your schedule and needs to your non-athlete friends, and hopefully they will understand and work with you; never underestimate the power of a group lunch date!
Recommended read: What You Should Know as a College-Bound Student-Athlete
2. Choose Classes that Work with Your Athletic Schedule.
Although academics is your number-one priority, that doesn’t mean you can control when your practices or games are. To avoid the constant stress of missing classes or practices, select courses that don’t interfere with your athletic schedule. If there’s a class or lab you need to take for your major that coincides with practice, talk to your coach and the professor at the beginning of the semester to see if there can be flexibility and arrangements. If you plan in advance, they’ll be willing to work with you!
3. Plan Ahead.
The best time management strategy is to plan ahead. Do your coursework in chronological order, and set aside enough time dedicated solely to your studies. Once you’ve scheduled your athletics and academics on the calendar, you can plan out the rest of your schedule so that you can feel fulfilled in other aspects of your college life as well.
Also, take note of your game and exam schedules. If you have any games that are going to coincide with exams, alert your professor in advance. They’ll be understanding and willing to work with you if you let them know about any interference at the beginning of the semester; they may not be so understanding if you tell them the day before the test.
4. Ask for Help.
Your coaches, teammates, professors, and advisors are all there to support you. They want to see you succeed in both your college sports and schoolwork. The goal of college is not to stress you out, but to help you learn, grow, and build your expertise. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with your schedule or classwork, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you come to professors and coaches asking for insight, rather than demanding accommodations, they’ll be more than willing to strategize a plan for your success.
Get a tutor if you want one-on-one attention with your schoolwork. Tutoring can be a useful way to catch up (and get ahead), especially if you’re missing a lot of classes. Many schools have tutoring programs specifically for student athletes, so they’ll work with your schedule and learning preferences.
5. Use the Resources at Your Disposal.
One of the benefits of being an NCAA athlete is access to tutoring and wellness resources. A lot of D-I and D-II schools have wellness programs like ice baths, nutritionists, massage therapists, and access to other health professionals. They may also offer sessions on time management and other aspects of college life specific to student-athletes. These resources can be a huge asset to helping you safely, healthily, and successfully navigate your college sports career.
6. Fill Your “Empty Time.”
Multitasking isn’t always the right move, since it can lead to distractions. However, there’s a popular time management strategy known as “NET” time or “No Extra Time.” Essentially, you want to squeeze the most out of every second of your day— without overloading yourself, of course. For example, if you’re walking to class, listen to a YouTube video about what you’re learning as a way to help you study. Use travel time on the bus to an away game as an opportunity to get your homework done for the following week. You can even “double-up” your social time, like spending lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in a while (since you have to eat anyway) or gathering a study group with buddies in the same courses.
While we recommend using your time wisely, it’s also okay to give yourself some free time to relax and let your mind wander. A little brain freedom is good for learning and creativity!
7. Focus on Health.
Student athletes usually require a lot of calories to keep up with the demanding physical needs of college sports. Filling your caloric intake with French fries and chicken fingers might taste good, but it’s not going to help your athletic or academic performance. Nutrition is key to keeping your brain and body sharp. We like these nutrition tips for student athletes, which include meal planning, cooking, and having an alcohol intake plan. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water!
8. Find Friends in Your Major.
You will probably have a lot of friends on the same team as you, but you’ll likely want to make other friends as well. Get to know people in your classes and majors. They’ll have similar interests and goals as you, and they can be a great resource for notes and study sessions. Plus, you’ll likely see them around a lot, and it’s always comforting to have familiar friendly faces nearby.
9. Forget Social Media.
The average time spent on social media is over two hours per day. That’s 14 hours of unproductive time every week. Even 30 minutes a day adds up to 3 and a half hours that could be used for studying, socializing, or relaxing. Social media isn’t “relaxation” time. It’s actually impacting your brain— often in a negative way by comparing you to others or going down a rabbit hole of scrolling. Consider tracking or limiting your social media time so you can focus on the friends and experiences right in front of you.
The same is true of other distractions. Minimize time-wasters as much as possible. You may even want to set up your dorm room and study space to get rid of anything that’s disrupting your ability to focus.
One of the greatest college tips we can give is to just be present where you are. You’ll be happier and more fulfilled, and you’ll make memories that will last a lifetime.
10. Give Yourself a Break.
College life has a lot of different facets, and it can be hard to balance them all. You’re learning new time management skills, maybe even for the first time in your life. So, don’t get overwhelmed or overstressed. Take care of yourself. The goal is to have a healthy, balanced lifestyle. If you’re happy, have your priorities straight, and have confidence in yourself, you’ll be able to succeed.
Take time for you. Plan to finish your schoolwork in advance so you can attend your university’s famous weekend festival. Get cozy in your favorite pullover sweatshirt to watch a movie with friends. Throw on a warm collegiate hat and go sledding on the dining hall’s lunch trays. Get involved with your campus traditions—those moments become some of your favorite college memories.
College life shouldn’t be stressful. If you play college sports, you’ll have a lot less time, but the right prioritization and time management strategies can lead you to a highly fulfilling student athlete experience. Gear up to show your pride for your campus colors as you rock a healthy, balanced college life in style.