The life of a college student-athlete revolves around finding the perfect balance of playing your sport, keeping up with your academics, and developing as a young professional. Being a Collegiate Council Co-VP of Scholarship Development for the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) has allowed me to share key advice with students who may need help with time management and discipline during their academic career. As a student-athlete who has spent two years playing DI-AA football before transitioning to track & field, I’ve developed and learned to succeed in three core aspects of my life: as a student, as an athlete, and as an intern. Here are my thoughts and tips on how to balance and excel in these three areas.
Life as a student
Life as a college student is immensely stressful, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Online learning has been a major adjustment for students worldwide in every level of education. If you felt overwhelmed with the concept of virtual learning, you’re not alone! As a third-year Industrial Engineering major and student-athlete, I had a hard time adjusting since I’m both a hands-on and visual learner. What helped me overcome the virtual roadblock was focusing on mental health and making sure to take things one step at a time so that I didn’t get overloaded with anxiety.
In terms of academics, college is a much different pace compared to high school. You’re given so much free time to do your work and exams, so the responsibility is all on you. The best thing you can do to manage your academics is to utilize the resources you have access to. NSHSS provides great resources for students to help them properly tackle college through webinars and the use of Slack, a social messaging platform that provides a shared workspace to have organized and accessible text chat, voice, or video conversations. Talking to the professors during their office hours will tremendously help not only your grades but your chances of using them for a future job recommendation. Also utilize teaching assistants (TAs) because they’ve already taken the class and can provide tips on how to succeed. Once you recognize and apply these resources to your academic pursuits, your classes will be much easier to manage.
Life as an athlete
Life as an athlete is full of social and personal pressures from family, friends, coaches, and yourself. The biggest challenges of being a student-athlete are finding your “why” to keep going in your sport and coping with the social pressures you’re constantly faced with. For me, my “why” is my mother, brothers, and sister. They’ve been incredibly important and supportive in my development as a player, a scholar, and a Black man—I feel that I owe it to them. I manage the social pressures from coaches, players, and fans by watching motivational videos and sticking with my mantra, a quote from American motivational speaker Les Brown: “No matter how bad it is or how bad it gets, I’m going to make it!”
Once you find your “why,” self-discipline is what will keep you successful as an athlete. For high school seniors transitioning to college freshmen, self-discipline can be a difficult skill to master. Key methods that kept me on task with my busy schedule were electronic planners, meeting reminders, class and practice schedules, and updates with athletic advisors. Electronic planning has allowed me to perfectly organize my schedule with applications like Google Calendar, Outlook, and Skype. Inputting time slots for classes and meetings each week makes my life immensely easier. Since society has become centered around cell phones, using daily reminders for your needs is a great way to become an efficient athlete. Lastly, athletic advisors are a great resource to help you stay on task. Their main goal is to make sure you’re well equipped to take on the student-athlete lifestyle and graduate in four years, so take full advantage of them!
Life as an intern
Having an internship in college is an experience filled with so many opportunities to grow as a professional and into a potential career. You’ll also get to network with possible future employers, colleagues, and teammates. My internship experiences have taught me many valuable lessons—the most important being what I wanted to pursue for a career. I’ve completed five internships working in various environments. My latest internship with the defense company Lockheed Martin showed me how I could pursue a career as an industrial engineer and designer. The company launched a grand Intern Project in which interns form groups of five with each person representing a different profession. My part of the project included a 3D SolidWorks CAD model of an Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle (UAV) quadcopter. The project was successful and allowed me to see the other interns’ creativity and how I fit into the overall team.
When searching for internships, try to find one that will enhance your passion for learning and provide hands-on experience in your desired area of expertise. Even if the internship is unpaid, the experience and lessons to be learned are invaluable to your professional experience. I’ve obtained my internships by being a well-rounded candidate with a variety of skills to offer. Companies want interns to be adaptable, efficient, and team oriented because what you learn in school doesn’t always directly translate into the business world. Internships can be hard to adjust to at first, but once you step out of your comfort zone, the possibilities are endless!
Pro tip: Make sure you create a professional LinkedIn profile. It makes finding internships that best match your skill set easier. It allowed me to obtain my fourth internship with the Solar United Neighbors nonprofit, which helped foster my self-discipline skills and my technical skills with solar panels.
The life of a college student-athlete is truly a hard journey to manage, but with the right resources, support, and drive to succeed, it’s very doable. What makes a well-rounded student-athlete excel is using all three of your skill sets and perspectives as a student, athlete, and intern to balance your life. Keep an open mind to the skills and lessons learned through each area of your life and use them interchangeably. For example, electronic planners can be used professionally, educationally, or personally. Since implementing this in my lifestyle, I’ve achieved more success in these core areas of my life. Hopefully these tips can improve your time management and give you a head start over your peers in your college and professional environment.
For more advice on balancing the hectic life of a student-athlete, check out our College Athletics section.