How to Prepare to Be an Upcoming Student Athlete


Enrolling in the NCAA's Division I or Division II sports programs is a lot different than just playing sports in high school. The NCAA takes sports seriously as a part of its larger education system. There are a variety of eligibility requirements, as well as different principles and rules that are put in place so that students can succeed as athletes and beyond.

Ready to be a student-athlete or know someone that is going to be? Check out our awesome collection of college gear as you approach your freshman year. You can shop by team to find the perfect gifts for any college.

Making a huge decision about where you’re going to be a student-athlete? Try snagging the team hat for your favorite team and using it for the big reveal.

Now let's talk about tips for getting ready for the next phase of your journey as you prepare to enter college life.

football-team-playersWhat to Expect as a Student-Athlete

Enrolling in Division I or Division II program comes with many opportunities, but it also comes with a lot of pressure and responsibility. Is it a cold environment, where you’re used to playing in a warm environment? Or is it hot for the games when you’re used to the cold weather?

NCAA Division I or Division II competition means that you’ll have to consider so many different aspects of a school beyond just sports. In fact, the sports programs are only a part of your experience.

You’ll also need to consider the quality of the education and the trajectory that you want to have after school. These things can be huge factors in your quality of life during school and beyond. After all, unless you're planning on making it to the major leagues, you'll need a plan for navigating life and a career after collegiate sports.

Where to Be a Student-Athlete?

This question can only be answered by you because only you know who you are. You might be the kind of person who thrives in a smaller environment, or you might be gunning for one of the most popular college football stadiums in the country.

Neither option is automatically right nor wrong; you just need to know where you'll be likeliest to succeed and thrive as both an athlete and as an academic.

In the end, the right place for you as a college student who is also a college athlete is the location where you can get a great education, have an awesome experience, and expand your career and future prospects. You might be trying to go professional after college, or you may want to transition to a different career—or you might not even know what you want to do yet!

Don’t pick a team based solely on the school colors. Enrolling at the secondary education level so that you can compete in collegiate sports means that you’ll have to take seriously different parts of the school experience beyond just the branding of the team.

While there’s a temptation to spend all your time only talking to the athletic departments, if you think you know exactly what major you want, it’s still helpful to be in conversation with the education department and the university's career advisors as well.

Playing in College Games


Enjoying Downtime

Game day is about lots more than just the actual sporting event itself. The best college basketball arenas and the best college football stadiums also have great local attractions. Whether you’re just in town for the day, live nearby, or have the weekend free for exploration—there are enough great events to stretch any college gameday into a bigger event.

Many of the best college basketball arenas are in the heart of downtown locations, and a university's gymnasium is often a center point for entertainment.

Are you a die-hard fan of your school's other athletic programs? Make sure to have a great time cheering on your squad while also visiting the cultural centers, dining out at the best restaurants, and exploring all that the city has to offer. You won’t want to miss out on any of these exciting experiences!

On the Road

As a student-athlete, you’ll get to travel to a lot of different locations for games. While you won’t spend a ton of time in a city, you may have the chance to go out a little bit. To see some of the places you might get to go, check out that college’s game schedule from previous seasons.

College game days are not always what they seem. Traveling can take a major toll on athletes, and some people will have to balance heavy course loads with games. It’s not uncommon for people to be studying the morning before a game or the night after. And don't even get us started on two-a-day practices and off-season training during finals week!

Good time management skills are essential for student-athletes. You’ll need to plan out your time strategically in order to get everything done that you need to. Make sure to keep yourself on track and stay organized if you want to make it through your program successfully.

Balancing Sports and School

Balancing Sports and School

Games are important no matter which sport you compete in, but school and academic success play a factor too. Most athletic directors and college coaches strive to prioritize both the sports and life success of athletes, trying to balance managing a winning sports franchise with a successful student body.

Schools want people to be better athletes when they graduate, but they also want their students to become better people who are well-prepared for the careers of their choosing—whether inside or outside sports.

NCAA Eligibility Center

To go through the process of enrolling in a Division I or Division II school to play sports, you have to register with the NCAA eligibility center. You can create a certification account online, where the simple system guides you through the process.

You can then select the schools you want to compete at, make official visits, and take your time choosing the right school for you.

Once your choice has been made, you can sign a letter of intent that takes you to the school of your choosing. If you’re going to play DIII college sports, you can create a free profile, but the registration process is entirely different.

To apply and get certified with the NCAA, it’s helpful to have the following information:

  • A valid email address that you have access to and will stay connected with (maybe don't use that burner account you set up for Club Penguin back in middle school).
  • Personal information, including your full name, birthday, and contact information.
  • Education history, including the schools that you’ve attended and any transcripts.
  • A history of the sports that you’ve played, the expenses, and the awards. This is necessary to certify that you are truly an amateur instead of a pro and are therefore eligible to play NCAA sports.
  • A non-refundable registration fee.

NCAA Core Principles And Rules

There's no doubt that enrolling in Division I or Division II school is a big decision. And while the experience of college sports can be incredibly life-changing for individual student-athletes and genuinely beneficial for schools, the NCAA also has a ton of rules for colleges and universities that are competing at such a high level.

What Are the NCAA's Core Principles?

There are 16 core principles that the NCAA lays out for the ways that schools are supposed to participate in the NCAA. These are intended to ensure that NCAA competition is fair, amateur, and in keeping with federal legislation governing collegiate sports.

Many of these rules fall under the category of student well-being, extending the experience of enrolling in Division I or Division II school far beyond simple athletics. Student well-being ensures that student-athletes get a great overall education experience.

The NCAA's list of core principles also values cultural diversity and gender equity and features regulations regarding the overall health and safety of the students. The principles lay out some ground rules for fairness and openness while also detailing the rules governing the student-coach relationship, as well as the level of involvement that young athletes are expected to have. 

The NCAA rules about gender equity and gender bias stipulate that schools have to comply with federal and state legislation. Additionally, there are rules for encouraging sportsmanship and ethical conduct, plus rules for sound academic standards.

A school also has rules surrounding recruiting and financial aid—there are ways that you can fairly compensate players and ways that you cannot. And then there are rules on practices, playing, and postseason competitions.

Why Are the Core Principles So Important?

Bylaw 2.14 states that the requirements for participation that are placed on college athletes will minimize interference with the opportunities for getting an education that is roughly consistent with what the general student body receives.

This is critical because it means that sports can’t interfere with the general ability to obtain the education that everyone else at the school is getting. Ultimately, this rule extends the importance of college sports into education and goes far beyond sports fields and courts.

As a student, it’s important to understand the rules and regulations so that you know approximately what it will be like as a student-athlete.


Final Thoughts

Being a student-athlete is about a lot more than just trying to make the game-winning touchdown in a bowl game or having a few seconds to make a play in the first round of March Madness. The student-athlete world is a whole life, one that you can get ready for by keeping the above information and tips in mind.

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