USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Kyle Winters was a standout high school pitcher who tossed seven scoreless innings in a major tournament during his senior year. That performance against some heavy-hitting future MLB draft picks helped Kyle earn a full-ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. However, Kyle opted to play professional baseball and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fifth round and played seven seasons for various minor league teams.
Kyle is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
The transition from high school to college can be a major adjustment for any student. For the first time in your life, you move away from home and learn how to live on your own. It’s your sole responsibility to go to class, study for tests, eat right and do your laundry. For student-athletes, the jump can be even more overwhelming. To help you prepare for what’s to come, we outlined six major differences between high school and college sports.
Being a college athlete is like having two full-time jobs
In-season D1 athletes often devote 75-80 hours per week to athletics and academics. Between early-morning lifting sessions, classes, practice, study halls and games, the weekly schedule of an athlete is jam-packed from dawn until dusk. While it is important to branch out and befriend other students, only your teammates and other student-athletes will understand the what it’s like to balance the time commitment of college sports with the duties of being a full-time student. To survive, athletes need to be incredibly passionate about their sport and develop strong time-management skills. Keep in mind that athletes who compete for D2, D3 or NAIA schools tend to have less demanding schedules and a little more free time.
Read more: Nine time management tips from a D1 athlete
Your college team is your family
Playing high school sports is a great way to make new friends, but college athletics take team bonding to a whole new level. Athletes spend just about every waking—and sleeping—moment with their teammates. They room together, eat together, take classes together, sit in study halls together and work out together. In many cases, college athletes and coaches even spend holidays together and go on spring break trips. Basketball players are often the only students on campus over winter break, while baseball and softball often have to stick around after the rest of the student body heads home for the summer. Your college teammates are much more than your friends—they are your family and your support system. They are the ones who make college feel like home away from home.
College practices can be more intense than high school games
The leap from high school to college can be massive. Instead of competing against 17 and 18-year-olds, they square off against muscular 21 and 22-year-olds. Athletes are bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled. Some athletes respond to the college atmosphere with nerves, while others rise to the challenge and up their level of intensity. It’s all about how you respond.
In high school, mistakes are part of the game and practices can lack intensity. In college, mistakes and lack of concentration during practice can lead to extra laps and a spot on the bench. Athletes fight tooth and nail during every drill and walk-ons play their hearts out for a chance to earn athletic scholarships. Everyone on the team is there because they’ve invested a ton of time and energy into the sport. No one is going to hand you a starting spot as an incoming freshman—you’ll have to fight for it.
Read more: Best colleges for student-athletes
Traveling to away games can take hours
Since most teams in a high school conference are within a few miles of each other, traveling to most regular season games takes an hour or less. You might have to bus or carpool across the state for early-season competitions and state tournaments, but most games are a short after-school bus ride away. In college, teams in your conference will often be beyond state line and travel times can regularly be as long as 6-8 hours. This often means missed classes and weekends away from campus. While student-athletes can use this time to get homework done and study for tests, long hours sitting on a bus can be draining.
Athletes are well-supplied with free gear
How do you pick out athletes on a college campus? They wear team jackets, sweatpants and sneakers to every class. College sports teams are sponsored by athletic sportswear companies, which means athletes are constantly getting free shoes, shirts, shorts and more.
There are tons of NCAA rules to follow
Being a college athlete at the D1, D2 or D3 level means being aware of the NCAA’s multitude of strict rules and regulations beginning with the NCAA Eligibility Center. Athletes must be available at all times in case they are contacted for an NCAA-sanctioned drug test—even during summer vacation. If they can’t be reached, they run the risk of being charged with a positive test. In addition to the rule against underage drinking, regulations prohibit athletes from consuming energy drinks or caffeine before games. Athletes who want to teach private lessons during the off-season are forbidden from using their likeness since it is owned by the university.