Northwestern University senior Taylor Reynolds, 22, has no plans after she graduates this June. The NCAA championship swimmer said she has been so committed to her sport that she’s spent little time thinking about life after her athletic career.
“I have no idea what I’m doing,” Reynolds, a St. Louis, Mo. native. “I’ve been applying to a few jobs, and I’ve had a few interviews, but I’m just going to see what opportunities come my way. It’s been stressful."
Northwestern athletic department officials said they no longer want these student-athletes to face this time alone. This year, the university launched a career and employer outreach office, the first of its kind in the NCAA, said Julie Dunn, assistant athletic director for career enhancement and employment.
Student-athletes face challenges because of scheduling conflicts with daily practices, making attendance at job fairs and internships difficult.
“[Athletes will say] my sport is telling me I need to play summer ball, but in the real world, I know I need an internship,” said Dunn. She advises student-athletes to work around their playing season for internships and offers job fairs during non-practice hours.
“The internal goal is to prepare and assist [student-athletes] in their career aspirations, if they want to do an informational interview with a former athlete or career strategizing with them,” Dunn said. “Externally, it’s networking with alum and former student-athletes to understand this new department.”
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides some job training to student-athletes, but they do not have a dedicated office or personnel for employment. “This year, we did start tracking the graduating seniors much closer to have better data to use,” said Kent Brown, spokesman for the University of Illinois. “We have also tailored their career nights to include people who are actually hiring people rather than advising graduating seniors.”
Sports psychologists said that for a new graduate, a career is an important transition out of their athletic career, for both their financial stability and mental health.
“If an athlete realizes there’s more to life than just sports and focuses on being successful at other areas of life than sports, then he or she is better able to adapt to life once sport is over,” said Mark Anshel, a sports psychologist at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.
But college athletes also have character advantages gleaned from their athletic careers. “Now there is some data out there that suggest that the characteristics of successful athletes carry into ones career,” Anshel said. “Good communication skills, leadership skills, confidence, overcoming adversity, coping skills...all of these kinds of characteristics carry over into life and success as a professional outside of sports.”
Marybeth Hall, a 22-year-old Northwestern swimmer, echoed that sentiment, crediting swimming for her time management skills and discipline. Hall plans to return to her native Michigan to attend the University of Michigan Medical School in the fall.
“My day would literally be, swim in the morning, have class for a few hours, go to the weight room, then go back to the pool for two more hours, dinner at the dining hall, then head to the library,” Hall said. “You do the same thing over and over every day, which wasn’t very fun, but I understood it’s what I had to do.”
Not all students exhibit this focus, Dunn said. Some athletes have trouble identifying a passion to replace their sport since they have spent very little or no time preparing for the future.
“If students are in the arts and sciences or communication studies, they ask, ‘What do I want to do exactly with it?’” Dunn said. “We want them to undergo experiences that might fit, and if it does not, then how can the student find another, different experience that they like better that is going to light their fire.”
Although Reynolds has no formal plans for the coming months, she said she wants to take the time to discover new opportunities. “I’m taking things as they come, which is kind of nice,” she said.
This article was originally published in Medill Reports Chicago