Injuries pose a threat to the athletic careers of many collegiate athletes.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, 70% of athletes claim to play or played with an injury in college.

High school athletes with the dream of playing collegiate sports should be mindful of the above statistic. It can provide perspective that allows them to make better informed decisions. Knowing what to focus on when considering colleges – and how to spot it – will set athletes up for a college experience that is rewarding, no matter what.


Choose Wisely

No athlete wants to think about hanging up the jersey. Every athlete has to face it.

Even when you take the risk of injury out of the equation, this fact remains: For most college athletes, their playing career will terminate the moment they step off the field.

A look at the psychological aftermath of athletic injuries shows the importance of pursuing a holistic college experience – not just an athletic one.

The collegiate athlete’s career maxes out at four years. The self-concept, or how an individual self-identifies, continues to evolve over the next forty years. Identifying exclusively as an “athlete” during the college years can prove damaging to student-athletes.

This is why.


What Now?

A study performed on student-athletes at the University of Utah found that “when an athlete is confronted with an injury that is career ending, his or her level of self-concept will decrease.”

This is logically sound. Dedicating your whole life to a sport, only to lose the ability to compete in it is akin to a loss. In many cases, losing a sport is akin to a loss of self. You identify as an athlete for as long as you can remember…and then you can’t.

“You can’t live your whole life around this sport,” says *Jessica, a study participant that put her running shoes away following a career-ending foot injury.

“When I was in high school, I kind of did just enough to get by with my grades. I didn’t really push myself in the classroom. I pushed myself in sports. My whole focus was this team, this running, this whole part of my life. And so when that was gone, I was, like, So what am I good at anymore? Who am I?”



My whole focus was this team, this running, this whole part of my life. And so when that was gone, I was, like, Who am I?”


The Safety Net

Stories like this one are a reminder of the importance of not putting all your eggs in one basket.

If you’re able to identify as both a thespian and an athlete or both an athlete and a scholar, your self-concept will not be defined by athletics alone.

The University of Utah study found that athletes return to their former self-concept within 9 to 15 months. This means that upon return to normalcy, college athletes need a place that feels like home where they can move on from their loss in a fulfilling way.

So how can a student-athlete ensure that the college experience will be a rewarding one, independently of athletics?

“I always had this question in the back of my mind: if I got an injury, would I still be happy sitting at the school?”

For Elizabeth “Liz” Harrison, the realization to seek balance came early in her athletic career. In fact, it dawned on her during the recruiting process.

“I always had this question in the back of my mind: if I got an injury, would I still be happy sitting at the school?”

A rewarding college experience begins with an informed recruiting process. Remember that the recruiting process goes beyond athletics. Recruiting is ultimately about finding the school where you’ll be happy, on and off the field.


Checklist: Questions to Consider

To give you a framework for evaluating colleges, we’ve compiled the following list of questions. Be thoughtful as you go through it. Understanding what you want out of a school beyond athletics allows you to assess colleges with confidence.


Am I interested in a particular field of study? A particular major?
Does this school accept AP or other college credit from high school?
Does this school match the academic rigor I seek?
Am I interested in undergraduate research opportunities?
Am I interested in co-ops/internship programs?
What are the most popular occupations of graduates from this school?



Am I interested in a campus with strong Greek Life participation?
Am I interested in a campus with a popular sports culture (big football and basketball presence)?
Am I interested in studying abroad?
Am I interested in a small, medium, or large school?
Am I interested in a “college town” or a school where the social scene is off campus?
Am I interested in getting involved with certain clubs on campus?



Does my family have savings set aside for college?
Does this school offer an affordable tuition for my family?
Will I seek need or merit-based financial aid?
What percentage of students typically receive financial aid?
Are there available scholarships and grants for my family?
Will the cost of travel to and from campus be a burden?



Is this school close enough to home?
Is this school far enough from home?
Do I prefer a certain climate (warm weather, snowy, etc.)?
Do I want to be in a city or in the country?
Will my family be able to travel to watch me play?


Ultimate Checkpoint

Ask yourself: If I was not playing a sport here, would I still be happy with my decision?



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*Name changed for privacy.