Newswise — Many college students struggle to balance attending class, completing homework, and studying. Add in competing as an athlete — which includes practices and travel to away games — and it can be hugely difficult to keep up your GPA and still perform well on the field or court.
“As a college student-athlete, time management is the toughest thing to deal with,” says Matt Smith, a freshman football player at California State University, Fresno. “We devote a significant amount of time to our sport and we are expected to do the same with our education. Finding the time to study and do schoolwork is very difficult, but essential in our success as student-athletes.”
Challenges like these are why more California State University campuses are working to ensure that student-athletes have both academic resources and other types of support ready if they need them. Many campuses offer orientations so students know what options are available, including intensive academic advising, graduation planning, tutoring, computer labs and workspaces — all specific to students involved in an athletic program.
Students who are a part of a team tend to feel more engaged and part of their campus community. Fostering student engagement — one of the key goals of the CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2025 — has been linked to a greater likelihood of earning a degree.
Personalized Help When It’s Needed
San José State University head football coach Brent Brennan stresses that because athletes have to balance various roles, they require resources that meet their specific needs. “The demands on a student-athlete are so much greater than that of your average student,” Brennan says. “There is so much pressure tied to the game they play.”
At California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, for example, a one-unit, first-year seminar course is offered to student-athletes; it covers both the challenges and responsibilities of being on a school team and lets students know about workstations, study spaces and academic advisors they can use.
“These students represent our institution across the country and abroad, wearing the Cal Poly logo on their uniforms and it is important that they feel supported by the institution they represent,” says Shannon Stephens, director of the Mustang Success Center at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
At Cal Poly SLO, athletes also receive priority registration for classes, which allows them to organize practices, games and travel around their academic responsibilities.
At California State University, Fullerton, every athlete must meet with an Athletics Academic Services counselor at least once a semester. This helps ensure they’re on track to graduation and if not, that they get the help they need.
The sooner students are alerted to barriers and connected with the right resources, the greater their chances to graduate in a timely way, says Megan O’Quin, assistant athletic director for Student Athlete Services at Fresno State.
“We set up tutoring sessions and discuss time management during their academic coaching sessions, how to manage being away from campus, and talking with professors about missed classes,” O’Quin explains.
Paving the Way to a Degree
Advisors can be particularly influential in ensuring a player’s academic success. They provide one-on-one assistance to plan a cohesive course schedule, explain how to best communicate with faculty, and connect students with peer mentors, learning specialists and tutors.
“Having an athletic academic advisor has been advantageous because they stay on top of you and help with time management,” says Devynn Stein, a junior water polo player at Fresno State.
“One piece of advice that I would give to prospective student-athletes is to manage your time wisely, and do not be afraid to ask for additional help from staff members,” says Fresno State’s Matt Smith. “The staff members are there to help you become a better student, athlete, person and they are more than willing to help. If you can manage to balance your schedule between sports, education and your social life, you will have a better chance at being successful.”
San José State coach Brennan agrees: “The goal continues to be to earn [their] degree and graduate. So having someone there to provide structure and having these systems in place to help [athletes] stay on track, manage their time, and achieve success both on and off the field is critical.”