College Athletics: Walking On to a Team

Research shows that the number one factor leading to a successful college transition and a satisfying experience is getting deeply involved in at least one extracurricular activity. If you were a high school athlete and decided to forego the athletic recruitment process, you might find yourself missing the camaraderie of teamwork or the physical challenge inherent in competitive sports. Keep in mind that there may still be an opportunity for you to participate in your sport by walking on to a college team.

Walk-on athletes exist at all levels of competition though they are more common at the Division III level. Evan Ogden, who just concluded his freshman year at Trinity College, joined the crew team after initially deciding against participating in college athletics during his senior year in high school.

“I decided to walk onto the crew team the summer before I started college because I had put so much time into it in high school and couldn’t really imagine myself doing anything else,” said Evan. “A family friend had rowed at Trinity, and she put me into contact with the coach.”

college athletes competing in soccer game

Students stay active and challenge themselves by playing sports.

Evan has found that walking-on to the crew team not only allowed him to continue his favorite pursuit but also participate in an activity which is also a source of pride for him. 

Set realistic expectations. Some walk-on students may be novices to the sport, but that is typically the exception to the rule. When trying out as a walk-on, you should be a strong player who has specialized in a particular position, feel comfortable with the basics of the sport and can provide the coach with information about past performances. With this background, you may potentially outshine your rivals, earning yourself a spot on the roster over those who were recruited or already on the team.

In order to get a more realistic idea of each team’s obligations for walk-on players, students should speak to the coach and/or players.  However, be prepared to face a few obstacles when walking-on: you may be one of several players competing for your position, you may make the team but never actually play or you may get cut after try-outs. If you find yourself encountering any of these situations, there is another option for you: tryout for an intramural or club team.

If you lack the necessary skills to play on a college team, but are abundant in enthusiasm then club or intramural sports may be for you. Despite scarce support from college athletics and the countless volunteer hours required by players, collegiate club teams are emerging at a fast pace. Students who opt to play for an intramural or club team find the experience less restrictive and more inclusive than a college team.  However, club teams come with their own drawbacks: most require try-outs.

Consider the advantages. While getting involved in an activity helps students acclimate to their new surroundings on campus, there are other advantages to walking-on to a team as well. Emma Marrs, a Wheelock College junior, wanted to focus on her academics, but found that participating in an extracurricular activity benefitted her in many ways.

“I made a closer group of friends, managed my time better and improved my grades,” said Emma. “Walking-on to Wheelock’s lacrosse team is an incentive to keep my grades up.”

While the NCAA requires its athletes to main a 2.0 GPA in order to be eligible to play, most colleges, Wheelock included, put academics first and expect their athletes to uphold a much higher GPA in a challenging class schedule.

While deciding whether or not to pursue your favorite sport at the college level, make sure you consider all of your options in order to find the best fit for you. College coaches and athletic departments are more than happy to answer all your questions.

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