The Differences Between College and High School Swimming


The Differences Between College and High School Swimming

Change is a difficult thing. Whether it excites you or causes you dread, change rarely comes without some level of anxiety about the unknown that will undoubtedly accompany it. One of the biggest changes that can happen in a swimmer’s career is the switch from a high school career to a college career. No matter what level you train at prior to college swimming (varsity, club, etc.) there will be some fundamental changes in every swimmer’s journey. Here are a few things to expect if you’re making the transition from high schooler to college student anytime soon.

More Academic Responsibilities

In high school sports in general, grades only matter so much. If you’re good enough, sports can pave the way for you to a half-decent college so long as you scrape by with a passing GPA. While this certainly is not the case for many athletes in high school, it isn’t out of the question. In college, however, there is a much higher emphasis on what you’re there to do – further your education. You’re there to get a degree above all else, even if competing in your sport is your main motivator for going to college, and you could be put on academic probation if you don’t put the right amount of time into your studies. Athletics can only take you so far in life, so put as much effort into studying and homework as you do in practices and competitions and you’ll be well on your way to both athletic and academic success.

Closer Relationships

It’s no secret that you form close bonds with your teammates, especially in our sport. Swimmers see each other at their most vulnerable moments and are with each other at the highest highs and lowest lows, but college swimming takes that to a whole new level. Because so much of you and your teammates’ schedules are planned out around practices and meets, the other aspects of your schedules are bound to fall in line as well. You could end up sharing the classroom with your teammates, eating meals together, and even living together for the pure reason of convenience. This type of closeness bonds you, and before long, you’ll know these people just as well as you know yourself, and you’ll realize you hardly even tried. Very few high school swimmers share a relationship that close.

Higher Level of Personal Responsibility

College makes it so there is a higher level of personal responsibility on you. For quite possibly the first time in your life, you can make almost all your decisions by yourself. Little things like when or what you want to eat and whether or not you have to clean your dorm, or big ones like whether to ditch class or not. This level of responsibility tends to cause some level of internal stress and struggle as you adjust to these newfound obligations in your personal life.


Even if you go to a school within driving distance of your house, chances are you could experience homesickness. Not just for familiar surroundings, but also for the familiarity of the people there and the habit and routine of how everything and everyone works together in your house. Feeling this way is completely normal, and while it can be hard to let go of our past, there is also a certain level of excitement in knowing that we have the world ahead of us and anything we could dream about at our fingertips.

Different training

Any swimmer who has switched from one team to another knows that it can take a physical toll to switch from one training style to another. Even if the two are similar and the foundations of the practices are the same, every coach comes with their own special challenges they like to focus on in the practice sets. Sometimes the time difference in practice, such as going from night practice to morning practice, or the added stress of having lift obligations and added travel requirements to compete can also require adjustments. The acclimation to these new practices and conditions can cause soreness, physical fatigue in the water, and mentally draining the athlete. Keep your head high, lean on your teammates, and remember that you’re not suffering alone and things will get easier.

Remember that no matter how alone you feel while experiencing these problems, there is most likely someone feeling exactly the same way you do. One of the blessings of being an athlete is knowing that you never run from a challenge or obstacle in your path. Instead, you face it, you make a plan and set goals, and defeat it. Adopt that same mindset for any of the challenges you may face here, and continue to face your future with determination and a positive attitude. You’ll be surprised at how far it takes you.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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Suzanne Potzko Hughes
3 years ago

Great article

Keith Robinson
3 years ago

Great advice for athletes so talented they are admitted on that talent and not grades. Particularly for those in non-revenue sports like swimming. Keeping one’s head above water academically will take some extra eggbeatering !

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