The Biggest Differences Between High School and College Swimming: Preparing for the Next Level


The Biggest Differences Between High School and College Swimming

High school swimmers looking to swim in college have so much to look forward to as they prepare for the transition from high school swimming to being a collegiate athlete. It is a very exciting time that is filled with big aspirations as well as some expected challenges. College freshmen are faced with adapting to living on their own, meeting new people and taking demanding college courses. On top of these adjustments, athletes take on a fourth task of navigating the differences in training and being a part of a new team.

High school and college swimming have many similarities such as the team camaraderie and rigorous training, but there are several differences between the two that are worth mentioning. If you are a high school swimmer who is interested in competing at the next level, or a senior who is already committed, it is important to understand some of the differences between high school and college swimming before arriving on campus to best prepare for what is ahead. Read below to see some of the biggest differences between high school and college swimming!

Differences in Training

One of the major changes between high school and college swimming is the training regimen. From my experience, high school practices were typically general workouts where everyone did the same thing. Sometimes practices were split into stroke groups, but for the most part, we were all together. In college, the training is almost always more specialized. Usually, teams split up into stroke/event groups multiple times a week. The great thing about splitting the team up into training groups is that everybody gets to do something that is built specifically for them. In college, it is rare for a sprinter to do a long-distance set, or for a breaststroker to train backstroke. Specialized practices are bound to benefit any athlete who is looking to improve in college.

Level of Commitment and Responsibility

Between mandatory practices and competitions and balancing schoolwork with athletics, both high school and college swimming require a lot of commitment. In high school, there is a range of athletes who participate in the sport. Some swimmers do it for fun, some swim to stay active and others compete because they are competitive and want to eventually swim at a higher level. In college, everybody on the team made the choice to swim because they wanted to continue.

Once you reach college, the responsibilities and expectations tend to be higher. For example, in college, class conflicts are expected, and coaches anticipate you to make up those practices at a set time. Although high school practices are typically mandatory as well, it is usually not required to make up missed workouts.

Additionally, college coaches may have stricter policies for their athletes compared to high school coaches. For example, if an athlete misses practice due to their own irresponsibility, there could be consequences such as being taken out of the next meet, which is something you don’t see often in high school.


It is important to hold your teammates accountable whether you are in high school or college. College athletes are held to a higher accountability standard, meaning, their decisions and actions might not only affect themselves, but the team as a whole. For example, if a college athlete is found to be underage drinking, the individual’s action could affect everybody as coaches expect upperclassmen to set the example for the team. Consequences could include a team discussion from the coach, tough practice, being taken out of a meet, etc.

Another example of team accountability in college is if a team has a goal to win a championship, it is expected that everybody on the team trains over holiday breaks when they are home and on their own. If some people choose not to train, that will affect the team’s success, not just the individual athlete. Building a team culture that gets everyone excited about the team goals leads to reminding each other of those goals and making sure everybody is doing the right thing to contribute to the team, which is exactly why accountability is so important.

Best Times vs. Points Scored

Although both high school and college swimming are focused on performing well at the end of season meet, high school athletes tend to concentrate more on times because they may or may not be on a team where winning a championship is a possibility. In this case, athletes may lean toward their own individual times. High school swimmers might also focus more on their times if they are trying to get recruited. On the other hand, college athletes care more about where they place and how many points they can score for the team. Everyone on a college team is there because they want to be. They are usually more motivated to perform for their team versus themselves especially because they are facing competition that is similar to their own.

Team Culture

Lastly, the team environment usually becomes more family-like and close knit in college. In high school swimming, there are several friend groups and lifelong friendships that are made. Typically, you see your friends at practice every day, but then you go home to your own family afterward. Once swimmers reach college, the team becomes your family. Being away from home and living with your teammates develops deep bonds that are like no other. In college, you are with your teammates constantly in and out of the pool, which can build closer relationships. The bonds that are made in college naturally push individuals to want to hold their teammates accountable for each other as well.

Swimming in college is the experience of a lifetime. Although there are many differences compared to high school swimming, learning to adapt to those changes and be a part of something that is much bigger than yourself is such a rewarding experience. I hope that high school swimmers have a clearer picture of what to expect when they take their first step on campus!

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1 month ago

Sad you didn’t mention the role Club swimming provides with integrating swimmers into high school programs as the continue to develop for college swimming and beyond Age Group swimming.

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