Student athletes make most of fifth year
Sam Tapper — Sports Writer
Many collegiate athletes across the country have careers spanning a typical four years. However, many circumstances may lead to an athlete playing for a fifth year as a graduate student, and many graduate student athletes see the extra year as an opportunity, for multiple reasons.
Some graduate students transferred from other schools with one year of eligibility left, some simply redshirted and others saved the extra year of eligibility for graduate school. For volleyball captain Jenn Dawson, the opportunity to get her master’s degree played a big role in her decision.
“After I got my undergrad, I really wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do with it,” said Dawson, who is in the process of getting her masters in sports and entertainment management.
“My coach had talked to me about the sports management program here. I’ve always loved sports, and my old teammate went through this program, and I heard nothing but good things about it, so I really wanted to move forward with that degree.”
Along with signing up for another year of sports comes another year of classes and the semester grind, on top of the already strenuous athletic schedule. The decision can be hard for any student to make, but, for Dawson, love for the game ultimately swayed her decision.
“It was definitely a long decision,” Dawson said. “It took me a while to decide if I wanted to come back or if I just wanted to go out into the real world and try to find a job. You only get to play a sport once in your life, and if I can get three more months to play a sport I love, why wouldn’t I?”
For many like Dawson, the extra year of play, plus the master’s degree, were no brainers, but for some athletes it is not always that simple. Women’s soccer captain and exercise science major Mikaela Magee is not yet enrolled in grad school; rather, she is using her fifth year to prepare before applying to physical therapy school, all the while leading her team one last time.
“I’m kind of in a different situation than most grad students,” said Magee. “I’m taking those extra classes that I need to get into grad school, so taking this extra semester helped me open my selection for grad schools after this.”
In Magee’s situation, she was not always sure that she wanted to come back to play one more year; in fact, it was not part of her plan to begin with. She had mapped out a plan for her academic career: four years as an undergraduate, then off to grad school. However, once her coach, Adam Cohen, brought up the idea of playing another year she began to give it some serious thought.
“When my coach had asked me, or just brought up the idea of playing another season,” said Magee. “I kind of hesitated for a second, because it brought a new perspective in. Now, I had these two conflicting things, because we had a great season last year, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to grad school right away or take a gap year. It was just a crazy experience after last season.”
For Magee and Dawson, the decision relied heavily on their situations regarding grad school and their academic careers. Though academics played a big part in her decision as well, Allie Smith, the starting goalkeeper on the women’s soccer team, ultimately wanted to keep playing. Smith has been actively involved in athletics throughout her time at Southern, as she also played basketball for four years here, and says there are many positive aspects about being back this year.
“First, the people: the team is amazing, the coaching staff is amazing, the athletic department is great,” said Smith, “and then, two: I get to play soccer, which I didn’t think I was going to be able to do.”
Though all three of their circumstances are different in some aspects, Dawson, Smith and Magee are all here for their fifth year as student athletes. Their agreed upon advice for prospective graduate student athletes is to follow in their footsteps in doing the same.
“I would go all for it,” said Dawson. “Like I said, you only play a sport once, and if you have another year of eligibility, I think you’re going to feel like you’re stopping short of the finish line.”