Leveling Up

The Pressure to Transition from a High School to Collegiate Athlete.


James Curreri is one of the KHS athletes who will be continuing his athletic career in college. Photo courtesy of James Curreri

Letters and emails fill the minds and inboxes of high school students across the country. These letters and emails are from colleges looking to increase their enrollment. The pressure on students to pick a reputable school weighs on them, but for student-athletes, it generates competition amongst teammates, too.

Eight million students play a sport in high school, but only .06% go on to play in college, the NCAA estimates. 

One of KHS’s students has defied the odds and after graduation is committed to collegiate swimming. James Curreri has committed to swim for the University of Pennsylvania.  Although swimming didn’t come naturally. “I was never really the best at the sport… I kinda got fed up with it all,” Curreri says. He also says that because he wasn’t the best, he kept working harder. “I always saw people ahead of me and I was seeing people beating me and I was like ‘I really want to be that guy at the top’.” Like many student-athletes, Curreri realized that there was always someone to beat, and used it to become the top swimmer in New Jersey for grade and gender. 

Many high school students worry about their grades and clubs throughout their four years of high school because that is what colleges consider when accepting students. However, with student-athletes, two variables weigh on them: performance in their sport and whether they will even continue their athletic career in college at all.  Many have already decided at an early age that they want to continue playing in college. 

Curreri says that it was one of the factors in his decision to keep playing. “I always knew I wanted to swim in college, and I wanted to swim Division 1 level.” Though athletes decide to continue playing, the pressure to stick with that choice comes from parents. 

David Doty, the athletic director at KHS, states that if any pressure is on athletes it comes from parents more than anyone. 

Yet student-athletes are under pressure from other sources, too. Curreri says that most of the pressure he faced came from colleges. “I was frantically visiting, doing digital visits… I’ll do digital visits over the weekend. I would drive all throughout the Northeast, [and] visit all the schools.” Luckily, Curreri found a college that is Ivy League, but that he will enjoy attending. “It all came […] to a good end.”  Curreri also says that he only had two weeks to make his decision. 

The number of students participating in college athletics is lower than the number participating in high school athletics; collectively, there are over 150,000 scholarships available for student-athletes. This number does not show the non-athletic scholarships available to every student. The low number of scholarships has resulted in competition among student-athletes being redirected from outside of their teams to within them. 

However, even with the pressure from colleges and parents, Curreri reminds other athletes, “if you [can] go to any sort of prestigious or great university, you want to be happy with where you’re going…  because if you’re not happy where you are then there’s no point–you’re paying all that money [to]  just waste four years of your life if you’re not really happy at all.”