Sam Trigg, University of New Mexico
As a relative late bloomer in the athletics world, my US collegiate experience has been a rather different one. In fact, I didn’t even know about the US collegiate system until a few months before starting my journey in New Mexico.
Leaving secondary school, I had managed to qualify for the English Schools' Championships just once - in my last year of 6th form - an achievement that at the time I thought would be the top of my list! From there I went to university in the UK where I continued to progress alongside my studies. As I was coming up to my final exams, I was contacted by a coach at New Mexico asking if I was interested in studying there for the next two years. In my ignorance of the collegiate sports system I kindly declined saying that I could not afford such a venture but I was grateful that he had asked. I had no idea about sports scholarships but this then became very apparent!
Once I got my exams out of the way, I then embarked on my biggest challenge yet - the NCAA Eligibility Center. Without any real contacts in the US or friends who had been through the system, the Eligibility Center was, if I’m honest, an absolute nightmare. Oh what I would have given for RightTrack back then! The process was incredibly stressful for me as New Mexico were understandably unable to take the next steps without my eligibility confirmed and this took many weeks of emails and a lot of time and effort to finally sort out. In fact, I didn’t receive confirmation of eligibility until I landed on US soil - a gamble that would prove to be worthwhile! When I finally arrived in New Mexico, I was picked up by two British athletes - Allan Hamilton (All-American long jumper) and Scott Bajere (multiple conference medalist in the sprints) who were also there as graduate students - this was one of New Mexico’s specialities. Without the kind of support that RightTrack is able to offer it was incredibly helpful having other European athletes as well as other graduate scholarship athletes on the team to mentor me through the transition to life in the States.
Being a student in the US is very different to the UK. Undergraduates have a more general first one or two years and slowly specialise into their degree of choice. Furthermore, compared to my UK university experience, the US has a lot more structure which is actually better for the student - both in terms of academics and sport. Your schedule is pretty packed with classes but the academic support is fantastic and the professors have a real understanding of the time and effort required to be a successful athlete. From the other side, coaches are very supportive of your studies - in fact they keep track to make sure that you are on top of your classes and are always there to help with academic issues if you need it. It was nice to be equal part student and equal part athlete for change, instead of being an athlete as a hobby around my studies. To compete/play in the NCAA you have to maintain a certain number of ‘hours’ which essentially means a certain number of classes each semester. As a graduate student this minimum number of hours is lower but the classes are understandably of a higher standard. Many of my classes had a joint undergraduate-graduate make-up with higher requirements for the grads - an extra assignment, presenting a lecture, or helping undergraduates usually - and the integration of graduate students was excellent on both the academic side and within the athletics team, there was almost no apparent difference.
As much as I enjoyed my time in New Mexico, I am also thankful I had the chance to experience university life in the UK as there are certainly benefits to both. However, for anyone thinking about going to the US as a student-athlete I would strongly suggest that you do. It can be a daunting decision, especially coming out of secondary school, but it’s good to know that the option exists as a graduate student if it’s not right for you straight away. My only advice is to use the experienced team at RightTrack to navigate your way through the complex world of US collegiate sport - it really helps having support from people in the know and I am sure that they will do their best to find the right options for you.