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What does a school year in the USA look like?

Every year, more than 5000 international athletes head to America to play college sports on a scholarship. But what exactly does a study year look like from the moment you board the plane until you're home for the summer vacation? In this blog we will tell you everything about it.

Written by

Lars Blenckers

"It was a journey that taught me more about discipline, perseverance, and friendship than I could have ever imagined," shares Iris, a former student-athlete at Rutgers University.

Today, we will explore the unique opportunities and challenges that come with living as a student-athlete in America. From intensive training and competitions to academic obligations and social life on campus, this blog is your guide to everything you can expect.

The Academic Year in America

In this blog, I already delved into the difference between the education system between America and the Netherlands. There, you read that in America, we divide the academic year into 2 semesters:

  • Fall semester
  • Spring semester

The 'fall' semester typically starts at the end of August or the beginning of September and ends in mid-December. The 'spring' semester runs from mid-January to mid-May.

This division ensures a clear separation of the academic year, giving students the opportunity to focus on a set of courses per semester.

Sports in the 'fall' and 'spring'

So, there are 2 semesters. Also, the season of the sports is divided into a certain semester. For example, soccer and hockey are 'fall' sports, meaning the season takes place in the fall between August and December. Examples of 'spring' sports are baseball, lacrosse, and tennis.

This means that our field hockey players and soccer players need to be ready as soon as they arrive in America in August, as the competition season starts quite soon. To prepare the players for this, there is a 'pre-season'.

Preseason

Before the academic year and the official sports season begin, student-athletes participate in preseason training. This period is crucial for both the physical preparation of the players and team building. Preseason in America is an intensive time where teams can train multiple times a day, discuss tactics, and work on their fitness to start the season as best as possible. Also, a number of practice matches are played.

As an athlete, you are therefore expected on campus earlier than 'regular' students. Often, this preparation begins 2 to 3 weeks before the classes and the season start. Therefore, keep in mind that you will be traveling to America in early August.

Preseason in College Soccer
Preseason in College Soccer

Academic Obligations

A full academic year in America counts for 30 credits, which averages out to 15 credits per semester. Some courses offer more credits than others. It is therefore important to make a feasible plan with an academic advisor so you can complete your studies in 4 years.

Number of Classroom Hours per Day

The number of classroom hours per day can vary depending on the chosen courses and the structure of each program. On average, student-athletes can expect to spend about 3 to 4 hours per day in class, with the possibility to take more courses during the off-season. This flexibility allows athletes to maintain a lighter academic schedule during the competitive season, giving them more time for training and matches.

The Sports Season (fall semester)

As mentioned earlier, the sports season for football and hockey is in the fall. This means that the entire competition is completed in 3-4 months. Depending on whether the playoffs are reached, this means that 20 to 25 matches are played during this period.

Matches and Training

To play 20 to 25 matches in this short period, 2 to 3 matches are played per week, often between Thursday and Sunday. This also means that there is a lot of travel for away games. Since America is a large country, teams often spend 5 to 7 hours on the bus. Sometimes, even the plane is taken.

Besides the number of matches, of course, regular training continues. Many teams take Monday off, but on the other days without a match, they often train 2 to 3 hours. Sometimes these are intensive, but often they are also recovery or tactical training sessions.

It is therefore important that student-athletes take good care of themselves and also manage their time well. Below, see how Bethany Russ copes with a day in the life as a student-athlete at the University of Louisville.

Vacation and Holidays

The academic year in the United States is interspersed with holidays and festivals, which both offer a welcome break from study and sports obligations and opportunities for student-athletes to recover, travel, or focus on other activities.

Labor Day: A national holiday in September that marks the beginning of the academic year. Many universities do not hold classes on this day.

Thanksgiving Break: A significant American holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. Universities usually offer a break of about a week, during which student-athletes can spend time with family or relax from their schedule.

Winter Break: The longest holiday during the academic year, usually from mid-December to early January. This break offers a great opportunity to return home for Christmas and New Year.

Spring Break: A week off in March, where many students go on vacation to travel in America.

The Spring Semester

As the spring semester begins, many student-athletes experience a shift in their focus from sports to academic performance. This part of the academic year offers student-athletes the chance to take multiple courses, enjoy social life, and be part of other activities.

Sports

During this period, training definitely continues, but the intensity will be much lower. Many schools now train 4-5 times a week and a limited number of practice matches are played in March and April.

Coaches often use this period to prepare for the new season. In addition, a lot of strength and conditioning training is done to get completely ready for the new season.

Social Life

This period is also good to really feel like a student and participate in other social activities. Where your schedule is completely filled with study and sports in the fall, you now have ample opportunities to explore more of the country, attend sports matches, or pursue other hobbies.

College students skiing in off-season

Summer Vacation

Mid-May marks the beginning of the summer vacation. In America, you have almost 3 months of summer vacation. Many students return home to be with family and get ready for the new school and sports year.

There is also the opportunity to stay in America for internships or other work activities. For footballers, there is the opportunity to participate in a summer competition.

Overview of the Academic Year in America

As you can see, there is a big difference in experience during the academic year. Here is a brief overview:

Preseason: Beginning of August (2-3 weeks)

Start of the academic year (fall semester): End of August, beginning of September to mid-December

Sports season: End of August to end of November

Winter vacation: Mid-December to mid-January (4 weeks)

Spring semester: Mid-January to mid-May

Summer vacation: Mid-May to early August (3 months)

Now that you have a clear picture of what it means to be a Dutch student-athlete studying and playing sports in America, an incredible journey awaits you. This adventure is about more than just sports; it's an opportunity to grow, both personally and professionally, in an international setting.

Are you ready to take on this challenge and pursue your dreams? We are ready to guide you every step of the way to success. Contact us to discover more about your opportunities and how we can support you on this path.

Your future as a student-athlete in America starts here!

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