Mike's Mailbag: The College Decision


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

Every Monday I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com


Hey Mike,
So I have a decision to make. I will be going in to college in a couple weeks now, and as of right now I am not going to be swimming. I really only became a swimmer in high school, but it's become my life. The past two years I've been improving like crazy. It's become my life. 


I've been working really hard to be able to swim at the school I'm going to. It's been my dream since I started improving and my coach told me that it would be a good fit by the time I'm a senior. It's been my goal and I had my final meet of this summer, and the coach still won't let me swim, however I am most definitely right on the edge based on their teams swimmers.


So here's my decision. I need to swim. It's something I can't live without. And I know since I basically have only been improving for two years I have a lot left in me. I can transfer schools and swim somewhere else pretty easily, or I can train myself and keep trying for this school where I've wanted to swim basically since I started swimming. Right now I just can't seem to decide one over the other.


Indecisive Swimmer
Hey Indecisive Swimmer,


Attend the best school you can for academic reasons. Your education is and must be your priority. If the college you're attending this fall is the best school for you, go there. 


That said, I understand your situation. My entire swim career, I wanted to swim for Michigan. I went to Michigan football games, swim meets, the 1995 NCAA Championships when the swim team won, lived in Michigan, my parents went to Michigan, and I had family in Ann Arbor. I was accepted to Michigan. But one of the assistant coaches rarely returned my emails asking about my walk-on status. I finished runner-up at my high school state meet in the 200 IM and thought I could walk on. But only after I cornered the head coach and got a verbal "yes" did I feel like swimming for Michigan was actually an option. 


You're in a slightly different situation. This coach told you no. I don't know who or why this is, but be wary. You want to swim, and you show heart and passion in your email. But some coaches just don't want or seek out walk-ons. 


Ultimately, I attended another school -- a better academic fit for me and a better athletic fit, since I was no Olympian. Northwestern was still a solid program but not quite as Olympian-centric as Michigan. In the end, I wanted to swim for a program that wanted me to swim for them. It was easily one of the best decisions of my life. 


You could train on your own, but this is extremely difficult. If you stay and want to swim, seek out a college club swim team or Masters team. Many schools offer club programs, and they are great experiences. You might find yourself so immersed in the college culture that club swimming might offer you the perfect balance. You say you just started swimming in high school. Any college program is a huge jump in commitment and yardage. 


If you transfer, go to a school that is equal or better academically. Don't just transfer to swim. If you hurt your shoulder, you're stuck with a lesser degree. Attend the best school you can. Get the best degree that fits what you want to do in life. 


You can accomplish your dreams. I believe in you. Just be wary of a coach who tells you "no" when you have heart and your times are in-line with other incoming recruits. If you train, find a team to train with. They are out there. Club. Masters. Even a friend or two. 


Life has strange, unusual winding paths. As a 17-year-old die-hard Michigan fan, I never anticipated being an 18-year-old die-hard Northwestern fan. A decade and a degree later, I'm still a die-hard NU fan, and the decision to be at a program that wanted me to be there made all the difference. 

Hope this helps.