THE BLOG

Online Universities Allow Professional Athletes to Balance School and Sports

06/16/2014 06:27 pm ET | Updated Aug 16, 2014

For the past three years, I've played professional golf on the international stage and most recently with the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). The tour has afforded me an amazing opportunity to pursue my dream of playing professional golf while visiting some pretty amazing places. To join the tour, however, I had to leave school at Arizona State University where I was playing for their golf team and only a year away from earning my Bachelor's degree. Knowing I would return to college at some point to complete my degree, I dove head first into the professional world of women's golf.

As the tour continued, I began thinking about how and when I would be able to re-enroll at school. The traditional college experience obviously wasn't going to work for my schedule while on tour. I'm constantly traveling and I spend a majority of my time in hotels, on a flight or on the golf course. But I refused to allow my unpredictable schedule to get in the way of completing my degree, so I reenrolled with ASU Online in December 2012 and just recently completed my degree in mass communications. The skills I acquired through my degree have significantly enhanced my ability to interact in my day-to-day workplace, particularly with my sponsors on a personal and professional level. My degree will also enable me to pursue my goal of entering the field of sports broadcasting when I feel I'm ready to leave a full-time career as a professional golfer.

That fact is, there's absolutely no reason for athletes or others with unpredictable schedules to feel as if completing a college degree is an unrealistic achievement. Online programs are a great fit for those of us who can't accommodate a traditional college environment. Not only are online programs flexible and accessible anywhere, but many offer a strong support network to help navigate the process ensuring that you stay on track. Below, I've listed a few of the online resources that were critical to my personal success.

  • Dedicated online coach and career advisors - I highly recommend finding an online program that offers a dedicated online coach. During my first two semesters with ASU Online, my online coach reached out to me every other week to see how things were progressing and where I needed help. Ultimately, my coach was there to help me succeed by assisting me with questions about specific classes and helping me manage my workload while on my golf tours. Online career advisors were also available for phone meetings and web chats to help ensure I was registering for the appropriate classes and staying on track to graduate on time.
  • Online discussion boards - Online discussion boards among fellow students were especially critical to my success. I often found that other students in my classes were facing similar challenges on assignments so we helped guide each other in the right direction with the support of our teacher assistants. Discussion board topics ranged from asking how to find an activity to asking if someone else was having a problem opening up a link. After utilizing the discussion boards, I often felt reassured that I was not alone in my classes and could reach out for help knowing other students would be there. Many professors also provide the opportunity to access live video feeds of their lectures, submit and discuss assignments via Skype, and chat through the live discussion boards, which are all great resources to look for when choosing an online program.
  • Online library resources - Bulky textbooks are obviously not ideal for carry-on bags. Fortunately, some online programs offer online library resources, including e-books, journals and scholarly articles, which allowed me to simply travel with my laptop or tablet. Some online programs, such as ASU's, even offer a 24/7 "ask a librarian" tool that allows students to chat or email a librarian at any time of the day or night in order to get help navigating books, articles, media and more. This tool is incredibly helpful for those of us who typically aren't studying during normal business hours.
  • Online tutoring - For those of us across state lines or even across the country from our professors, we don't have the opportunity for a quick chat with our professors after class or a visit during office hours when we need additional insight. I found online tutoring resources to be extremely valuable in order to schedule time with various subject matter experts. My online tutors used interactive whiteboards to diagram concepts and upload documents to clarify course materials, and the tutors were typically available around the clock despite time differences. Students can tune in from anywhere with just an internet connection.

Completing your degree online while working full-time and constantly traveling isn't easy but with the right resources and support system, it can finally be a realistic achievement. Many athletes leave their universities early in order to compete at the highest level in their respective sports, but it's still important to prioritize our education and set ourselves up for long-term success. Ultimately, I share the same pride in completing my degree as I do being a professional golfer and I have no doubt that other athletes will feel the same.