01 Apr College to Pro: Pathways of World Class Athletes
One of the biggest myths regarding the US college pathway is that it’s only for student-athletes who do not want to play their sport professionally. Despite often being the advice to Australia’s top junior athletes, the “don’t go to college if you want to go pro” philosophy is extremely limiting. In fact, statistics indicate that in some sports, more professional athletes come through the college pathway than those who don’t. It is true that the college pathway is not for everyone, but such a decision should be more about the individual person rather than a blanket approach recommended to all elite junior athletes.
Furthermore, there isn’t one single division or a select few colleges that one must attend to pursue a successful professional career. Some of the most successful professional athletes got their start at a two-year junior college. Highlighted below are the pathways of some of the most accomplished professional athletes, proving that college can help you reach your highest sporting goals.
Bethany Balcer (Women’s Soccer, NAIA)
Bethany Balcer’s journey to professional soccer is inspiring and offers many lessons to young student-athletes. Bethany attended Spring Arbor University, an institution of roughly 2000 students, competing in the NAIA. During her time in college, she was a regular starter and helped her team win two NAIA national championships. Balcer also received regular call ups to the United States U23 national team. After graduating, Balcer entered the 2019 NWSL draft, but went undrafted against players with experience at bigger, more renowned institutions. Taking advantage of an invite to attend OL Reign’s pre-season training camp, she impressed staff with her performance and was offered the opportunity to sign a professional contract with the club. Balcer went on to be named the 2019 NWSL Rookie of the Year. Her experience goes to show that there are countless pathways through the college system to a successful professional career.
Scottie Scheffler (Men’s Golf, NCAA D1)
Current PGA Tour professional and world number one ranked golfer, Scottie Scheffler, pursued a collegiate career at the University of Texas. No stranger to success at the junior level, Scottie won three individual Texas state titles, won the US Junior Amateur Championship, was the number one ranked US junior golfer in 2014, and debuted on the PGA Tour as a 17-year-old. Scottie joined the University of Texas in 2014 and graduated with a degree in Finance in 2018. During that time, his team won three Big 12 Conference Championships, he was named national Freshman of the Year, and got his start in a Major Championship. Not even four years after graduating from college, Scottie won the US Masters.
Jessica Hull (Women’s Track, NCAA D1)
Jessica Hull, an Australian middle and long-distance runner, commenced college at the University of Oregon in 2015, following a decorated national and international junior career. Prior to college, Hull was crowned the 2012 U17 Australian National 1500m Champion and picked up a seventh-place finish in the 3000m at the 2014 World Junior Championships. In her junior year at the University of Oregon, she was crowned the NCAA 1500m champion. She also added numerous other titles and national championship podium finishes to her list of accomplishments during her collegiate career. Immediately following her graduation from Oregon, Hull signed with Nike. In recent years she has broken several Australian and Oceanian records and reached the final of the 1500m at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Dom Dwyer (Men’s Soccer, NJCAA and NCAA D1)
Dom Dwyer was born in England and moved to the United States in 2009 to attend Tyler Junior College. In his two years at junior college, Dwyer helped his team win back-to-back national championships. Following a standout season in his sophomore year, which saw him score 37 goals, Dwyer was recruited by NCAA Division 1 University of South Florida. He continued his success during his first season with USF, scoring 16 goals in 21 appearances. His performance in college led to his selection as the no. 16 overall draft pick in the 2012 MLS Draft. Dwyer has since gone on to have a successful professional career in the MLS and has also garnered selection in the US Men’s National Team.
Danielle Collins (Women’s Tennis, NCAA D1)
Danielle Collins completed a decorated collegiate career at the University of Virginia. During her time as a college athlete, she won the NCAA individual singles title on two occasions and was recognised as the top-ranked female college tennis player in 2016. She also made her WTA debut at the US Open while still in college. Within two to three years of graduating from college, she was reaching semi-finals on the WTA tour and progressing deep into grand slam tournaments.
Duncan Robinson (Men’s Basketball, NCAA D3 and NCAA D1)
Duncan Robinson was overlooked in his college recruiting process, due to his comparably smaller stature and late development. He committed to Williams College, one of the top academic universities in the United States, which competed in NCAA D3. Robinson had a record-breaking freshman year, in which he scored 500 points and led his team to the NCAA D3 national championship game. Following his first season, he was named an All-American and National Rookie of the Year. Robinson’s success drew interest from some of the biggest colleges in the US and he went on to transfer to the University of Michigan where he competed for the remainder of his collegiate career. Continuing his strong performance and adding his name to several University of Michigan record lists, Robinson went on to sign a contract with the Miami Heat after graduation. He remains a key player for the Miami Heat and in December 2022 became the fastest player to reach 800 three-pointers in NBA history.