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Being a Caltech Athlete

As I write this blog, I’m sitting on a grassy knoll on Pomona-Pitzer’s campus. It’s the last match of my final season of tennis here at Caltech. It’s definitely a bittersweet feeling to be done with my college tennis career (unless I decide to use my final year of NCAA eligibility, granted to athletes affected by the COVID-19 pandemic). Being a part of the women’s tennis team here has been a defining part of my identity and where I met my community on campus. In this blog, I want to discuss a bit of the process of becoming an NCAA athlete, the Caltech experience of handling schoolwork and a sport, and my take on how it affected my growth here.

Caltech is in NCAA Division III athletics. I was a recruited athlete, but Caltech is a school that explicitly does not offer “slots” to recruited athletes. That is, you cannot be verbally guaranteed a spot in the incoming class and officially “commit” to the school like some other D3 schools, and most/all D2 and D1 universities. As such, even as a recruited athlete, it was important that I had good grades, a demonstrated interest in STEM through my extracurricular activities, and other attributes of my application that could show the admissions committee I would do well at Caltech. However, as a recruited athlete, I did get the benefit of attending the WiSTEM (Women in STEM) sports camp, having an official recruiting visit to see campus and input on my application essays from the coach before I applied. Through these experiences, I grew to really like the Caltech campus and the culture surrounding social life and academics. These factors influenced me to apply EA to Caltech, where I was accepted, taking a lot of stress off during my senior year of high school.

More Caltech students are athletes than people realize. A lot of students are either involved in an NCAA sport, a club sport, or play recreational interhouse sports, which include ping pong and kickball. The 4pm-6pm timeframe is reserved for NCAA practice, so no classes/academic activities are scheduled during this time. For the tennis teams, we have an off-season in the fall, where many of us continue to practice from 4pm-6pm everyday even without the supervision of our coaches. Our official season starts in the winter and goes into the spring, where we play both teams from far away (think east coast!) for a national ranking and conference matches from schools nearby (our conference is SCIAC, one of the top conferences in the country). Professors tend to be pretty understanding about missing class because of a match or giving extensions when the workload becomes too stressful. However, many of the student-athletes I know are organized with their work. Following a similar philosophy I had in high school, being committed to a sport actually helps me plan out my day. If I know I have a match coming up, I work harder to finish my work early rather than leaving it last minute. It is also unreasonable to be doing work all the time, so getting the chance to go outside and exercise is a good way to take a break from academics. All in all, I found being a student-athlete challenging but manageable and rewarding.

I would not go back and change my college tennis experience. I feel like being a part of the tennis team gave me my community on campus and my closest friends here are all part of the team. It’s a great way to meet people when you arrive at college for the first time and the upperclassmen on the team can help guide you in the beginning of your college career. You also build a sense of camaraderie through practice and competition that is difficult to achieve with any other activity. Playing tennis for Caltech has been an awesome experience and I’m glad that I got to be part of the team during my years here.

I hope this blog gave you some insight into the Caltech NCAA athlete experience. If you love playing a sport, I encourage you to try to play for the school. If not, there are teams on campus that don’t require recruited athletes/tryouts to join, so feel free to explore your options!

Jen Yu ’22

Computer Science, Class of 2022

Hi, I’m Jen! I am a native of New York City and currently a senior at Caltech majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Biology. I’m a co-captain of Caltech’s tennis team and a member of Fleming House. On campus, I’m involved with the Caltech Y, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and Chemistry Club. I love exploring both the urban and natural parts of Los Angeles by going out to restaurants or hiking on weekends.