For Athletes, Academic Warm-Ups Only

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After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2007, working consecutive jobs in events management and getting laid off fewer than two years later, Kirsten Hextrum felt stuck.

Hextrum spent four years on the Cal women's crew team, but she didn't plan on pursuing the sport after college and wasn't sure how a bachelor's degree in history would translate into professional prospects.

Graduate school soon entered the picture.

This coming fall, Hextrum will begin a master's program at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education, exemplifying what seems to be an increasingly popular trend among former Cal athletes.

Citing the current economic climate, many former student-athletes are utilizing graduate and professional programs to establish a competitive edge in a difficult job market.

"The economy definitely played a large role," Hextrum said. "During my application process, most people said that record numbers had applied.

"I met so many brilliant, really driven athletes in my time here, and there are going to be more who realize the importance of higher education. It's about making yourself stand out, and that's what athletes are all about."

Student-athletes from many varsity sports on campus are flocking to graduate school, some of them electing to complete their master's degrees on the campus they called home for four years.

Francesca Weems, a member of the Bears track and field team who graduated with a mass communications degree in December 2009, will join Hextrum at the Graduate School of Education in the "Cultural Studies of Sport in Education" concentration.

Both former Cal football player Tyler Fredrickson and Brook Turner, a film studies major and Bears track athlete who graduated last May, are currently enrolled in the School of Cinematic Arts at USC.

Former Cal women's tennis player Cristina Visico has been studying for the LSAT and plans on applying to law schools on the West coast, including her alma mater's Boalt Hall School of Law.

"Most of my friends and former teammates (are) going to grad school," Visico said. "I don't know if it's pressure because of a lack of jobs or because a bachelor's degree isn't enough, but most of my friends who were Cal athletes are going to grad school or are planning on it."

The economic downturn, however, was not the only factor in the students' decisions to return to school.

Hextrum, for example, said being on campus will allow her to interact with fellow athletes, even though she is no longer eligible to participate in intercollegiate athletics.

Meanwhile, Turner said she is attracted to grad school because she sees her professors as future employers.

"Your teachers are people you hope to work for in the future," Turner said. "Whenever you hand in a project, it's 'I need to impress this person.' It's just different. You're going to school because this is what you want your career to be."

Athletes like former Cal running back Jahvid Best, who was recently drafted by the Detroit Lions, and former Cal basketball star Ryan Anderson, who plays for the Orlando Magic, are exceptions to the rule. In fact, the NCAA openly acknowledges in its ad campaigns that an overwhelming majority of its student-athletes will pursue careers beyond the realm of athletics.

"A lot of my mentors suggested I go back to school to have a backup," said Weems, who is interested in media and education careers. "Grads aren't getting paid as much, and they're fighting for jobs. The Cal degree doesn't solidify anything. A master's will put me ahead."


Contact Jeff Goodman at [email protected]

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