Committing to a Graduate Program: It Only Takes One

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I never wanted a lack of a degree to limit my employment options.

Choosing a graduate school is a tough process. Photo via LearnVest.

Back during my junior year of college, in the spring of 2016, I made the decision that I wanted to continue my education. When looking at jobs, I saw that a master’s degree was almost always ‘preferred.’

I never wanted a lack of a degree to limit my employment options. Also, if you’re going to be working in some capacity for a school or another organization while taking classes, you’ll still be getting the experience aspect needed for a career in sports. One of my mentors told me, “If you can afford to do it now, it’s a great idea because it will never hurt you.”

So, I started researching schools. Back then, I was sure that I wanted to stick with athletic communications, so I was only looking at schools that had graduate assistantships in that field. This was a mistake, which I later found out once I realized that I thought my time may be up in the communications department. A lesson I learned here was that I shouldn’t limit myself from good programs just based on an opening in an athletic department.

Clemson is looking for two GAs! Apply here!

I narrowed my list of schools down to six: Belmont, Illinois, Ohio, St. John’s, VCU and West Virginia. I went and visited every single school, because I felt like making sure the ‘fit’ was right before I committed myself to applying. After this, I cut Illinois from my list, and not because they didn’t have the program that I wanted, but I felt like we just weren’t valuing the same things when it came to breaking into the sports industry.

I applied to the other five schools. I was instantly admitted into Belmont and St. John’s, which have great programs and I constantly envisioned going to both places. I fell in love with Belmont and Nashville from the moment I visited in September. I spent almost six months telling myself that was where I would be going.

St. John’s is in New York City, my favorite place in the world, and I didn’t know how I was going to turn that down. Every day I think about what I need to do to live there. It felt like a dream come true.

I thought I was going to spend my next two years at Belmont University in Nashville. Photo via Belmont University.

With every success, there are failures. I did Skype interviews with West Virginia and VCU, and I regretted that decision, as I was waitlisted at both schools.

I still feel like if I went and interviewed in person, maybe the result would have been different. Hindsight is always 20/20. A piece of advice that I can give here is to always go down and interview in person, even if it is logistically more challenging.


The hardest rejection of this experience was from Ohio University, which has the oldest program in the world. They are very highly known and it was my top choice from the moment I started looking at programs. I was one of 40 students selected to interview (out of 200+ applicants) and I left it all out on the line and didn’t waste a moment to show them who I truly was. After a month of waiting for a decision, it became clear through other people getting accepted that I was not going to be joining them.

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This was a hard pill for me to swallow, as I believed since they were the ‘best’ program, that’s where I should be going. I’m a very confident person and I thought that I was the best, and that I should be attending the ‘best.’

After the grueling waiting period and soaking it in that I wasn’t going to Ohio’s program, I was pretty down. I took my frustration out on friends and family, and I just wasn’t myself. I wondered why I wasn’t good enough or what I could have done better. I kept thinking this way for a couple weeks.

There I was, with these two amazing offers, in expensive cities, with no way to fund it. Graduate assistantships did not come through and so I had to make the very hard choice to turn away the two programs I loved the most.

I, again, was down on myself for not even being able to make the schools that wanted me work.

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I started looking for jobs and internships, completely late to the ballgame. I had no idea what I was doing and was blindly looking for anything. This was probably my lowest point, as I felt like I was going to walk out of Miami with a degree and nothing to do. I thought that I had wasted a year of my life looking up graduate programs. Then, on Friday, March 10, my life took a complete 180 degree turn.


I was scrolling through Twitter and saw that Front Office Sports had retweeted a tweet from Bill Sutton, who is the Director of the University of South Florida’s Sport and Entertainment Management program. I soon found my way onto USF’s program website. Everything about it was the perfect fit: the dual degree aspect, residency program and 100 percent placement rate was exactly what I was looking for.

The tweet that changed my life. Shoutout to FOS for RT’ing it!

I made my way to LinkedIn and looked up one of the students in the program. He and I hopped on a phone call that morning and he sold me on the program. He believed that it was the greatest program in the world, despite the rankings and that’s how I knew USF was the real deal.

I called up Dr. Michelle Harrolle, a professor of the program and she was excited to hear how ready I was to apply to the program. Dr. Harrolle showed me through our conversation how much of a family this program was and how they really wanted their students to succeed.

I went home and filled out my application immediately. I then called Dr. Sutton the following Monday. He asked about my career goals and I told him that I want to work in Minor League Baseball. Dr. Sutton was impressed by this and explained all of the people he wanted to get me connected with, as the MiLB headquarters is just a short drive away from USF.

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He then explained that he wanted to get me to Tampa to interview and said he had an opening at the end of March. I asked if I could come any sooner and he said that they could squeeze me in the following Monday if I could make it work. I told Dr. Sutton that I would be there. I had one week to turn my life around and get down to Tampa, Florida.

Fast forward a week, following a lot of discussions with my parents, a seven-hour flight delay and a day on St. Petersburg beach, to my interview. I had an awesome time meeting the staff and current students in person. The campus was absolutely beautiful and everyone was so kind. I felt like I had found not only the program, but the family that I was looking for.

Photo via University of South Florida

Hearing that I was accepted to the University of South Florida made everything I had went through worth it. I realized that USF was the best program for me, as I found out the things that were truly important when it comes to choosing a school.


Always look for ‘fit.’

If you want to live in a city, go live in a city. If you want to be close to home, do that too. It’s going to be hard to succeed somewhere if you aren’t happy just being in that town.

Find a school that gives you lots of opportunities to work and volunteer.

The Tampa/St. Petersburg area is home to an NFL team, MLB team, NHL team, soon to be D-League team, multiple MiLB teams, indoor football team, USL soccer team, the MiLB headquarters and much more. There’s no shortage of things for me to do, as experience is one of the main things that matters when breaking into the sports industry.

Tampa Bay is home to the Lightning, who partners with the USF SEM program and hosts multiple second-year students for their residency. Photo via Tampa Bay Sports Commission.

Look for a family.

These people are going to be your ride or dies for the next one to two years. You will spend every single day with them. It’s much more than other people you go to school with. Make sure that they have the same drive and heart that you do.


This process is extremely demanding, both physically and mentally. Make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for, and don’t make the same mistakes that I did in doing so. Keep your options open and never rule out a program just because they don’t have a specific graduate assistantship available.

Never get down on yourself or diminish your self-worth. At the end of the day, it only takes one school. You don’t have to get into all of them, just one, and don’t settle if it’s not the right one. Keep looking until you find the right fit. Also, if you’re planning on going to grad school in the fall of 2018, don’t forget to keep USF in mind; we could be classmates! #GoBulls


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