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Senior Lina Qostal hopes to go pro after her Penn career, but needs to find a sponsor to finance her training and travel.

Credit: Son Nguyen

Penn’s rich alumni network often provides valuable networking opportunities for students looking for a leg up during the job search. But what if your entire chances of getting hired hinged upon whether or not alumni believed in you?

For women’s tennis senior Lina Qostal, turning pro after graduation basically boils down to that. 

Going pro in tennis isn’t like going pro in team sports like football and basketball. In those sports, players will either be drafted and sign a rookie deal or go undrafted and negotiate a deal independently with a team. They’ll start getting paid as soon as they start playing. But in tennis, things aren’t so easy.

“Especially at the very beginning of your career, it’s really hard to find the money to travel and train because since it's an individual sport it's kind of a catch-22 where sponsors will only sponsor you if you have a high ranking but in order to get that high ranking you need the money to get to it,” Qostal said. “There’s definitely a financial difficulty there especially for someone like me who wouldn’t have been able to attend Penn if it were not for the financial aid.”

While Penn provides substantial support for students looking to pursue traditional professional trajectories, it’s fairly uncommon for student-athletes to pursue their sport post graduation, so there’s not as much that the University can do to help.

It’s very rare for a member of Penn tennis to make a serious run at the pros. The most recent and notable example was in 2011, when then-freshman Connie Hsu left after a stunning first year on Penn’s team to play professionally.

Not only does Penn not have the structure already in place to help someone like Qostal, there’s an added strain that comes from going to a school as competitive and academic as Penn. However, that isn’t stopping Qostal from trying to pursue her dream. She believes in herself, and she knows if she gets a shot, she can be great.

“It’s also a function of how much time you spend practicing, training, taking care of your body outside of the court, and stuff like that, and with all of the academic pressures we have here, we’re definitely challenged intellectually which is great but then you can’t realistically compare yourself with people who spend double or triple the time dedicated to their sports at other schools … we have so much room or potential to get even better.”

The senior hails from Morocco and went to high school in France. Having now lived in the United States for four years and with hopes to live here for many more as a professional athlete, there are lots of aspects of this country that might draw Qostal to want to stay after college.

For one, the culture surrounding professional sports is more developed and supportive of pro athletes in all sports in the U.S. than in much of the rest of the world. Additionally, tennis training facilities are generally top-notch around the country. However, for Qostal, there’s more to it than just the professional opportunities America provides.

“From Morocco, seeing the Disney channel [I had] this idea of this America where you can make your dreams come true,” Qostal said. “So to be able to come here … it just helps you feel that you are in the process of working towards your dream. I think that intangible motivational aspect can go a long way in reminding you what you’re doing, why you’re doing it.”

In the years since Qostal has come to Penn, there have been huge shifts in the political state of the country. The election of President Trump has been linked to a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment and rising hate crimes around the country. While she has been lucky to have come to a part of the country where this is relatively rare, the political and legal implications are still potentially an area of concern.

“What’s great about Penn is that it’s a community where people just make you feel welcome wherever you come from. That may not be the case everywhere in the U.S. but then again, the diversity that you get here … I’ve been exposed to so many people in my life that I have developed this understanding of where everyone is coming from,” Qostal said. “Sometimes I feel like my future is not safe because what if I go play some tournament in Europe and for some legal reason I am not able to come back.”

Despite being a philosophy, politics, and economics major, it was clear that Qostal's focus wasn’t on politics, though. It was on tennis.

Tennis is often considered a sport that people play at private schools and country clubs, but that hasn’t been Qostal's experience. Despite not coming from the same wealth that many future pro tennis players do, she still hopes that she’ll be able to be successful. To do so, though, she’ll need some help.

“The International Tennis Federation has been trying to get more and more people from third-world countries and developing countries by providing some sorts of grants but those resources are still super small and there’s still not enough,” Qostal said. “There’s just not resources, especially when you’re from a third-world country and your federation doesn’t have the money to support you.”

If Qostal is going to be able to become a pro, it is likely that she’ll need a sponsor to support her while she establishes herself on the tournament circuit. Her hope is that a Penn alum or Penn-affiliated tennis lover with the money to support her will want to help her dream come true.

Qostal's path after Penn will be very different than that of her classmates, and her path into Penn was also very different. This didn’t prevent her from feeling like she belonged and making close friendships, but it did provide some difficulties along the way.

“Being at Penn, in many ways you just don’t feel those differences in socioeconomic background, but in other ways … they are felt. For example, the types of things that you are looking for in your Penn education or the types of things you’re interested in can also sort of be driven by your socioeconomic status,” Qostal explained. “Sometimes if you go grab dinner at this really expensive place and connect through how they love fancy restaurants and talk about that, while others can connect about the struggle of being a financial aid student.”

While Penn isn’t the perfect place to launch a career in tennis and isn’t the easiest place to be a low-income student either, there are a lot of positive things it has provided for Qostal:

“There’s so much appreciation from me for all of the resources I get here. I definitely I’m looking forward to getting to a place where I’m in a position to give back to this university.”

If she’s given a chance, that path toward being able to give back to Penn could be as a tennis pro. If Qostal has made it this far, there’s no reason to believe she can’t make it all the way.

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