BERKELEY, Calif. -- Missy Franklin didn't have to go to college. After bursting onto the swimming scene at the London Olympics, where she won five medals, including four gold, the then-17-year-old could have turned professional out of high school and watched her bank account fill up from lucrative endorsement deals.
But rather than ink a deal with an agent, Franklin signed a letter of intent to swim at the University of California-Berkeley.
"I sat down with my parents and we talked about it," she recalled recently at Cal's Spieker Aquatics Center. "They made sure I knew exactly what I was giving up, and this was the kind of money that could stabilize me and my future family for years to come."
Franklin decided she would go to Cal for two years and then turn professional after her sophomore season to prepare for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
"Going to college mattered to me for so many different reasons, the main one being my education," she said. "I know that there's going to come a day, believe it or not, that I'm not going to be swimming anymore and I want to be ready for that day."
For the time being, Franklin is preparing for her final collegiate competition at this weekend's NCAA swimming and diving championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, something she calls bittersweet.
"It's really hard having to leave two years early," she said. "But I know that for the future of my career that this really is the best thing for me."
Franklin has made the most of her two seasons in college. As a freshman, she won an NCAA title in the 200-yard freestyle, setting an American record, and was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.
This year, she led Cal to the Pac-12 Conference title and has her sights set on helping the program win its fourth national championship.
Moreover, she has soaked up the experience of college swimming.
"It's almost like a different sport," she explained. "It is so team-oriented, which can be really different from professional swimming, where it's much more individualistic."
Franklin counts the friendships she's made with her teammates as her favorite part of college life.
"It's hard to go back and forth in a pool for hours on end and it's really not going to be fun unless you get to the wall and have six people around you in your lane that you really enjoy talking to," she said.
Make no mistake, though, she's ready for swimming to be her full-time job.
After the NCAA championships, she will officially turn pro and focus on making next summer's Olympic team, working toward her goal of becoming the most decorated female swimmer of all time.
Franklin said she will absolutely finish her degree at Cal, adding her trademark smile for emphasis, and that she's excited to pursue ambitions that reach beyond swimming.
"It's not about scratching the surface of how many medals I can win," she said, "but scratching the surface of how big of an impact I can make, which to me is what's most important."