Upon completion of high school, young skiers who wish to compete seriously and improve have two options; ski full time for as many years as they last, or continue with their education while training seriously and competing. Both options have their advantages, as well as their disadvantages.
The biggest advantage of attending school is not directly related to skiing. The education received helps people to mature and become prepared to function as adults in the world. This should help with skiing over the long-term, in giving a more mature approach to sport, as well as affording the security of meaningful employment when finished with competitive skiing.
Full-time school leads to more restraint when it comes to training. School both uses up time and provides other meaningful activities, so that there is less time to train, and less incentive to train excessively.. Given that most skiers who go to school still have enough time to train the amount that their bodies really need, school helps prevent overtraining. Very few 20 year olds are ready to train 800 hours a year or do two workouts every day; yet this can be tempting when all one does is ski. Think back to the Canadian Senior National Championships last March: the skiers who were burned out from overtraining and heavy racing through the year tended to be those who skied full time without attending classes.
The usual reason given for not attending school as a serious skier is that it impedes training and racing. My observation, based upon working full-time all summer, attending school on a full course-load and training 650 hours, is that a full-time student can train 700 hours a year without impeding school, quality of training, or sleep. 700 hours a year is a reasonable amount for a skier in his or her early 20s; it also allows for significant improvements. As well, with proper arrangements with the school, a student who is organized enough to prepare assignments in advance, should be able to race the entire North American FIS season, from Silver Star to Canadian Nationals and the Spring Series.
One example from last season who demonstrates the ability to excel in both school and skiing is that of Riku Metsaranta. As a first year senior, Riku completed a full course-load in geology with an A average. As well, he was competitive with the top seniors in Canada, coming second in the National 50km Championships, ahead of many skiers who might have expected to be better prepared, given that all they did was ski. As this example shows, school should not be an impediment to training and racing at a high-level for skiers in their early 20's.
Though not the only option for post-high school skiers, attending university while skiing seriously is a legitimate option. It will not impede training, but it will allow for a more balanced life, while acting as a counterweight against over-training, and providing educational benefits. To those who are able to handle skiing full-time while maintaining focus and not overtraining, I say good luck; you have my respect. To those attempting school as well, I say that you have taken on a challenge, with the possibility of great benefit.