Athletics & Admissions: Going for the Gold!

Athletics & Admissions: Going for the Gold! was originally published on College Recruiter.

Certainly All-State athletes, two-sport threats, and varsity-letter winners should emphasize their prowess. But less exalted athletes who may compete in fairly new or more obscure fields are valued as well. For example, archers are welcome at Barnard College, and badminton players are well-served at Bryn Mawr College. Women’s ice hockey at Providence College and crew at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania are recently established programs.
The point is to identify the college or university that offers or is known for your sport. A good source is Peterson’s Sports Scholarships & College Athletic Programs (Thomson Peterson’s, 2004). College Web sites contain the most current facts about teams and coaches, and sometimes they include rosters. You will need the coach’s name to contact him/her and to send a DVD of your playing highlights if appropriate. Checking out the roster, which usually indicates the players’ high schools, and the team record will give you an idea of its competitiveness and your chance of playing. If the team members who play your position are seniors, your odds are improved.

“Intramural and club sports are the lifeblood of the college,” says Tracy Karr, admissions counselor at Susquehanna University, where club teams, including men’s volleyball, sometimes rate as much support as varsity. Intramural teams such as coed softball and coed floor hockey at College of the Holy Cross are great places to exercise and socialize. Students are especially enthusiastic about equestrian events at Washington College and Mt. Holyoke. Crew drew so many rowers that Tufts built a stunning new boathouse.
Perhaps the ultimate non-varsity sport is Ultimate Frisbee, with frenzied participation from 218 college and university teams. All these groups need replacement players for graduating seniors.
The greatest growth in college sports is in women’s teams. “Women in Intercollegiate Sports,” a study sponsored by Smith and Brooklyn Colleges, reports that in the last six years, 1155 new women’s teams have been added. Soccer, strongly influenced by Mia Hamm and her Olympics teammates, has grown 40-fold since 1977.
Originally, as women’s teams expanded, some men’s teams–notably wrestling and gymnastics–were cut. But men are making a comeback. Wrestling has returned to Bucknell, and outdoor field and track to Tulane.
How influential can athletic talent be in winning a spot at college? Plenty. Linfield College in Oregon is typical of many colleges in valuing the GPA first. The strength and quality of the high school curriculum is considered next, followed by SAT or ACT scores. And finally, up to 25% of a student’s rating may be based on what a student will contribute to campus, and that could be athletics.
No dumb jocks allowed! Successful high school student-athletes are attractive candidates. Here’s why:

  • Practice makes perfect. High school student-athletes learn to fit practice, school, social obligations, and perhaps work into their schedules. “They’re able to set priorities and balance their time,” says Daniel Walls, Emory University’s dean of admissions.
  • Teamwork = team work. Student-athletes are accustomed to doing their best for the group. Getting along with roommates, taking part in group study sessions, and working with lab partners are natural for them. “The team ethic is ingrained,” notes Paul Bradshaw, Baylor University’s assistant director of compliance.
  • Commitment. Continued participation in high school sports indicates a student’s willingness to persist in a demanding regimen. A student’s commitment to something outside himself or herself also shows maturity. Colleges, especially Division III schools, are also looking for students who weren’t stars but who performed well and stuck with a sport. These are players who will play their hearts out and stay on a team.
  • Good sports make good schools. High school student-athletes will most likely compete well on the college level and create winning teams. Athletes build pride and tradition in an institution, and that benefits all students.
  • You’ve got to have friends. Many student-athletes arrive on campus early and are immediately immersed in a small group of people who share their interests. Recalling his cross-country and track orientation program at Hillsdale College in Michigan, Marty McGinn says, “We went camping for three days, made friends, and had fun before being hit over the head with everything else. So I felt more comfortable and at ease while the other freshmen were just moving in.”
  • Who are you? “In high school, I had a well-established name,” says Kristin Carey, a former soccer and lacrosse player at Goucher College in Maryland. “Then I got here and nobody knew me. I’m not the most outgoing person in the world, and sports helped other people know who I am.”
  • No work, no play. Most students agree that athletic participation helps them to focus on their academic efforts. In fact, David Casassa, a former swimmer and water polo player at Occidental, says, “The only time I fell behind was the last two weeks of school, when I didn’t have sports and my time was unstructured.”Some schools require study halls for athletes, and some offer special academic programs, including mentoring, tutoring, and strict monitoring of athletes’ classroom performance and attendance. That kind of structure helps lots of students adjust.
  • Diversity university. On the playing fields, students from various backgrounds meet as equals and often become friends. “You don’t have to like each other,” says Crystal Butcher, who played field hockey and lacrosse, “but you do have to accept each other and spend a lot of time together, which cuts away initial cultural barriers and preconceptions and often leads to friendship.”
  • Homesick cure. Most first-year students miss family, friends, and home comforts. But as Clay Nunley, a former collegiate basketball player, found, “It wasn’t really too bad because I was so busy and my mind was kept occupied.”
  • Cut the fat. Sweating it out in sports helps prevent the dreaded frosh 15-pound weight gain.
  • Stress less. Academic and social tensions sometimes run high at college, and physical activity is a great release. “It was a way to work out my frustrations,” says Kristin Carey.
  • Money. Some Division I and II schools offer athletic scholarships ranging from partial awards to full stipends covering tuition, room, board, and fees. But beware: these grants are renewable yearly. If a student is injured or doesn’t make the team, the money is gone.

So what’s the score? Athletics can make a difference in admissions and after, but no reputable institution will admit unqualified students, no matter how great their athletic prowess. If student-athletes end up on academic probation, they don’t play.
Ultimately, your college choice can’t be based solely on athletics. Only one athlete in 10,000 will go on to the pros, and the average pro career is only three or four years. How student-athletes perform in the classroom is what really counts. But if you have both academic and athletic ability, your chances of getting into the college of your choice are enhanced–and your chances of enjoying the experience are, too.
So, what should you do? Slip into your sports gear and go for it!

Process by which the college or university woos student-athletes by letter, phone, invitation to campus, or personal visit.
> The most serious sign of interest is a coach’s visit to a student’s home. But it’s admissions departments, not coaches, who admit students. Coaches may make promises they cannot keep.
> Listen carefully to what the coach says, not to what you wish to hear.
> Coaches’ early sincere enthusiasm may wane as they land other recruits.

Process by which the student “markets” himself/herself to the institution.
> Contact the college admissions and athletic departments to ask for information. Write a short but personalized letter to each college coach, stating your athletic and academic accomplishments and a sincere interest in playing for the coach.
> If a coach responds to your letter, suggest a college visit, invite the coach or his or her delegate to visit you, and/or send a short video of yourself in action.

Businesses that compile student-athlete résumé-type profiles and send them to many (sometimes up to 800) colleges for a fee (usually $300-$600). Services guarantee responses from some schools but they don’t guarantee admission to any.
> Students who are not heavily recruited may find these services effective, as do colleges that don’t have large recruiting budgets.
> Services are not the same as agents, who charge a commission for obtaining scholarships. Agents are not allowed in college athletics.

Classifications that indicate the level of competition and amount of money a college devotes to athletics.
> Division I schools, in general, offer the most scholarships, but not all Division I schools offer scholarships. Ivy League schools do not.
> Division III schools do not offer scholarships.

National Collegiate Athletic Association/National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics:
The two main governing boards of college athletics that control everything from student eligibility to the number of official campus visits a student may make. For information and free guides, contact: NCAA, P.O. Box 6222, Indianapolis, IN 46206-6222; phone 317-917-6222;

NAIA, 23500 West 105th Street, Olathe, KS 66051; phone 913-791-0044;
> Student-athletes seeking admission to Division I and II schools must be registered at the NCAA Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse. Registration forms are available at high school guidance offices or directly from the Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse, 310 ACT Dr., P.O. Box 4043, Iowa City, IA 52243-4043.
> The NCAA is exerting greater pressure on colleges to make sure that athletes do well in class and on the field. Colleges may lose scholarships or competition eligibility if their players fail to meet the association’s academic standards.

Title IX:
1972 law requiring institutions that receive federal aid to treat men and women equitably. What constitutes “equitably” in terms of the number of scholarships, teams, and other resources available to both sexes is controversial, and colleges are working to meet federal, student, and alumni demands. However, women are gaining in both athletic scholarships and sports open to them. Now is a great time to be a woman student-athlete.

Article by Linda Pollard Puner and courtesy of

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