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Articles / Applying to College / Reach School for Recruited Athlete?

Reach School for Recruited Athlete?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Nov. 13, 2015

Question:  How much does sports help in gaining admission to a selective D1 public university (40-50% admitted)? My 11th grade son is nationally ranked in his non-revenue sport, and the coach at a selective school wants him to come for visit. His GPA is 3.6 unweighted in a mix of college prep and honors courses and he will take AP Calc as a senior. However, his test scores are probably at 25%ile for the selective public school; he will actually qualify for academic and athletic aid at some other public and private colleges. Students at selective school would have taken more APs. He didn’t take more APs due to the number of hours he trains in his sport. He would not be a candidate for selective school without athletics. Before we pay for a flight for an unofficial visit, I had two questions: 1)Do most D1 schools have a certain number of admits for athletes that are not dumb jocks but may have lower test scores but still above national average? 2) Even if a recruit can get in with a lower profile, should he/she? Athletes will practice 20 hours a week plus travel so if they are a borderline candidate for a school, are they at too much of a risk of losing eligibility for not maintaining GPA? Should they instead pick a school where they would be in the 50-75%ile of enrolled students and have a better chance of maintaining GPA and playing sports? Athletes do get academic support and tutoring so we have mixed feelings about his fit at selective school. It would be a great opportunity if it works out but he has other options. He would not want to give up those to be waitlisted for selective school.

When a college coach is seriously interested in a student, it doesn’t mean that the student is sure to be accepted, but it does go a long way with the admission folks, especially when the student/athlete’s academic statistics are at least in the ballpark, so to speak.  Although your son’s test scores are at the bottom of the median range, the fact that they are still in the median range is a biggie. From the little information I have here, it sounds as if his admission odds are good … if the coach continues to pursue him.

Most colleges (especially D1, but really at all levels) admit athletes whose GPA and test scores would not make them viable candidates without their athletic “hook.” Yet commonly these athletes are just fine once enrolled.

In general, busy athletes do a better job with time management than non-athletes. Not only are they already accustomed to the juggling act that sports necessitates, but also they find that a demanding practice schedule can actually improve time management.


Athlete: “I have practice at 3 so I need to write the first draft of this paper before I go, and then I’ll finish it after practice.

Non-Athlete: “I have all day to do this paper so I can play some XBox with my friends after lunch … Oops it’s 10 p.m. and I haven’t started my paper yet!”

If your son is interested in this university and you feel that it might be a “great opportunity,” he should definitely go visit and get a first-hand sense of the campus, the coach, his future teammates and fellow students. Given that you’re talking about a public university with a 40-50% acceptance rate and not an Ivy League school or any other hyper-selective institution that takes one candidate for every 12 who are turned away, it seems to me that your son … a student with a 3.6 GPA in classes that include some honors …  should be able to hold his own. Of course, this will depend on multiple factors that we can’t entirely foresee … the classes he chooses, the demands of his sport, and his overall comfort level once he gets there.

When your son visits campus, he needs to talk to prospective teammates about their daily lives. Questions he should ask include:

-What do they like and dislike about the coach?

-How much do they seem to care about their school work … i.e., are they there to prepare for their future and not just for the next game, meet, match, etc.?

-How much academic pressure do they feel? How might the choice of classes and future major affect this pressure?

-How responsive are professors when a student misses class due to travel for sports?  Do the profs tend to give wiggle-room on deadlines when an athlete falls behind?

-Are there specific classes that are considered athlete-friendly?

-Do athletes take advantage of the academic support options that are available? (And, if so, are these options easy to set up and are they useful?)

-Does the coach oversee the student’s academic status and intercede if the student begins to flounder?

-Do many athletes feel that they wouldn’t have been admissible as non-athletes?

-What “war stories” are circulating about former teammates who couldn’t maintain eligibility or who dropped out of the university entirely?

 Since it sounds like math is your son’s strong suit, he might also want to sit in on a math class that roughly corresponds to the level he’s at right now (or perhaps a calculus class) to see how manageable it feels. (WARNING: Observing just one class can be a mixed bag … it’s sort of like visiting a campus and talking to only one student. That is, the single class might not be at all representative of what your son will actually encounter. But, even with this caveat in place, some students find it worthwhile to get into a classroom during a visit.)

My son is now a freshman in college.  He officially toured at least a dozen campuses before making a final choice. He used a range of factors when deciding whether to keep a school on his list or to lop it off, with gut reaction among them. Although he might have been perfectly content at many of the places that got the axe, he definitely felt that spending a little time on campus offered him a “feel’ of each place that he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. And, the more campuses he visited, the clearer he became about which ones seemed to be good fits.

So, because this selective university has pluses for your son and because the coach is interested in him, it seems like it’s well worth a close look. Meanwhile your son should certainly check out other options so that he can compare the pros and cons.

When I advise college-bound students … both athletes and not … one of the questions I always ask is, “Do you think you’re most happy and engaged when you are spurred to work hard by classmates who are stronger students than you are, or do you prefer to be at the top of the heap, a star among less able students?”  When your son is in AP Calc next fall, he may have a firmer response to this question than he does right now and this will help to guide his college preferences.

Good luck to him and to you … whatever he decides.


Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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