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Student Athletes and The College Admissions Process

In an earlier post, we reviewed how and when a prospective student athlete should approach college coaches. We continue here by discussing what occurs once coaches begin to express serious interest in student athletes and how that affects their chances of admission.


Having the coach get an admissions “read” of your transcript and test scores is an essential part of the recruitment process.

After months of keeping in contact with coaches, and then making official visits, student athletes begin to narrow down their colleges of interest based on how much they like the college overall and their assessment of how interested the coach is in them. If by the Fall of senior year, students have a college that is a clear favorite they should inform the coach that they will attend if accepted.

Coaches are often able to bring to the admissions office a very short list of prospective athletes in which they are seriously interested. However, the chances of being added to this short list are slim to none if the coach does not have a verbal commitment from the athletes that they will accept the offer of admission if it is forthcoming. This is one reason why the coach will typically ask students to demonstrate their commitment by applying under a binding early decision program if that option is available.

Students must protect themselves during this process by asking specific questions of the coach and insisting (politely) on answers. For instance, if the student is on the borderline academically for admission to the college, he should ask the coach, “Have you presented my academic credentials to the admissions office and did they provide feedback that I would be admissible?” Sometimes a coach really wants an athlete and he will try to convince the admissions office that the student is the right match for the school. However, if the admissions office cannot support the student’s application then the student should move on before he squanders his chances at another college that might be a better athletic and academic fit. Remember, an offer of admission cannot come from a coach; it can only come from the admissions office.

If the coach tells the student that admissions approved her academic credentials the student can ask her guidance counselor to contact the college admissions office to verify the coach’s assessment. This conversation might go something like this:

“My student, Jane Smith, has been talking with Coach Carter about joining the women’s soccer team. Coach Carter told Jane yesterday that admissions reviewed her transcript and scores and indicated that she would be admissible. Jane is very excited about this opportunity. I am just calling to confirm that Jane understood Coach Carter correctly.”

This step can go a long way toward heading off any misunderstanding and miscommunication before a student gives up her chances with other coaches and commits to a college that is not ready to commit to her in return. Before committing to a coach, Samantha Neumann, a former Emory University swimmer, advises doing a thorough evaluation to find the right balance of academics and athletics. “Make sure the school fits both academically and athletically because when you get to college the demands of each are much more strenuous than in high school,” says Samantha. “If one fits but the other really doesn’t, it will become too stressful to manage right from the start and just won’t work.”

The Ivy League

Division I and II athletes must register with the NCAA Clearinghouse to approve courses and eligibility.

As at most colleges, athletes recruited by the Ivy League have an advantage in the admissions process over their non-athletic peers. However, there are myths around this issue. One is that you do not have to be a strong student to be an Ivy League athlete. While it is true that some athletes in the Ivy League have lower standardized test scores and grades, on average, than their non-athletic peers, no admissions officer will admit a student who will not be able to keep up with the college’s academic demands. The Ivy League uses an Academic Index. The academic index is a computed score that factors in standardized test scores and class rank. The admissions office then examines the resulting score to see where a student athlete falls against the overall applicant pool. There are minimum scores under which a student cannot be admitted without special permission. For more information, visit

The Ivy League offers a limited number of recruited student athletes a “likely” letter after October 1 of the student’s senior year. This is a letter from admissions that can be considered a formal letter of admission, assuming that the student maintains his grades. The advantage of a likely letter, much like a letter of intent, is that the student knows his admission and financial aid status early in the process. While the coach may ask the student for a commitment, he cannot require that the student withdraw other applications or refrain from visiting other colleges as a condition for receiving the likely letter. Likely letters are sometimes given to non-athletes for academic merit at a few Ivy League schools.

Division III

Division III athletes do not need to register with the NCAA Eligibility Clearinghouse, nor are they eligible for scholarships. However, as with other athletes, they do sometimes have an advantage in admissions if the coach believes they can add value to the team.

There are many complexities to the athletic recruitment process. Students should be honest and clear in their communication and expect the same from college coaches. An informed student athlete will find the process more manageable and ultimately rewarding.

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