USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Nelson Gord is a former collegiate and professional ballplayer, successful high school head coach, and also the founder of the largest travel baseball club in Illinois. Nelson is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community helped create NCSA Team Edition, the free recruiting platform for club and high school coaches and their teams.
In a 2012 article by The New York Times, Princeton University’s dean of admission shared, “We do not emphasize one activity over the other; athletics as well as artistic endeavors are equally regarded. They both present students with opportunities to show and develop character.” It’s a fair and balanced approach, one that allows prospective students with options for following their interests. But is it even true?
Obviously, not all admissions departments do things the same way, even if they do attract a similar pool of students like Ivy League universities do. But you’ve probably heard how recruited athletes get a boost in their admission chances—for good reason too. In an article by Business Insider about admissions at Dartmouth College, a former admissions officer revealed, “I was constantly peeved by athletic admissions . . . Coaches submit lists to admissions officers, ranking recruits, saying these are the kids we really want, and as you get to the top of the list you can be more lenient with academic standards.” It’s long been common knowledge that recruited athletes do get preferential treatment in admissions departments, and a recent article in The Harvard Crimson shows just how far Harvard will go to get their targeted athletes accepted.
In the article, staff writer William L. Wang writes, “athletes with an academic rating of 1 or 2 on Harvard’s scale of 1 to 6—with 1 being the highest and 6 the lowest—had a markedly higher admit rate than non-athletes with the same academic scores. For example, Duke University professor Peter S. Arcidiacono noted that recruited athletes with an academic rating of 4 had an acceptance rate of 70.46 percent, nearly a thousand times greater than the 0.076 percent admit rate for non-athletes with the same academic rating.” Now, I may not be a math surgeon, but when recruited athletes are 1,000 times more likely than similar applicants to get accepted, that sounds like preferential treatment. Overall, recruited athletes who scored a 1 or 2 on Harvard’s academic rating scale had an acceptance rate of 83 percent. Those are pretty good chances!
The article also points out how coaches do have a say in whether recruited athletes get into a school or not, at least to an extent. They may not be rubber-stamping transcripts for their top athletes, but they do have a level of influence on the admissions department. Perhaps what’s most interesting is how much this seems to be the case at Ivy League schools, which do not give out athletic scholarships to their D1 athletes. Because of this, Ivy League schools may seem like they care less about athletics. But these schools still choose to compete in Division 1 sports and evidently prioritize recruited athletes in their admissions departments. It sure looks like beating their Ivy League rival in the big game and getting in the national spotlight still means a lot to these schools.
Another reason why these schools do care about recruiting athletes: The Ivy League has more athletic teams than any other conference in the country. Currently, Harvard has 42 Division 1 intercollegiate sports teams. Yale has 35. Princeton has 38. Meanwhile, Ohio State has 31 and Michigan has 27, respectively—and these schools are considered sports powerhouses. According to Professor Jonathan Cole in The Huffington Post, “Roughly 20 percent, or one-fifth, of the entering class at the Ivy League universities and the leading small liberal arts colleges are recruited athletes.” Meanwhile, at Ohio State or Michigan, that number is closer to 5 percent. Part of the reason why there are so many teams is because Ivy League schools don’t have to give out athletic scholarships, which makes things easier on athletic budgets.
When you consider that acceptance rates at Ivy Leagues are declining, being a recruited athlete seemingly becomes a smarter and more likelier way of getting into an Ivy League school, even though an admissions officer may not go on the record to admit it.
So, if your goal is to play for one of the Ivies, study hard, train hard and get your recruiting process started early. The numbers appear to be moving in your favor.