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. Jaimie Duffek was one of the top 50 high school softball players in Illinois who went onto play outfield for Drake University. Jaimie is just one of many former college athletes 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 have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
If it seems like elite schools are getting tougher to get into, it’s because they are.
In fact, last year was the hardest year on record for students to be accepted to an Ivy League college, such as Harvard. Both early admissions and regular decision rates for the class of 2021 saw declining rates.
But it makes sense when you think about it. The number of applicants is increasing each year, creating higher standards and more competition. We asked NCSA Recruiting Manager, Brandon Liles, how this affects student-athletes interested in competing at Ivy League programs. Here’s what you need to know about recruiting at that level:
They’re on the same timeline as D1 programs
“There’s a common misconception that Ivy League schools are not as good as other D1 programs, so they don’t have the same recruiting timeline,” says Liles. “But the truth is that these programs want to bring in the best possible athletes—and they do.”
I actually heard a few managers at NCSA point out this misconception. So take note that Ivy League coaches recruit just as many student-athletes as other D1 programs—sometimes even more—because the standards are so tough. They are also evaluating underclassmen and making offers throughout junior year. If you wait until the end of your junior year to reach out to college coach at an Ivy League program, you’re further behind in the process.
They want to see academics early
Like I mentioned, the competition is pretty fierce for any students applying to Ivy League schools. When everyone has a good GPA and test scores, it can be tough to stand out. That’s why student-athletes interested in these programs send their academic information to college coaches earlier than they would other schools. “This is a great way to get ahead in the process,” Liles says.
Every college coach wants to focus their efforts on recruiting student-athletes who can be accepted into their university. And for Ivy League coaches, it’s that much more important. They usually track prospects’ grades early to make sure they’ll not only become NCAA eligible but that they’ll also have a good shot at being accepted into the school.
Read More about registering for the NCAA Eligibility Center
In fact, Ivy League coaches use a tool called the Academic Index (AI) to guarantee that their student-athletes have similar academic qualifications as the overall student body and underqualified recruits aren’t admitted. Each prospective high school recruit is assigned a number, usually 170 to 240, that summarizes their GPA and scores on standardized tests.
That’s why Ivy League coaches also like to receive your standardized test scores earlier, too. “Our advice to student-athletes interested in Ivy League programs is to take the ACT or SAT the fall of your junior year—or earlier if you’re comfortable taking it then,” says Liles. “Doing this will take some pressure off—compared to waiting until spring semester—because if you don’t score well, you have more time to re-take it.”
Ivy League coaches cast a wide net
Another common misconception about the recruiting process is that college coaches can help you get accepted into the school–if only it were that easy. Coaches don’t work for the admissions department; they work for the athletic department. While they can advocate for you, ultimately your grades and test scores need to stand on their own.
And because Ivy League programs are extremely selective, these coaches cast a wide net and include many athletes on their prospect list because undoubtedly, they’ll have recruits who end up getting rejected.
It’s best practice to continue updating your recruiting profile and emailing coaches about your academic and athletic progress (this is something you should do for every school you’re interested in). When you have a new GPA, test scores, and athletic achievements, it’s important to keep them in the loop, and it can help keep you top-of-mind.
Read More: 25 Good Reasons to Contact a College Coach
They don’t offer athletic scholarships
It’s true that Ivy League colleges don’t offer athletic scholarships. Instead, they base their financial aid decisions on a family’s demonstrated need. That doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get anything. It really depends on your family’s situation and how much need-based aid you qualify for. Make sure you fill out the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) during your senior year (the application opens on Oct. 1), as it determines your eligibility for federal grants, loans and work-study funds administered by the U.S. Department of Education. Aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, so the sooner you can get to it, the better.
Ivy League, Big 10, NAIA—no matter the type of college, you always want to be sure it’s the right fit. What combination of athletics, athletics and social life is best for you? Knowing how Ivy League schools recruit is a great start, but don’t forget, you need to do your research. Network with these athletes, research the team’s roster, and even try to visit the campus to get a better understanding of where you should make your commitment.