Recruited Athletes and the Admissions Process

The college admissions scandal involving Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman has the world of test prep and college admissions consulting dominating headlines. In this blog series, we’ll examine lessons from the scandal. This week, we focus on how the admissions process works for recruited athletes.

William “Rick” Singer, the mastermind of the college admissions scandal, used sports as a “side door” into colleges, bribing coaches to advocate on behalf of the students he worked with. For those not intimately familiar with the admissions process at highly selective universities, the scandal revealed just how different the process is for recruited athletes.

For students without any ‘flags’ on their application (i.e. recruited athlete, underrepresented minority, legacy, donor), the admit rates are far lower than the published rates for the full student body, which are already miniscule. At the top 20 or so schools, most applicants have near-perfect grades and test scores. The admissions officers then look at what else a student has to offer, and unless it’s something extremely impressive, chances of admission are extremely low.

For recruited athletes, however, the process is different. While athletes technically fill out an application just like any other student, their acceptance or rejection is largely determined by the coach of their sport. Coaches rank prospective applicants in order of how desirable they are for the team. Exceptional athletes at the top of the list get more leeway from the admissions office. Even with grades and test scores below the college’s averages, those students are admitted for their abilities on the field. Athletes at the bottom of the list need strong grades and test scores to gain admission, though unlike most applicants, their admission prospects depend largely on test scores and grades rather than all-around impressiveness.

For athletes, it’s important to contact and develop relationships with coaches early. Coaches put these ranked applicant lists together every year. Based on past experience, coaches will usually be able to tell you what kind of grades and test scores you’ll need to be accepted.

For non-flagged applicants who experience rejection while seeing far less “qualified” athletes gain acceptance, frustration is natural..but not justified. Recruited athletes have typically spent thousands of hours honing their skill. They’ve learned to perform under pressure. They have exceptional work ethics, time management, and willpower, skills that in the long run are far more important than a high SAT score. “Qualified” is a subjective judgment, and colleges have made the decision that elite athletes (of the non-photoshopped variety) with strong grades and test scores are just as “qualified” as those students with exceptional grades and test scores.