Admissions Advice: Student-Athletes

admissions counseling May 10, 2022

Ask any debater and they’ll explain what we do is a sport. It’s true: competitive public speaking activities are the verbal equivalent of fencing or martial arts tournaments. However, a sizable portion of our population regularly engages in traditional sports (such as basketball, volleyball, and tennis).

As we prepare for the formal June launch of our admissions counseling program, we’d like to provide another public resource in our ADMISSIONS ADVICE series. Let’s talk about three things you need to know to score with a sports-focused application.

LESSON #1 – Know Your Organizations

There are three acronyms you should know: the NCAA, the NAIA, and the NJCAA.

The NCAA is the National College Athletic Association. It has three divisions. Large public universities and many private colleges comprise the schools in its first two divisions (Division I and Division II). Small private colleges make up most of its final division (Division III).

The top players normally go to NCAA Division I schools. If you want to go pro, it’s wise to court their coaches. If you’re going for a Division I school, you’ve probably spent more time in your teens playing sports at a highly competitive level than nearly anything else. The Ivy League (Brown, Harvard, etc.) competes against a great number of public universities. You need to maintain certain grades to be considered.

If you’re an international student, you might find it easier to attend a NCAA Division II school. These schools are typically smaller. They don’t have as stringent regulations on the number of international student-athletes, or academic requirements, as NCAA Division I schools. Many players from this division may also go pro. On the flip side, these schools aren’t as likely to offer athletic scholarships as Division I teams. There are a lot of state schools here (like Western Colorado University and CSU Los Angeles).

NCAA Division III schools are not allowed to offer athletic scholarships. Most of their schools are ‘brand-name’ liberal arts schools serious college applicants may already know (think Vassar, Swarthmore, and MIT).

Click here for the NCAA’s guide to playing college sports.

The NAIA is the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes. Its schools are like NCAA Division II schools; there are fewer regulations than NCAA Division I and many international students. Just like NCAA Division II, these teams don’t typically offer large scholarships to new student-athletes. The member schools tend to be lower ranked on traditional college rankings (think schools like Westmont College, Cumberland University, and Blue Mountain College).

Click here for the NAIA’s information center.

The NJCAA is the National Junior College Athletic Association. It governs community colleges, junior colleges, and ‘two-year’ colleges. Many student-athletes excel in the NJCAA and use their successes there to transfer to a four-year college (like the NCAA and NAIA). If you can think of a community college, it’s probably on this list.

Click here for the NJCAA’s eligibility information.

LESSON #2 – Take Care of Yourself

Being a student- athlete is a unique collegiate experience. It requires tough early-morning workouts, intense travel and practice schedules, and the ability to balance what’s essentially a full-time job with your full-time academic workload. Additionally, not every recruit might even get playing time. You’ll often have to compete alongside your classmates for that privilege.

Make sure your school provides wellness resources for student-athletes. Look at Princeton University’s robust approach to helping students manage their workload. If your college doesn’t have accessible resources, it might not be the best fit.

LESSON #3 – Plan Ahead

Student-athletes should make their NCAA profiles as early as sophomore year. There’s no fee required to set it up. If you’re planning on competing in Division I or II, you’ll eventually have to pay an eligibility fee, so make sure it’s a worthy investment before you commit. Remember college coaches will check your profile to make sure you’re academically eligible in addition to being competitively successful. Also, you should email college coaches; introduce yourself and show them a highlight reel.

Strategic self-promotion matters a lot. Remember hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s wise words: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Check out Recruit Ref for more advice.

If you have questions about our program, please contact us at [email protected] or make an appointment right here on the website. Dr. Iain will address your concerns!

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