Editor’s Note: This article is the first in our four-part series Demographic Factors in College Admissions.

In short, yes.  In fact, exceptional athletic talent and achievement can be the difference between a rejection and acceptance to high-caliber universities across the nation.  However, few student-athletes are aware of the numerous qualifications they must meet in order to be eligible to be recruited.  And even fewer realize the steps they can take to leverage their odds of admission.  Read on for college admissions advice tailored to outstanding high school athletes.

Self-Assessment

It is important to be honest with yourself about your prospects of being an athlete in college.  First of all, are you ready for the extraordinary time commitment that being a college athlete entails?  Second, are you good enough to be recruited?  The top 1% of talented athletes will know the answer to the second question by as early as sophomore, or even freshman, year.  These athletes have demonstrated extraordinary ability in their sports and are receiving unsolicited letters of interest from college coaches.  Others may not experience such recognition until later in their high school careers.  The vast majority, however, will experience none at all.  Even state champions can find their mailboxes empty when they are hoping for recruiting letters from eager college coaches.  Regardless, student-athletes should not wait to hear from coaches to discover whether they have potential to play on the collegiate level.  Instead, they should be proactive and contact college coaches to find out for themselves.

GPA and Standardized Test Scores

Before you can take this step, however, you need to fulfill course requirements to be eligible to compete in NCAA.  And if you are not a top, blue-chip recruit, you need an impressive GPA and standardized test scores.  In fact, “What are your GPA and SAT scores?” is the first question that coaches will ask when reviewing potential recruits.  In other words, before coaches even consider a student’s athletic ability, they need to know that he or she will survive academically in college first.  Athletes who believe that coaches will help them to be admitted in spite of their grades are under the guise of one of the most widespread myths pervading athletic recruiting today.  The reality is admissions committees will only bend admissions requirements for the top 1% of talented recruits.  For the remaining recruits, coaches may make verbal promises or send letters of interest, but these recruits will inevitably end up competing against one another for far fewer spots than coaches care to admit.  As a result, effective planning and strong academic resumes are absolutely essential if you have any hope to be recruited as an athlete. Take a cue from the 2012 Number 1 NFL Draft pick, Stanford graduate, and high school valedictorian Andrew Luck.

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

Not only do you need good grades and standardized test scores to gain a competitive advantage in the college admissions process; you need them earlier than the majority of applicants.  Consequently, students who underachieve academically in the beginning of their high school careers (or wait too long to take the SAT) face seriously diminished odds of eventually being recruited.  In fact, there is an inversely proportional relationship between academic excellence and athletic prowess in the college admissions process.  In other words, the higher your grades are, the less talented you need to be athletically to be recruited (and vice versa).  This is especially true for Ivy League institutions where applicants’ “Academic Index” (a number based upon class rank and standardized test scores) essentially makes or breaks their chances of being recruited.  As a result, student-athletes need to be especially proactive about their grades and standardized test preparation.  If their grades are floundering, they should take summer classes to boost their GPA.  Moreover, student-athletes should begin preparing for the SAT or ACT no later than the summer before junior year.  Those who are interested in attending top-20 institutions will also likely need to take several SAT Subject Tests before junior year.  Granted, balancing summer sports camps, standardized test prep, and a summer class can be an overwhelming task, so it is highly recommended to seek out professional college consulting assistance and test prep tutoring to facilitate this process.

Being Proactive in the Recruiting Process

Once you have the grades, the test scores, and the willingness to compete at the collegiate level, it is crucial to be proactive in the recruiting process.  Specifically, you need to inform coaches that you want to play for them!  Do not wait for coaches to find you.  Only the top percentile of athletes is actively recruited.  The rest need to be shameless in promoting themselves if they are to be recognized at all.  These days, social media is a great means to indirectly showcase your athletic abilities.  Otherwise, there is a standardized approach you should take if you hope to be recruited.  First, you should compile a list of potential colleges by sophomore year.  Second, you should begin contacting coaches at schools on your list by sending them introductory letters of interest where you highlight your athletic and academic achievements.  These letters should also contain a sports résumé that details your high school coach’s name and contact information.  If a college coach is interested in you, he or she may request a highlight video of your game-time performances.  This video should be from five to ten minutes long and demonstrate your athletic abilities at their best.  If you are concerned about how to best represent yourself in this video, you can always hire a company who does this professionally.  After you have initiated contact with a coach, it is important to keep in mind NCAA recruiting regulations that change depending on what year you are high school (see chart below).

This chart shows the NCAA’s recruiting regulations for coach-student communication and contact.

Overall, if you are a superior athlete, you possess the rare opportunity to bolster your chances of college admissions.  In fact, recruited athletes often experience statistical advantages commensurate with those of legacies and minorities.  However, it is essential that, if you have the ability to play at the college level, you plan accordingly so that you impress coaches and college admissions committees both athletically and academically.  That way, when senior year season comes, you can focus on dominating on the field rather than worrying about your prospects for college next fall.

Like what you see here? We are happy to permit you to use our material as long as you link back! Please refer to us as the Cardinal Education Blog.