I work with a lot of athletes in both my private practice and at the school where I work as a college counselor. Each year a few of them do earn spots – some with scholarships, some without – on college teams; however, if you are betting on athletics getting you into – and paying for – your dream school, or indeed, any school, you are probably throwing your money away. Hate me if you will, but if you are an athlete or the parent of one you would do well to keep reading.
There is nothing wrong with playing a sport. There is nothing wrong with being an athlete in high school and aspiring to be a student-athlete in college, but do not believe, not for one little second, that athletics are a golden ticket for anyone but a very select few.
In the good old days you could play two or even three varsity sports in high school and still have time for homework, for friends, for clubs, and for a life. Unfortunately, these days, families are pressured to place their children in year-round club soccer, volleyball, baseball, or swimming starting as young as elementary school with the hopes of grooming that child for the elusive college scholarship. Parents spend thousands of dollars on coaching, hotels, travel, club dues, uniforms, trainers, and eventually medical specialists so that their child can play at an elite level. School teams, with the exception of football, often play second fiddle to more specialized club or travel teams that an offer “better exposure” to college recruiters. Every year I work with families that have been down this path, for years, often at great financial and emotional sacrifice, only to find out that their child is not, in fact, college athlete material.
Let me save you a lot of heartache. Your child is probably NOT college athlete material. Does that mean that they shouldn’t participate on their school team? Of course not. They SHOULD be on their school teams. They should be on MORE THAN ONE school team if that is what they are passionate about, but not with the sole purpose of using that sport as a ticket.
I am going to give you a bunch of statistics in a minute that will bear this out. But if you don’t want to read those, here is an easier way of knowing whether or not little Johnny or Susie is going to be playing for Clemson or UCLA or Michigan any time soon. If your child is a sophomore and hasn’t been contacted by a coach (unofficially of course) or some other employee of a university, then he or she is probably not going to be. There are exceptions to this, of course. Perhaps your child is a swimmer and didn’t go to any big meets, or their track times aren’t in the main databases. Easy enough to check the websites of those dream schools and see what the stats are for recently recruited students. If your student’s times are in the ballpark, then great, reach out to coaches and start filling in those athletic questionnaires. If, however, you child plays a sport in which he or she has to be SEEN, like baseball, volleyball, football, lacrosse, and basketball, and they haven’t been seen by sophomore year, then they still might play, but it isn’t going to be at a school you have heard of. If you are unsure as to whether or not your child is likely to be recruited, and at what level, ask your coach. They should be able to: 1) help you make connections with colleges and 2) give you a realistic appraisal of your child’s talent.
If you want some more concrete information about college athletics. Check out these resources:
Now, look at the statistics (straight from the NCAA) of how many high school athletes go on to college and professional sports.
I am not trying to be Debbie Downer. I am NOT trying to rain on every athlete’s parade. Yes, there are Division III schools where many, many student athletes are successful, but then there isn’t any money at stake, and those coaches do not have as much pull with admissions as you might imagine. My own daughter was a decent high school 400 M runner. We live in Southwest Florida, a tough district for track with some very talented young women. My daughter was running the 400 in just under one minute with very little coaching or training, and that was good enough for her to run at all but the very top DIII schools. We made a few visits, and since she also had the academic credentials for those schools the coaches were very encouraging. Yet, we had ALSO been told that even though there were no athletic scholarships, “the money” would come to us in some magic fashion though our financial aid packaging. That did not happen. What DOES happen is that DIII schools are all audited each year and if athletes get better packages than the rest of the student population, the entire athletic department takes the heat.
In the end she chose a D1 school and so her illustrious track career came to an end with a medal at the state meet in her senior year (see photo below). She still loves running, and I am secretly relieved that it never became the chore that it might have should she have chosen a different path.
What actually happens much more often in my practice has nothing to do with the colleges at all. It is the student. Some sustain career ending injuries like a torn ACL or rotator cuff. Others simply burn out. They are tired of being tired. They don’t want to spend the next four years devoting eight or nine hours a day to their sport any more. They have been at it sometimes for ten or more years. They are done. And where does that leave them? If you have spent every free moment and every vacation at camps and clinics and tournaments… and now you want to quit. What other interests have you pursued? What community connections have you made? What else might you be passionate about? You have no idea, and THAT is the problem because now your activity list is looking pretty sparse.
Sure, you showed dedication and you can work with a team. Sure, you have some awesome essay ideas about how you lost the “big game” and it taught you to be resilient. I don’t doubt it. Do you know why? Because that is the same story that thousands of other applicants are telling on thousands of applications. Being an athlete, short of an Olympic one, does not get you noticed. There are a specific number of spots in college classes for athletes. Once those are taken, admissions committees are looking for folks with other interests.
If you are a recruited athlete, great. If you aren’t, you need figure out what else makes you special. Don’t worry, something does, you just need time to figure that out. If you are a high school junior, you might want to figure that out a little bit faster than if you are in eighth grade, but it is NEVER too late.
Bonus: What are the odds of playing your sport professionally? Find out by clicking here.