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Athletics and college admissions

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It's no secret that athletic skill confers an admissions advantage and that exceptional ability can even dictate the admissions decision. Premier athletes who attract the attention of coaches at high-powered NCAA programs offering scholarships usually get the admissions nod even before they complete the college application, provided these players meet NCAA eligibility requirements (minimum academic standards for recruited players).

But student athletes competitive at the NCAA Division III level (smaller, non-scholarship programs) must be much more proactive to get noticed by coaches and to pass muster with admissions. How does a good athlete of moderate ability (say, a solid starter on a varsity team who isn't quite a star) predict the impact of his abilities on the admissions review? And what specific actions should that student take during the admissions process to ensure that his athletic skills are properly featured? Here are three key points for families to keep in mind as they ponder these questions.

Recruiting Terminology

Strictly speaking, an athletic recruit is a high school player who is being actively pursued by a coach offering inducements to enroll - an approach typical of NCAA Division I and II programs. In addition to athletic scholarships, coaches might also push individually tailored academic support, special housing and meal plans, as well as the lure of participating in televised games.

By contrast, Division III coaches tend to avoid the word recruit in favor of terminology less fraught with privileged connotations. They often use the term slotted when referring to athletes of interest, meaning that the athletic department as a whole has a certain number of spots they can apportion among various teams for weighted consideration by the admissions office when the application is reviewed. Slotted applicants get an athletic tip toward a favorable review but aren't guaranteed admissions.

Interacting with D-III coaches

As coaches at D-III colleges don't have absolute control over the admissions decision of sought-after athletes, they tend to pay more attention to non-athletic factors. The coach will want to know if the applicant is well-matched socially with the institution, if the player is prepared to succeed academically and, even if absent the gravitational pull of an athletic scholarship, the player will be fully committed to the athletic program once on campus. In other words, the coach needs to anticipate whether a supported player is likely to be read as a serious candidate in the admissions office, because if that isn't the case the coach will be wasting his or her time pursuing that player.

When D-III coaches get excited about prospects for reasons in addition to the athletic, they work that much harder lobbying the admissions office - and to greater effect.

For this reason, I always encourage players aiming for D-III programs to create a resume that does more than present vital athletic statistics. For the busy coach who won't have time to study a transcript or read teacher recommendations, a well-designed one-page summary that not only features athletic skill and accomplishment but also includes a synopsis of academic performance, extracurricular involvements and personal qualities is just the sort of document that makes the coach's job easier and tells the coach that the player is organized, thoughtful and mature. Coaches always prefer that such messaging come to them directly from the player and not through some intermediary like an athletic management firm. An email from the player to the coach with resume attached is what gets the coach's attention and respect.

Interacting with the

admissions office

Although D-III colleges like to have winning teams, the admissions office at smaller colleges first and foremost wants to enroll students who are a good fit academically and socially. Those factors should therefore be the focus when a student-athlete communicates with the admissions staff. Players should let the college coach make the athletic case while they promote other kinds of value important to the admissions office. Application essays, for instance, should talk about something other than athletics. Teacher recommendations should focus on academic strengths, not the student's big play in the last game (student athletes should talk to their recommendation writers about this approach before letters are written) and every student athlete should highlight at least one other significant contribution he or she can make to the campus community beyond the athletic arena.

Athletics can be a big selling point for students applying to smaller colleges but only if the player handles the presentation properly.

Tim Cantrick is an independent college counselor assisting families in Lake Oswego and throughout the greater Portland area. For more information, visit www.cantrickcollegeadvising.com