The Perils of College Athletic Recruiting

Jennifer Stephan headshot - Magellan College Counseling
Jennifer Stephan writes from the perspective of having advised student athletes at Wellesley College, and as a parent of a recruited athlete.

by Jennifer Stephan

When athletic recruiting “drives” and “short-circuits” the college search process, athletic considerations dominate students’ decisions about what school to attend, instead of students searching for the college environment that fits their academic, social and emotional needs.  Typically, athletic recruiting accelerates the college search process.  The time scale varies from sport to sport, for males vs. females, and depending on the level of play and type of school (athletic division, admissions policies).  However, in the extreme, students who have not yet started 9th grade are committing to play their sport at a specific college.  As a recent NY Times article on this topic illustrates, there are many possible negative consequences of this phenomenon – for both the student and the recruiting program.

A successful college search process results in a student attending a college that is a good fit in the most holistic sense of the word – in terms of academics, extracurricular activities (including athletics), school culture, geographic location and any other dimension that the student needs to thrive.  This is best achieved through a thoughtful process during years of growth and change on the student’s part.  Growth and change will necessarily occur naturally over time and cannot be rushed, but growth and change will also come as a result of the process.  I see in my students how much they learn from fully engaging in the college search process – the initial research and campus visits, the essay writing, the interviews, the subsequent revisits to campus after being admitted, the sifting and sorting through their options and all that they’ve learned, and all the associated introspection.  They learn from it all and the amount of learning that results from engaging in these steps is extraordinary.

Contrast a second semester senior who has taken nearly four full years of courses in high school with a student beginning her senior or junior year (or College sports imiageeven much earlier) with much of her high school curriculum still ahead of her.  Contrast a second semester senior who has had more years of personal development and work/volunteer/life experience with a student who has several years less.  Contrast this senior who has fully engaged in her college search in the ways just described – who through this process has thoughtfully examined not only the schools she is considering but herself – with a student who decides to commit to apply to one school early on, a school to which she is guaranteed admission (because she has been recruited and is on a “coach’s list”) and so does not need to make a thoughtful application.

Who will have the best sense of who she is and what she seeks in a college?  Who will most likely end up at a school that is a good fit?  Who will be most likely to end up at a school that offers the major that she wants to study?  Who will be less likely to transfer?  Who will be most likely to succeed academically?  Who will be most likely to graduate in 4 years?  Who will be most likely to thrive in college – the one where she fits the best?

This is the first of two posts about college athletic recruiting.  Check back Monday for the second installment!

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