5 Myths About Applying to College as a Student-Athlete

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Millions of students play sports in high school, and many of them are excellent student-athletes. When it comes to applying to college, however, many student-athletes have some assumptions about applying college athletics. Here are some common myths that student-athletes should understand as they go through the college admission process.

Myth 1: All Excellent Athletes Will Get Recruited

In reality, even exceptional high school athletes will not always get recruited.

"There are a lot of high school athletes out there — it is not possible for every student to be recruited, as the coaches/assistants simply do not have the capability to travel everywhere," says Kristina Martin, undergraduate admission counselor at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., who ran Division III cross country and indoor/outdoor track for Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., when she was in college.

Still, there seems to be a general belief that strong athletes will always get recruited, even if the team is not ranked high. Bari Norman, PhD, co-founder and head counselor at Expert Admissions in New York, says many students believe "it's a done deal."

"Students don't really realize just how difficult it is to become a formal recruit, even for teams that we don't necessarily think of as these high-profile national championship contender teams," notes Norman.

For students who definitely know they want to try to be recruited, Martin has this advice: "If you are serious about competing in your sport in college, reach out to the coach at the schools you are looking at. Many athletic web pages will have a recruiting form, which a student can fill out and submit directly to the head of that program. It's also good to start to contact a coach toward the end of your junior year — this gives the coach a chance to communicate with you, and potentially see you compete in your sport during the summer, fall or winter," advises Martin.

Myth 2: Being a Student-Athlete Is a "Golden Ticket"

"There's a common myth that athletics are the golden ticket and if you can just get involved, that it will sort of pave the way for all," says Norman. In reality, however, a small number of students will be recruited to college athletic teams.

Norman says that this misconception has a "ripple effect" because she has noticed that many students believe "that everybody really just needs to be involved in some kind of athletic activity because it's just important."

Norman says that is not the case — being involved in athletics is not necessarily an easier path or the best path for an edge in college admission. Students should not actively participate in a sport just because they think it will help them in the college admissions process.

"So often, students are spending 12 to 14 hours a week on a sport that they like, but they don't love, that they're not necessarily particularly good at, but they feel pressure because they've been told by somebody, or they have the perception that it's just important to do it when they could be spending their time doing something they actually enjoy and that they can take a lot farther," says Norman.

Myth 3: College Admission Is up to the Coach

Many people believe that a coach can guarantee or ultimately decide whether a student will be able to play sports for their college or university. Even though a coach can actively recruit a student and recommend a spot in their athletic program, the ultimate decision is up to the admission office.

"I've seen plenty of examples where coaches really wanted a student and admissions said no once they saw the application and gave it a read," explains Norman. "So, admissions really does have the final say. Coaches can be very encouraging because they want a student to continue to stay interested in their team and in their program, but ultimately it's not entirely up to the coach even though they have this tremendous amount of sway at times and at certain schools. And it does differ from school to school, how much they may or may not be willing to work with the coaches when a student is not quite there academically. And it also differs by sport."

Myth 4: If You Aren't Recruited, You Can't Play Sports in College

If you love a sport and still want to play in college, there could be opportunities available even if you aren't recruited into a Division I, II, or III college athletic program. There is also the option of attending a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) institution. These schools are typically less competitive than NCAA participants, but some still provide scholarships. In addition, you can consider walking on to a sports team.

It's important to remember that if you want to be recruited, discuss that with your counselor and coach early in the college admissions process to have the best chance. Your love of playing sports may not end as a student-athlete with a scholarship, but you can still explore options to play in college for the love of the sport regardless.

Myth 5: If Coaches Want to Recruit You, They'll Find You

Some talented athletes may believe that being a sports superstar is enough to get an athletic recruiter's attention. But just because you may be talented or have won state championships, it does not mean that you are on a coach's radar.

"The biggest myth is, if a coach wants me, they will contact me. There is no way a coach can possibly know about all the athletes in this country, and the coach surely does NOT have access to contact info for all athletes he or she might want to recruit," says Nancy Nitardy, author of Get Paid to Play. Her advice is to research programs and reach out to coaches when you believe there may be a fit.

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