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D3 Admissions for the average excellent student athlete

CateCAParentCateCAParent 384 replies5 threads Member
The recent threads have me thinking about how vague and confusing the difference is between recruiting and walking on for “elite” D3’s.

What about the excellent students who want the opportunity to play a sport in college and they are good enough to contribute to the team, but aren’t rock stars. Academics is the driving force of school choice, but if they got the chance to play, it would be great for them.

I realize that the admissions process is very different in all of the D3 schools, sports and coaches. But is there advice out there (or better yet success stories) for how that kind of kid goes about using sports as a boost in their application? Are they “recruits”? Or are they “walk ons”? And if they are walk ons, how do you use that in an application?

For example, if you are a four year varsity high school baseball player, but never did club baseball and don’t play year round, what does a D3 elite LAC admissions office do with you? Do they factor in your sport if the coach isn’t actively pursuing you? Do you have to try to be recruited to let them know you are interested?
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Replies to: D3 Admissions for the average excellent student athlete

  • cinnamon1212cinnamon1212 779 replies8 threads Member
    edited September 2019
    I don't know baseball, but in men's soccer there are very very few walk ons. For sports to help with admissions, yes, I think the coach has to have a degree of interest (I read about soft support at some schools). I think the player would have to reach out to coaches and complete the recruiting questionnaires at the schools to start.
    edited September 2019
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  • gardenstategalgardenstategal 6310 replies10 threads Senior Member
    Meet with the coaches when you visit the school. In our experience, at all of the NESCACs where DS met the coach (the 3 where he would have been willing to ED), they said "You are not playing in a league we recruit from. You are welcome to try out if you get in here on your own. And btw, we had [x] walk-on last year." These were the 3 most selective schools he was applying to and, as fate would have it, also ones with really excellent teams in his sport. (As in D3 nationals level.) I guess he could have attended ID camps at these but he was pretty thoroughly discouraged after those meetings.

    Interestingly, after he was accepted (at schools other than those 3), he had several coaches reach out, talk to his coach, ask for film, and ask him to come to a spring captain's practice. (Different combos at different schools) At all of those, he was told he'd have a roster spot if he enrolled. I think, given the timing of his interaction with the coaches, he really didn't get any bump in admissions.

    He ended up attending one of the top 3 choices and didn't try to walk on.

    He did have friends (different sports, different schools) who were very qualified applicants who believe they had "soft support " from coaches. Iow, the coach said to admissions, "I'm not using a slot for this one, but if you are liking him, he'll be on my team if you admit him.) So yes, that happens.

    My sense too is that this is a bit harder with position sports with smaller rosters. It's really hard for coaches to bump recruits in favor of walk-ons. Bigger teams and ones that can accommodate more kids practicing tend to be more open to walkons, and non-recruits sometimes break into the roster successfully.

    So cutting to the chase, this will vary school by school. Your son's coach at BS may be able to give you some good input on what to expect at the various schools your son is considering based on what has happened with prior players.

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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 23855 replies17 threads Senior Member
    All D3 athletes are technically walk ons. No scholarship is given, the OVs are not restricted by the NCAA, there are no scholarships and no NLI signed. But the athletes know and the coaches know who they consider 'recruits' and who they will let on the team if they get through admissions on their own.

    Support of coaches are a big part of the system but it is all a verbal agreement between the player and the coach where the player agrees to play (and maybe apply ED) and the coach promises a spot on the roster and may even promise a starting position and a lot of playing time. The coach doesn't have to keep that promise (and may leave the school) and the student doesn't even have to show up for a single practice. Just a lot of trusting each other going on.

    Often recruits at D3 schools arrange to live in the same dorm or with other teammates, get a preference when registering for classes, get a financial and academic pre-reads before applying. There are benefits to being the 'recruit' even though they are really all walk-ons.

    As far as the non-recruited athlete who also wants to walk on, usually the admissions office treats the athletic experience as another EC. Is there 3-4 years of varsity play? Captain or other leadership role? Achievements like student athlete honor roll or academic All American? All those things could be achieved through another EC also, like band or theater or math team. While athletics is an EC recognized by the admissions officer, other ECs can work too.
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  • makemesmartmakemesmart 1753 replies14 threads Senior Member
    This is my understanding as we are going through this as we speak.
    It might be different for different sports (tho I would assume the general gist to be similar): if you are not a recruited athlete, then your sport will be considered one of the many ECs that is part of your application package, the coaches might want walk-ons if they didn’t fill their roster through the recruiting route.
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  • cypresspatcypresspat 546 replies11 threads Member
    @CateCAParent Thanks for one of the more interesting and unique questions I have seen on CC for a while.

    Considering a significant proportion of high school students play a sport, this has to be a question many have.

    I read somewhere (cannot recall where) that a majority of D3 athletes are not recruited. Coaches don’t have enough slots. Also recall that a lot of recruited athletes fail to play for a full 4 years. So.....the school has to be somehow attracting enough athletes for those teams. I suspect many athletes have the academic chops to be admitted all on their own to schools, and are not giving a ‘slot’ by coaches but are told they can expect to play. I know two college athletes like that.

    But that can’t account for all of those on teams. So how do so many of these athletes end up at these schools? Could it be that in any given class of, say, 1000 freshmen there are randomly 100 men’s soccer players? And 10 or so of them are good enough to walk-on, and 2 or 3 in each class WANT to? I guess one could figure this out by calculating the number of college-bound high school graduates played soccer and overlay that over the number of colleges and colleges with soccer teams. Would need to spend some time noodling that. The ‘random’ scenario seems particularly unlikely in schools either freshmen classes of 500 students. Somehow in there, every year, there are 1 or 2 strong enough athletes to walk-on to their team. That feels unlikely to me.

    My very non-recruitable S20 hockey player has been urged to contact the hockey coach by the AO’s he has chatted with. Huh? WHY? Maybe that is just a marketing tool, but it confused my son as he is quite sure the hockey coaches for those teams might consider him for the water boy, but that’s about it. Or....perhaps there is some sort of ‘count’ kept in admissions to make sure there is enough hockey raw material coming in every year? And the only way for a coach to know if a kid has a prayer of ever walking-on is via the recruiting questionnaire? We have three high stats seniors on our hockey team and they are all finding the same thing (we parents talk a lot).

    None of those three kids on my S20’s team want to play college hockey, at least initially. And one of them actually could. But they are all dutifully completing the recruiting form when it isn’t ridiculous to do so. And so are probably hundreds of other applicants. And maybe the coach gives a handful a tip or a slot, but for the promising other athletes says: ‘These 50 kids can play hockey, it would be awesome if 20 of them got admitted.’ Or something ‘soft’ like that?

    I know a ton about what colleges do with a bunch of information about students in their enrollment process (because of my job), but not this particular factor. Does being a non-recruitable athlete matter (outside of the athletes-make-good-students thing)?
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  • CateCAParentCateCAParent 384 replies5 threads Member
    Thanks for your responses! The whole ecosystem of D3 sports is so opaque. Honestly, with my kid, while he is interested in playing a sport in college, I can’t see him being interested in playing the recruiting game or it being his primary focus once he arrives on campus. He can’t be alone in that. I am asking the question more generally. There have to be more kids like him than there are superstar recruitable athletes, all of whom need guidance on how/if their sports play a role in admissions. Should they be looking for a school with a robust club sport system instead?

    I can’t fully square the messages from some schools “Academics first, but we love student athletes!” With the reality that recruiting plays such a large role. I read somewhere that (over generalization) D1’s can be sports with an opportunity for college attached to it, and D3s are supposed to be college with an opportunity to play sports. But sports still drive admissions in many D3’s anyway. I guess how sports focused a school is in its admissions is part of the school culture that a kid should research? How do you do that research?

    @twoinanddone - I like the “everyone’s a walk on” ideal, but it sounds like that is a mirage. Talent runs deep in some sports, and schools can take their pick of soccer players, for example.

    @gardenstategal - did your son give up the sport entirely? Was he bummed not to play at college? That is sad that solid athletes give up their sports at 18. Baseball is definitely a risk that way. There aren’t many places to play after high school, other than college. And if you aren’t on an expensive club tournament team since you were 8,, there is no hope for a spot on a college team.

    Which came first - the intense college recruiting system or the intense kids sports trend? They definitely feed each other.
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  • CateCAParentCateCAParent 384 replies5 threads Member
    “None of those three kids on my S20’s team want to play college hockey, at least initially. And one of them actually could. But they are all dutifully completing the recruiting form when it isn’t ridiculous to do so. And so are probably hundreds of other applicants. And maybe the coach gives a handful a tip or a slot, but for the promising other athletes says: ‘These 50 kids can play hockey, it would be awesome if 20 of them got admitted.’ Or something ‘soft’ like that?”

    @cypresspat - this just fascinates me, and gives me hope. That sounds like how I imagine a school fills an orchestra. And thanks for validating me that I am not the only one who has these questions bouncing around in my head!

    You articulated better than me the gap in logistics in the system - how can all of the schools possibly fill all of their slots with recruited athletes, with no scholarships and no contracts and smaller staffs and uncertain academic outcomes and growing teen bodies and a million admissions variables and strained financial aid? What if there is a full pay decent player and a financial aid kid one click better? Who do they accept? And how do they know who will attend, let alone play? What about compared to a legacy who plays?

    Schools must have incredibly complex admissions algorithms to figure all of this out. It can’t just be dependent on coaches. A certain percentage of athletes are going to choose not to play, and I doubt they say that on their applications. Asking them to fill out the recruitment form is maybe the only way. So maybe the non-recruitable athletes should try to be recruited anyway? Regardless of whether they want to play?

    Athletics can’t be the equivalent of every other EC - because schools have to field teams. Some ECs are more essential to a school’s functioning than others. Some ECs just make a student body more interesting.

    Or maybe it just isn’t a big deal - if there are only 10 spots on a team open, how hard can it be for a coach to find enough actual recruits to fill those spots?
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  • eb23282eb23282 696 replies19 threads Member
    One successful D3 men's soccer program has the following information on their website...

    We have completed our 2020 recruiting and have filled all of our spots for the fall.
    We are looking to bring in 5 field players in our 2021 recruiting class. Although this is subject to change we are looking for the following positions: -Target -Winger -Center Midfielder -Center Back

    The team is chosen through the recruiting process as opposed to open tryouts when school starts. Therefore, it is important for interested high school student-athletes to understand both the process and the timing.
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  • wisteria100wisteria100 4343 replies48 threads Senior Member
    Many D3 teams need more athletes than they have ED slots for. So some coaches are hoping to get talented athletes through RD. If they have been in contact with a kid and think he has potential to be on the team, but can’t offer one of their limited slots, they may keep tabs on that kid through the RD process and have that application flagged. Not a guarantee of admission by any means, but it can help.
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  • cypresspatcypresspat 546 replies11 threads Member
    @CateCAParent I totally get where you are coming from. Kids will play a sport from ages 5 to 18 and then.....just......stop? Because it is ‘recruited athlete’ or nuthin?

    Well, there are other options. And my S20 definitely placed the option of intramurals or club hockey very high on his list. (Because LOTS of colleges have ice rinks. Not.). He loves hockey, would play it hours a day if he could. But he’s also a strong student and wants to start with an engineering major, and they put the fear of God into aspiring engineering majors, so no way he will commit to anything which would jeopardize his doing well in school. The other two players have exactly the same attitude.

    And I think all three of them could be an impact player in a weak D3 team. For one of them, pretty much any D3 team. He has gotten strong interest from a number of coaches, but none of the schools interest him. He doesn’t REALLY need an admissions boost since his SAT score is almost perfect and he has never seen a B on a report card. Sure, if he aspired to an Ivy or strong NESCAC school, he could leverage hockey to help get him here. But he doesn’t want to give that much to hockey at the outset. He too wants engineering and he knows it will be tough. Yes, many kids at rigorous schools play a sport and do fine. He wants to give academics his all, at least to begin with.

    So, to your point.....are this kid’s hockey playing days over because he wants to focus on academics initially when he goes to college? (Look how silly that question seems). Let’s say he feels secure at the end of his freshmen year and is ready to take on an activity. And hockey sounds like fun. How can the system make sure that this 6’ 3”, 220 lb defensemen who has a slap shot that broke the glass in the rink twice last year, end up someplace where he CAN play hockey? Eventually.

    Maybe the system already does. Maybe hockey for a kid like that does impact admissions decisions? He, and my son, would never go through the recruitment process without the intent to play. But they almost certainly will want to play, eventually. Do colleges know that and hence lean towards athletes, even if not recruited?

    (Readers, I do not want to suggest that I think it is remotely easy to get recruited for college hockey. It isn’t. And, yes, a year or two of juniors is the norm for almost all D3 slots now, and many D1 slots)’

    I think kids like these 3 are the norm, not the exception. Most kids are not strong enough to play their sport in college. But many are, and for many reasons, don’t want to be a classic recruited athlete. Do they end up being admitted to colleges where they could play, despite that?

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  • cinnamon1212cinnamon1212 779 replies8 threads Member
    I joined College Confidential exactly because the recruiting process is not easily deciphered. I'd urge all of you to head over to the Athletic Recruiting forum, which I have found invaluable.

    I also think the general questions cannot be answered in a one size fits all way. It is heavily sport specific. I only know soccer, and know walking on is very rare.

    That said, as my spouse who played D1 football reminds me -- talent rises to the top, and coaches want to win. If a kid is a super strong hockey player, better than most of the kids already on the team? You better believe the coach will take him, in a heartbeat.
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  • cinnamon1212cinnamon1212 779 replies8 threads Member
    From the NCAA: likelihood of playing in college, broken down by sport:


    For soccer, the top 1% of high school athletes play D1, and the top 5% play D3. But kids not in the top 5% can keep playing, on a club team.
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  • CateCAParentCateCAParent 384 replies5 threads Member
    I thought I posted this in the recruiting forum? I could be wrong (doing this on my phone and I haven’t started enough threads to be confident I am doing it right) , but I meant to, anyway.

    Totally get it is super sport/school specific. And soccer especially is a different universe.

    The focus is understandably on recruited athletes (thus the forum name). I am curious if there are stories out there from the gray area (thanks for the posters above for yours) - since most of the really good athletes fall into it. How do you get to play your sport at college if you are really good but not the best, and how do you go about picking a school that will allow you to do that at your level without sacrificing academic rigor? How do you even evaluate how good a school’s club team is?

    @cypresspat — Engineers are apparently hosed on that front. Yours is not the only kid who I have heard make that choice. Harvey Mudd fields very few athletes for the joint Claremont McKenna/Scripps/Harvey Mudd teams.
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  • cinnamon1212cinnamon1212 779 replies8 threads Member
    @CateCAParent you did post this in the athletic forum. I meant, go back and read the past few years of posts about your student's particular sport to get a clearer understanding.

    I think -- generally-- if you are an "average excellent " player but not a top 5% player, you play club or intramural sports. And if that's the case, then sports are not driving the admissions decisions (from the student or from the school) and so the strength of the club team wouldn't be why a kid went (or didn't) to a particular school.
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  • politepersonpoliteperson 457 replies4 threads Member
    edited September 2019
    OP, you seem to be asking two questions: how can these athletes find playing opportunities in college? And, how can athletics boost the application?

    For the latter question, it’s really about finding an appropriate athletic fit and then contacting the coach. I think any athlete that thinks there’s even a remote chance of helping the team should contact the coach before and during the application process to let her or him know of interest. That’s the only way for an athlete like your son to get a sense of how things stack up for HIM. If the sport is a deal breaker and the responses aren’t promising, then keep searching. It’s a generalization, but generally the more academically elite the school, the more competition there will be for coach support, if even available. So if the athlete is so inclined he can expand the search to less selective schools. That might or might not help.

    In an ideal outcome an athlete might get offered coach support with admissions during this process; less than ideal but still good would be several coaches saying if you get in on your own there is or might be a spot for you; far from ideal but far more common...coaches just aren’t interested and the athlete realizes that maybe he isn’t excellent, just pretty good for his HS team. In the latter case, which goes to the former question I mentioned above: yes, athletes check out intramural options at the school and/or opportunities in the local community. Sometimes that means recognizing that large state flagship is going to have more such opportunities than a remote and tiny LAC.

    edited September 2019
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  • gardenstategalgardenstategal 6310 replies10 threads Senior Member
    @CateCAParent , DS played some. But he did other athletic things. Sent you a PM. Too long for public consumption!

    One thing to do is look at the baseball roster at schools that interest you and see how many seniors are graduating. In general, that's about how many they'll need to replace. If they need to replace 7 and the coach gets 4, they'll need walk ons. They might offer soft support or they might hope for a "recruit" who can be admitted without their support. (Next paragraph is an example. )

    One of my son's lax teammates was told that his app was strong enough that the coach thought he'd get in ED without support. He did, so the coach got him without having to use a chit to do so. A gamble the coach was willing to take.

    For crew, the coach seems to get 4 or 5 recruits but there is a need for walk-ons to fill the novice boat. And almost every year, a few seats in the top 2 boats are filled with kids from that non-recruited pool. These kids don't get soft support.

    I would recommend that your son fill out the recruiting forms, have tape, and visit coaches to see what their situation is. A school that just added 10 freshmen may be less interested than one that is graduating 10 seniors. That part is beyond your control.

    And fwiw, most coaches will be very candid about their process.

    Lastly, see if your BS has someone in the college counseling or athletic department who is focused on athletic recruiting. They may be able to shed light on your situation with helpful specifics.
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  • CateCAParentCateCAParent 384 replies5 threads Member
    A couple of days ago I compared the roster at Wash U and U of Chicago, just to see. It is very interesting to see how two geeky schools populate their teams. You can see a difference just on the bios. And one has loads more freshmen than the other and just a couple of seniors. That suggests to me a team culture that wouldn't fit my kid.

    This is so not my call, btw. Kiddo is either going to want to play or not, and he will make that call, not me. If he wants it, he will figure out the process.
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  • scorekeeper1scorekeeper1 109 replies1 threads Junior Member
    What year in school is your son? If he is interested in playing baseball at a high academic school, one way to get interest from coaches is to attend an academic showcase. Two of the main companies that put on these showcases are HeadFirst and Showball. These are held in CA, NY and FL in the summer and fall. The impression that I have gotten is that most schools fill their rosters with recruits. Certain coaches , MIT in particular, have almost no pull with admissions, but even with that, the coach over-recruits and hopes that his guys get in. I have not really heard much about walk ons in baseball, but if your son gets into a school on his own, and then wants to play baseball, he should contact the coach and find out the process for trying out.
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  • MAandMEmomMAandMEmom 1728 replies10 threads Senior Member
    @CateCAParent for fun and because I like numbers, I went ahead and compared the WUSTL and UoC rosters for my DD's sport and the spread was pretty very evenly dispersed for each year showing persistence through to senior year for both teams.

    I wonder if its an oddity for baseball for that year or is there a trend? Of course I went down the rabbit hole and it does seem to "maybe" align with the arrival of the head coach in 2015. I have no clue on how to read baseball bios for certain!
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  • gointhruaphasegointhruaphase 559 replies3 threads Member
    Let's talk about baseball, since that seems to be the sport in question. Most D3 teams are going to settle in at around 30. If the positions were evenly disbursed, which they are not, you'd have room for 3 to play each position. Obviously they are not evenly divided, and you are likely to find 20 field players and 10 pitchers (give or take).

    If you assume in the NESCACs, the teams are given two slots and three tips (again, this can vary) there is room for a walk-on or two each year. There also is room for a cut or two. Then there is attrition and injury . . .. If a stud walks on, they will find him a spot. But there is absolutely no guarantee that if you try out, you will make the team. Remember, the level of play at most of the academic D3s (Cal Tech excluded) is a significant jump up from high school.

    The take-away is that, yes, teams can and often do have room beyond the tips and slots. Your question is will every baseball team have extra room, and the answer to that is "no." It really just depends. You need to talk to the coach to determine what the needs for any given year are. For example, the Claremont teams seem to over-recruit. That is because their coaches don't have that much sway with admissions. The same is true for Chicago and MIT. So, if if your kid has the academic chops to get in at one of those on his own (no mean feat), POSSIBLY there is a better chance to walk-on that at other schools. By contrast, I would think walking onto one of the Little Three would be a tough go, as they tend to perform well on a consistent basis, and plenty of good players really want to play for those teams.

    It can happen, however. A kid from our area did not do the baseball showcase circuit and did not play on an uber competitive club team. That said, he was extraordinarily fast. He made a D3 baseball team and pinch ran for a year, before quitting to focus on track. But he was very fast, and for that to work, you would need quite a bit below a 7.0 60.

    If a baseball team has had a down year, and a down recruiting year, it is POSSIBLE that an admissions office might suggest that you speak to the coach. If that does not happen, I believe the adcom will look at the baseball experience in the same way it would any other EC, like the school play or band. A leadership position on a high school team, such as captain, probably would be received like any other high school leadership position.

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