Are some recruited athletes [without HS AP/IB courses] out of their depth academically? [in competitively graded science/math courses]

I know there’s the stereotype of the football/basketball players who are ushered through college academics so that they can continue to play. But nowadays, many students, both men and women, are admitted as recruited athletes for all sorts of sports. I’m hearing from friends about their recruited athlete kids having academic trouble. These are kids who were good students in college prep level classes, but didn’t take challenging AP classes, who then got into highly selective schools as recruited athletes, schools that they really wouldn’t have gotten into based solely on their solid, but not stellar academic achievement. They are competing in classes, especially STEM classes, against other students who have had AP science and math already. These classes move along at a very fast clip, and the kids are struggling, out of their depth academically, having a lot of trouble managing academically, while also dealing with the demands of practices and games.

It’s not something that people want to talk about, their kid struggling academically after they succeed in getting accepted to a highly selective college. I’m wondering if others have heard of this, of kids who got accepted to highly selective schools as recruited athletes, who then struggle academically?

Curious as to which colleges or universities you are referring.

Were the athletes subjected to a pre-read when being recruited or are you referring to D-1 scholarship athletes ?


I haven’t known any recruits who attended highly selective universities who have seriously struggled academically (or had to leave the school)…that includes top stats students as well as 3.0 no test score students.

I’m sure there are some who struggle though. It’s tough to know or separate out whether it’s due to being overmatched academically, or spending 40 hours per week year round on their sport.

This time commitment is ridiculous, especially when the vast majority of these students aren’t training for the Olympics or going on to play professionally. This is even happening at some D3 schools and IMO the coaches and ADs are to blame.

I do know athletes who are competing at not highly rejective Power 5 schools who are barely literate. But that’s a different issue, and one I know you weren’t asking.


This. We know recruited athletes who actually dropped their sport because they realized the sport and academics in college were both year round, many hours a week, commitments and they couldn’t do both well. And eat and sleep.


So I guess, instead of saying some athletes at academically elite (not always the same as “highly selective”) schools are out of their depth, the more accurate statement is that their athletic schedule may not give them the time and space to keep up academically?
In other words, it’s not because they aren’t academically capable but yes, some may struggle at the tippy-top schools because of time commitments.

At least, that’s how I’m interpreting the comments above.

Just to echo what others are saying, the bad anecdotes I have heard personally have pretty much universally centered around what a large time commitment their sport became, and how it conflicted with their academic ambitions. In fact more than once I have heard the suggestion the coaching staff was essentially discouraging people from doing certain academic paths because of the conflict.

So these are not really stories about being fundamentally unqualified academically because they got admitted as a recruited athlete. In fact, again more than once the story I heard ended with some form of the person quitting the sport to focus on academics, and then it was all fine. Or if it wasn’t fine, the problem was more they regretted not going to a college where they were not recruited but they think they might have liked better, not that the college they ended up at was too hard.

As others also mentioned, this doesn’t mean that simply not being qualified academically never happens. I actually think it says more about my particular social circles, including social media. In my circles, the relevant colleges seem pretty careful about being serious with academic pre-reads and such. Meaning admissions does not want it to get to the point a recruited athlete is on campus and struggling to handle the basics, they want to make sure the recruited athletes really are going to be capable.

Again, that doesn’t mean it never happens even at these colleges. But I do think that system at least mostly works to avoid cases like that.

But the time commitment thing? At least anecdotally, the system does not always work to make sure the coaches are not asking too much out of the students, not suggesting they should prioritize the sport over academics, or so on. Not saying that always happens, I’d guess in the large majority of cases a healthy balance is actually achieved. It just seems to happen enough that the stories go around.

That’s what I was getting at, but again, it’s hard to parse things out. As as said, I haven’t known any student-athletes (even those with modest high school stats/rigor) to seriously struggle at a highly selective.

I doubt that is a very large group, if it were, behaviors would change, such as admission criteria, academic supports, caps on weekly athletic time commitment and the like. Some of the athletes I’ve known might have received more Bs than they would have if their weren’t playing a sport, but I don’t consider that struggling.

In order to better set the student up for success, some highly rejectives do control what major certain recruits (those with relatively lower HS stats/rigor) can apply to (this is done during the pre-read and application time frame, Cornell is an example), while some coaches won’t allow certain majors on their teams, eg lab science, nursing, education, engineering (so many examples).


Curious to know like Publisher is - which schools are we talking about here? The NESCACs all do academic prereads and are arguably some of the toughest schools (as a whole conference) for an athlete to get into with regards to academics.

MIT (and similar-caliber schools) are always extremely difficult to get into even as a recruited athlete as the coaches there do not get much (if any) pull at all with admissions.

The Ivies (as a whole) might have a better chance at getting an athlete through with slightly “less than stellar” academics, but that athlete is typically of very high caliber, and still have to be within a certain range academically.

I agree with others who mentioned that it is more likely the combination of high level academics AND the time commitment to the athlete’s sport. There are still out-of-season practices, “voluntary” captain’s practices, team lifts, individual practice sessions, etc that take up a lot of an athlete’s time, no matter the division.

People sometimes say that for a college athlete, one of the following three will become tough to maintain: Academics, athletics, or social life. To be able to fully balance all three is extremely difficult.

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I have not heard of any athletes struggling at selective schools. Not to say it doesn’t happen, but I have not heard of any.


I know of kids who have struggled, though I think it’s rare that struggle = failing. These kids are not used to 3.0 GPAs.

I think this is something that we will/are seeing this more often. The reality is that many schools chugged along during/post pandemic leaving many gaps. What I have seen at our private HS is that just because the transcript indicated they were ready for algebra 2, didn’t actually have the requisite algebra 1 knowledge. Test optional made it very difficult to control for actual preparedness. So it makes sense to me that the disparity would be most apparent in STEM classes.

The other thing to note is that if these athletes really did not take many APs they are at a double disadvantage. The vast majority of the students in that college class will have successfully completed the AP equivalent. Many will have had a 4, and not placed out, and another group will have the requisite 5 and simply chosen not to jump ahead.


I note these concepts might be somewhat connected by the fact that some tracks, formal or informal, may be less tolerant of a lot of Bs, and conversely it may be harder to avoid Bs in those tracks with too much time going to a sport.

I agree this is not really what people typically have in mind when it comes to “struggling”, but this is still a fundamental conflict between academic goals and athletic goals. And you could see why coaches would want to avoid that.

Still, in my ideal of a college, people would be able to grow into things during college.

That’s obviously a bigger issue colleges are going to be feeling their way through, not least this cycle. But I agree it could make things even more complex when it comes to deciding if, say, a potential athletic recruit asking for a COVID accommodation for their grades and/or course track is still qualified enough to be given pre-read approval.

I know kids who weren’t athletes at highly selective schools who have struggled. Athletes have a lot more on their plate so I’d assume yes. I think most/all schools have kids that struggle academically. There may be other factors - social so they aren’t mentally fit to keep up, partying (too much), work, and just a general lack of preparedness (work ethic wise or just not at that college level).


They did a study at my son’s school, and found athletes had higher GPAs when they were in season, vs the off season. And this has been true for my son, so far, as well.


I thought “academic supports” were very common for D1 athletes at schools across the range of selectivity. UCLA hires high achieving undergrads as individual academic tutors for their athletes, it seems from the Michael Oher thread that similar tutoring is offered at Ole Miss.

A HS classmate of my kids went to Oregon for soccer and found it impossible to keep up with her academic classes due to the demands of her sport. She dropped out after a year and eventually went to a less pressured program.


They are, that’s not inconsistent with what I said.

If athletes were struggling after what was being offered in the way of academic supports, all I was saying is that I would expect things could change meaning more supports, for example more 1:1 tutoring, more tutors traveling with the teams, different tutors for different subjects, etc. I don’t think the required/regular 1:1 tutoring for all student athletes is the norm at highly rejectives. (I’m not sure OP is talking about just D1 schools either).

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I thought we were discussing Ivy type schools, though i believe top non-Ivy have that kind of support. At the bigger sports school It is also very common for athletes to take minimal classes during their season and take classes during the summer.

That is not what is happening. Instead kids are still “on track” and have good grades, but the teachers met them where they were/dumbed things down. On paper these kids still look good and there is no standardized testing to raise any flags.


I’m talking not about D1, but about D3, the kid who was recruited to play a sport, passed an academic pre-read with good grades in regular classes, maybe a few honors levels, no APs, or maybe just one “easy” AP, no standardized test score that was worth submitting, and with this gets accepted to a very selective school where the “unhooked” students are kids who took many APs, and likely had high standardized test scores. What I’m seeing is that some kids like this, when they register for STEM classes, are in with kids who’ve already had the subject as an AP in high school. The class moves very fast, and the kid is immediately lost. Plus they have practices and games interfering with time to study and attend office hours or review sessions, sometimes even classes!


In reading this, it makes me think that many of these recruited athletes that parentologist was referring to might have had pre-med intentions. How many times have we read about students who were pre-med and then after their first semester, they no longer are? Whether from their own disinterest, or grades that weren’t going to be competitive enough for med school?

Additionally, if a student was accepted to a school with a high/elite reputation, then they probably came in with mostly As or all As, even if those As weren’t in AP classes. So, if they’re now working hard to get a B or even a C, that’s struggling for those students, but that’s far from being an academic failure.


How many students are you talking about?

As I mentioned above, I haven’t seen much of this in the highly rejective D3s…IME these schools aren’t accepting recruited athletes who can’t do the work. Generally the highly rejective D3s have a relatively higher average academic hurdle than the Ivies, for example.

There will be some recruits (and non-recruits) who do struggle. With the high weekly time commitment for sports as well as missing classes/labs (more common in certain sports), time management can be difficult.

If one is aspiring to become a health care provider or attorney I generally don’t recommend attending a highly rejective D3 and playing sports.