D3 with sports or D1 with no sports

Good morning everyone. We were hoping to get some feedback and opinions on a scenario that my child is shaping up to face

My child is being recruited to play tennis in college by a well known D3 school ranked in the T25 and located in a large urban setting. This school is high on the list of our child’s and our family’s choices. However, my child is also considering a few Ivy League and other highly selective schools.

My child loves tennis and would relish in the experience of playing in college. At the same time, my child has a strong academic focus and is considering some T5 schools that offer a balance of academics and social endeavors. The higher ranked academics that some of these T5 schools could override playing tennis for a T25 D3 school.

My child will not pursue tennis as a professional after college but we all think playing tennis in college would be incredibly enriching for our child.

Can anyone offer some insight on a having similar experience?

Do the enriching qualities of college sports, such as prestige, exercise, team, coaches, connections, etc. worth making a relatively small sacrifice in academic ranking?

We feel fortunate to be in this position and would welcome any feedback. Thanks

I would 100% go where he can play his sport. T25 is plenty respectable and the academics will be as good or better than an Ivy. You are only young once, at the most, and being a college athlete is something no one can ever take away from you.

Can we hear the specifics about the schools involved?

Yes the issues your raise are what we are debating as a family.

Because we are in the recruiting mode, we are a bit reluctant to share the specific schools. But the D3 school we are considering are similar to UChicago, WashU, NYU and Hopkins. On the other side, the Ivy/D1 schools we are considering that may override our D3 schools are Harvard, Northwestern, and Yale.

Except as a recruited athlete you are as certain of admission as anyone can be vs applying to schools with sub 10% admit rates. I guess it depends on how risk averse your family is!

For my D3 athlete, the team bond, family, discipline, and leadership through his team was invaluable. Plus, if a D3 recruit is looking at a summer admissions pre-read, with nod from admissions and then ED admission by late fall, that can be well worth the trade off for the uncertainty and possible disappointment at top 5 university in late spring of senior year.


The debate we have in our family is whether the enrichment and benefit of playing a varsity sport in college overrides attending a highly selective T5 school.

Personally, I view being being able to play sports at a top D3 school as very unique with only 2-4 percent of high school kids being able to do that. In my mind, this 2-4 percent is similar to the low admissions rates to the highly selective T5 schools.

Can anyone chime into how college sports has impacted their post college life in terms of connections, prestige, or other areas? And whether these areas could possibly be worth forgoing a T5 school?

Nothing you said changes my mind- I would take the D3 school if it is the caliber of UChicago, JHU, NYU…
teams are useful for post-grad connections as well, and they keep kids out of trouble.

Joe and Midwest, thanks for your feedback as they are appreciated.

We also feel being a college athlete will allow our kid to create unique and singular experiences that our child will cherish long after graduation. To me, these unique experiences will override a “normal” student who even graduates from a T5 school.

Does your kid have any hooks at any of the DI top schools you mentioned?

There are few unhooked spots available at those schools, so make sure to take that into account when assessing likelihood of admission.

Mw, my kid does not have any hook into these T5 schools.

Thus we would be applying ED or general admission to these T5 schools which have low admission rates

Your question assumes your child will be accepted at that T5 school, and I just don’t think that’s an assumption anyone can make.

I.e. you cannot know that you’d be given the choice of foregoing that T5 education. It’s very likely that your child would not be admitted at either the T5 or the prestigious D3 if your child decides not to pursue athletic recruiting.

Of course, you know facts that we don’t, you could have good reasons to be confident of Ivy acceptances, I realize.

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I’d lean “play ball.”

But I took a brief look at the Top 25 D3 tennis Men’s teams. For me and my kid, it would depend on the D3 school. The majority of those Top 25 D3 teams would NOT approach the prestige and academics of a T5 college and thus wouldn’t tip the scale for our family to play D3. And thus I’d opt for T5 not tennis. Just depends.

Does location matter?

Statistically speaking, your kid is unlikely to be accepted to a T5 school and they should all be considered reaches.

You can only pick one ED or SCEA/REA school and the rest would be RD.

Some thoughts:

How would your kid feel if they weren’t accepted to any of the T5s and gave up the opportunity to play tennis at a good school?

If they chose D3 and tennis, would they feel bad they didn’t take their shot at a T5 (even if they end up not being accepted)?

If accepted by a T5 would they be happy to give up tennis?

I think the OP meant the D3s were top 25 academically, not top 25 tennis programs. S/he mentioned they were schools like Johns Hopkins or the University of Chicago.

So, the real question is actually “are the odds of getting into a T5 worth giving up a very high chance of getting into a T25?” Depending on the specific schools that is ~5=7% admissions rate (with no hook) v an ~ 10-15% admissions rate (with a hook)

Be aware that if the “T-5” powers that be don’t smile on your daughter, for the “T-25s” she will no longer a recruited athlete and so no longer has a “hook”, and your bet that the 10-15% schools are there for the taking even unhooked could come back to bite her.

Also, remember that while some athletes are happy to stay with their sport all the way through college, many are surprised to find that they don’t want to stay with it all the way through. That possibility needs to be on the table as well. And, as others have indicated the primary merit of a T5 over a T25 is bragging rights. Are these equally important to you and to your daughter? These points matter: weighing out the pros and cons as a family is a fine thing, but at the end of the day your daughter will be the one who actually writes the essays and lives the decision.

And to that end, please don’t say “we” would be applying. I know it still feels like it’s an ‘us’, but irl “we” won’t be: she will be. As a parent, it can take a time to get used to that idea. Might as well start now.

From this it sounds like you want your child to play tennis in college, and your child is the one not sure if they want to.

Being a student athlete in college can be a great experience socially, athletically, even academically. But I would start with what kind of school and academic experience your son/daughter wants. If this is a school that is high on the list anyway, and athletics might turn it from an admissions reach into a match/safety, that’s a very good reason to lean toward the D3. But if Harvard and other larger schools are a better fit, and you have reason to expect good odds of admission, I wouldn’t choose the D3 just for tennis. Your daughter can play club tennis at a larger school or get involved in the local tennis scene if she doesn’t choose D3. NARPs at Harvard make great connections through other student activities and just through everyday life, so I wouldn’t choose D3 thinking that connections made on the tennis team at a tiny school will be significantly better or more meaningful than the organic connections made at a larger school.

For me it would come down to an admissions decision. Harvard, Yale, Northwestern admissions without any sort of hook is very unlikely for most applicants. This is true of many selective D3/LACs also. So, what’s the backup plan if not admitted to those selective schools, and would your daughter be happy with those schools? Or does the D3, where I assume the coach will help in a meaningful way with admissions, sound a lot better than the backup options? To me, that’s the central question, not tennis at D3 vs not tennis at Harvard.

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They will be different experiences, with 1 experience being better for 1 kid and the other for another. Our family is a good example:

D was a softball recruit that ended up attending and starting 4 years at a NESCAC. She had a wonderful collegiate experience, and her social network pretty much revolved around her teammates, and she more or less had an intact “tribe” the minute she stepped onto campus. Playing a sport also gave her more structure at school, and it did not prevent her from doing well in her STEM major. She is currently working at a premier research lab in the Northeast. The more intimate LAC atmosphere probably was better for D and her personality. She is the type that likes to have a smaller group of really close friends rather than trying to be “popular”.

S was a baseball recruit who turned down offers from T5 LAC’s and applied to Yale SCEA because he wanted a larger college experience than what he saw at the LAC’s he visited. S is a kid who is friends with everyone. He was fortunate to get into Yale and has been able to continue playing baseball as a club sport (along with golf which he also lettered in in HS as a fall sport). He also has thrived in college. For him, the decision not to take the bird in hand, included the following factors; already accepted in flagship honors program; GPA/rank/test scores above median for all schools he was considering; legacy hook for Yale; several of the D3 coaches told him he might still have a spot if he did not get accepted to Yale SCEA (I suspect they might have had some “soft” support cards to play). So he had some cushion if he did not get accepted in the early round.

So is your child more like my D, where being part of something in a smaller school is likely a better experience? A bird in the hand is worth a lot, but he/she will likely have to ED. Or is your child more like my S who really wants a large college experience more than being part of a school team. Is he/she willing to roll the dice a bit on admissions (never a guarantee for a T5 or even a T25 in the absence of an athletic slot). Is there a likely decent back-up in the bag? Those were the key considerations our kids went through.

Good luck.


Thanks for all of the insightful comments. They are very helpful.

The D3 school recruiting my is a T25 school in academic ranking (not necessarily in tennis ranking).

We agree that this decision is ultimately our child’s decision and that we, as parents, are merely providing advice to our child.

Also, we do not have any preconceived notions that our child could even get admitted into a T5 school. While our child has a strong academic and EC record, the 5-7 percent acceptance rates at these T5 schools are not lost on us.

Also we believe that “bragging rights,” if any, are short lived at best. Our child may put more emphasis on “bragging rights” but that may be because she is still a teenager.

If only our child was strong enough in tennis to be recruited by a T5 school, then would help solve our dilemma. Lol

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Maybe ask yourselves what’s appealing about these D1 schools. Ignore rankings or perceived prestige. Believe it or not, Yale isn’t right for everyone. In fact, Ohio State and Michigan are probably good fits for more students than are Yale or Harvard. So what makes you think these are good fits, and are those characteristics present in the D3 also?