How does athletic recruitment work at schools with selective majors?

I’m thinking mostly D3, but I could see this as an issue at some D1’s as well. Does the coach support help you get into the major or school you want, or just into the school where you need to pick a major that’s open?

Policies and practices vary by school and coach at schools where a recruit must apply to a major and/or school. The coach will be able to tell the potential recruit how it works on their team and institution. Is there a certain school you are asking about?

No, my athlete is still young.

He wants to be an engineer, it’s been pretty consistent since he was young. I know at a lot of schools, admissions to engineering is harder than other majors so I’m curious.

Got it. Coaches should be able to answer all his questions if and when the time comes. Engineering and varsity sports can be tough to combine, even at the D3 level. See the NCAA Goals study for average time spent per week on sport in season by division, and other data:


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I agree it varies by program and school. There are quite a few where the coach can get a recruit into the engineering school. Also quite a few at a high level athletically where the coach will discourage engineering.

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…And some coaches who will say ‘there will be no engineering majors on my team’!!

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For sure!

And there are schools where almost every student is in engineering, so all the athletes are too. Colorado School of Mines is one, and the athletes are in the ‘hard’ engineering majors like chemical and petroleum. I looked at the men’s soccer team a few years ago and every player except one was in engineering. One of their football players this past year was a 6th (!) year student, had a BS and MS in engineering and 2 certifications - he took everything they had to play out his extra ‘covid’ years.

My daughter was in a school with about 60% of students in engineering. On her team of about 24 players, usually 6 or so were in engineering, another 6 in other stem programs, and the rest in business or psychology (the psych program was ‘sciency’ with a focus on autism). The school supported athletes by arranging tests on weekdays to allow athletes to travel on weekends, and the athletic department supported the academics by requiring study tables, reporting attendance and grades to the coaches, and making sure the athletes knew school came first.

Some schools list the majors of their players on the team rosters. Look at a few of them to see if they ‘allow’ their athletes to major in engineering or lab sciences.


I assume that coach wouldn’t offer my kid a slot though. Right?


My recruited athlete (slot) was supported for admission into a particular program into which students are admitted directly only (students at that school can’t transfer into the program or change majors to that one later, must be admitted directly as a freshman). D1 school. Admission to that program was a bit of a carrot to get kid to commit, in other words, we can only support you for that program if you commit by next week sort of thing. It ended up being a gamble of committing to gain admission to a very selective program at a very competitive school, or holding out for a possible but not yet extended offer to an even more competitive school.

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We faced this at a very selective D3 where you apply to the specific schools. The coach indicated that he can support an athlete through admissions in all but 2 of the schools (which are near impossible to get into anyway) with 95% degree of confidence. If you really wanted those other 2 schools, then you basically had to get in on your own with a slight boost from the coach indicating you were recruited.

If you are interested in a particular program or sub-school that has a separate admissions process, I would recommend talking to the coach sooner rather than later. Each coach can give you specifics early in the recruiting process, way before any offers are even contemplated.


Different schools handle selective majors differently. At the highly rejective schools where there are many more qualified applicants than room for students coaches seem to have some pull for selective majors, or at least selective colleges within the university. At a state school (for example), it is more likely the college has found a lower limit that is needed to be successful in the major and will let a student in if they meet the qualifications. The coaches at these schools are not likely (or able) to help a student get into a major they might not be qualified for, but many coaches will let a student athlete chose a major they can get themselves into.

There is variation from sport to sport, too. Many XC and swim programs have many engineering students on the team. Baseball? not so much–the travel for games gets in the way of classes and it usually just doesn’t work.

My son looked at a decent number of D1 and D3 programs for XC and TF. Every single coach we spoke with said they had no limits on what their student athletes could major in, and every program had student athletes majoring in engineering.

At some schools the coach may have a limited number of slots for a particular school or major. I don’t know about Penn specifically, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a coach got X slots to use, but they are capped for Wharton. Like maybe max 2 Wharton out of 10 total.

I don’t know specifically about Penn, but I do know that some other schools have a similar system in place. And as @Mwfan1921 said, some coaches just don’t allow some majors, either because of the total time commitment or the timing of the commitments. It didn’t matter to us, but at one school S was told he could major in anything except Architecture, because the schedule of required labs essentially meant you could never practice with the team. He was told that he could do engineering if he really wanted to, but that the coach didn’t usually think it was a good idea unless he had a higher ACT and GPA than what he had earned in HS.


Another variant is selective majors that require secondary admission based on college courses and grades (and sometimes other criteria from one’s first year or two in college). For example, CS at Texas A&M, where the student needs to start in the engineering division and then earn a 3.75 college GPA to enter the CS major (theoretically, those below that auto-admit GPA can get in through competitive admission, but CS is likely to be completely full from auto-admit students).

If I had a youngster interested in engineering and who I thought might be going down the athletic recruiting path, I’d focus on the academic pathways that could help check off some of the engineering requirements in the first year or two of college.

If there are options to pursue chemistry, physics, CS, and math at a level in HS that provides credit for those courses in college, or allows the option of opting/testing out, that can provide a lot more flexibility in the first year of college than an engineering student might otherwise have. Especially wrt lab-heavy courses, which can be a real logistical challenge for team sport athletes.

Only if academically appropriate, obviously. And depending on the school and field of engineering it might not make sense to avoid the intro sequence in one or all of these disciplines. But having the option is something a parent can be thinking about early on that might pay dividends down the road.

Once you get to the point of having conversations with coaches I think the questions you have will get answered pretty quickly. I assumed from your username that your kid is pursuing a team sport but I know that’s a big assumption. Individual sports present less of an issue with engineering but as others mentioned there are plenty of team sport athletes doing engineering. If the coach thinks it’s a problem, it isn’t going to be a mystery to you. I’ve only really seen that at the P5 level with team sports and it was just a practical issue with scheduling and team practice and travel.

And keep in mind that athletic recruiting might look different in several years. NIL, realignment, etc., are likely to change recruiting at the powerhouse sports schools in significant ways. It’s not clear whether or how any of that will affect the more academic schools or mid-major type schools that aren’t part of that world but target some of the same recruits.

My daughter did decide to play a sport in college and did decide on engineering. In both decisions, she was very (very) late to the decision so she didn’t have any time to plan hs courses to complete requirements for college, or engineering specifically.

If I had to do it over again (or with another kid), I would have had her check off the non-engineering requirements. If she could have completed the required writing, English, history etc, that would have really helped her. She was not a very good test taker in high school, so APs weren’t a good way for her to tick off the requirements. She could have gotten some DE credits in those courses and she wouldn’t have had to take them in college (the ones she took were pretty similar to hs writing and English courses).

Alas, she started college with not one DE, AP or other credit as an engineer. She started in Calc 1 and Chemistry 1, took all the courses in order, and it worked out fine. She would have had more wiggle room if she didn’t have those 15 or 20 basic courses she had to take which made for some 16-18 credit semesters.

If she’d had credit for Calc 1 or chemistry in high school, she’d still have to take Calc 2 in college and her load in the early years would have been similar - 1-2 science courses, a math class, etc. As far as sports goes, it didn’t really matter if she was in calc 1 or calc 2, but it sure would have been nice not to have to take a class she wasn’t good in, like writing.

She didn’t run into conflicts with sports and engineering until she was in higher level courses when there might have only been one section offered, and that class might have been right during practice (I think it happened once and she missed practice on those days). As a fresh and soph, there were always 2 or 3 sections to choose from, and athletes had priority registration so could get the section that didn’t conflict with practice.

Yes that’s a reasonable way to go too. A lot depends on the student and the program. Most of the athlete + engineering kids I know found scheduling logistics with the engineering requirements, esp. courses with labs, to be harder compared to BA kids. Those who came in without having to take chem and physics, or who had a head start on math, just had more flexibility. But I agree if something like writing is a challenge and that can be knocked out in HS that would take pressure off.

Thanks! This is a really good suggestion.

i meant to thank you!