Random question about walking on

This isn’t a question about either of my own kids, just a random question I thought of and am curious about.

If you have a student who is a strong enough athlete to be recruited by a D3 school, but for whatever reason doesn’t do that. They end up applying to the D3 school RD, without support from the coach, and they get in, and enroll.

Can they still play? How does that work. Are there try outs? If they outperform an athlete who was recruited for their position, what happens to that recruited athlete?

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It depends on the sport, the team, the coach and the school. Some schools require coaches to hold tryouts, others don’t. Some teams are large, some aren’t. Recruited athletes are generally never guaranteed a spot on the team, or that they would see playing time.

Of course a coach might gravitate to keeping a recruit over a walk-on, again it’s dependent on each situation. Football has lots of room on the team, while basketball, golf or volleyball generally have less room on the rosters. Crew is another example of a sport that typically takes walk-ons every year.

The student should definitely reach out to the coach, even before being admitted.


Bottom line: coaches want the strongest players possible on the team. I know soccer is one of your focuses (foci?), and that’s the sport I’m talking about.

Can they play? If they are as good, or better yet, better than most of the players on the team. And are as committed. But there’s no requirement (as a rule) for a coach to consider walkons.

What happens to recruited athletes that are displaced? Frequently they leave the team, either voluntarily or by being cut.

I didn’t realize it until my son started playing college soccer, but making the team does not mean the player is set for the next 4 years. Each year 2-3 players who don’t get much playing time leave my son’s team. His coach makes cuts.


I agree with the comments above. I’d just add that it might be tougher to walk on over the next few years given the number of fifth years in the system, which is unusual for D3 and has ballooned some roster sizes. (D1 has the same issue but with sixth years).


Isn’t that the truth (or as my kids would say “Facts”)! I have never seen so many baseball rosters with 50+ guys, just to take one example. :woman_shrugging:


It completely depends on the program. The biggest factor is whether it is a men’s team or a women’s team, as most men’s teams have squad size limits to satisfy title 9 requirements.

Coaches might offer a recruit a scholarship (for DI or DII), admission help/slot, a roster spot, or a tryout. If it comes down to taking a recruited athlete or a walk on with roughly the same ability, the recruited athlete might have advantages because the coach: made an explicit offer of a roster spot to a recruited athlete; struck up a relationship during the recruiting process; might like the commitment to the sport demonstrated by the recruiting process; could be partially evaluated by how many of their recruited athletes (determined by admissions help) remain on the team.

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OP here,

I’m really not thinking about my soccer player. He’s a long way off from college. I’m just wondering in general. It started thinking because I read that MIT only takes 50% of the kids who have coach support. So, what happens to the other 50%? If a kid is good enough that they could get coaches support and a slot at a NESCAC, but MIT is their dream school so they ED there, are they then out of luck? Or can they still apply to those NESCAC schools RD and, if accepted, hope to play.

I don’t think I have an MIT kid. So I am literally just bored today, and wondering “what if”?

At many D3 schools, there will be a couple of spots left over for walk-ons. It’d be unusual for every coach to have enough “picks” to fill all of them. But sometimes that happens. I have heard of kids who ended up playing club soccer their freshman year (because there were no spots) and got a roster spot sophomore year.

If a coach promised recruits a certain amount of playing time (in their first year), that may impact the walk-on’s ability to get playing time freshman year, but it doesn’t mean he won’t play or won’t get more time in later years.

This depends on sport, school, and kid. And often on the year and where a particular team’s roster stands. As you’ve no doubt seen discussed on these boards, many athletes do not play all 4 years. There are tons of reasons for that.

I think you also have to keep in mind that not every kid is recruitable at every school, so there’s a possibility that a kid ends up at a school that wouldn’t have had any interest even if he hadn’t applied to MIT - level of play is higher, style of play is different, lots of depth in kid’s position.

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In my limited experience, it depends upon the team & the coach as to whether or not walk-ons are given consideration and as to whether or not playing time & a spot on the team roster is promised.

My experience is almost 100% D-1 and usually scholarships are involved–so probably much different than D-3 programs (no scholarships).

As others have mentioned, it really depends on the particular situation, the school, the sport, etc.
The level of play at D3 teams can vary quite a bit by the sport and the school. There are very strong D3 teams in which a walk on would be rare, such as most Men’s D3 Hockey or Men’s D3 basketball. Some D3 Woman’s basketball teams are not very deep so it may be easier to walk on.
Other sports, such as D3 football, tend to have very large rosters and it would depend on the specific team but if someone is a player, the coach would probably welcome them as a walk-on.
Also, at some schools the coach may have little pull with admissions, the school may not have slots, or they may not need the pull with admissions to get kids admitted like they would at a NESCAC.
So it really varies.

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That is a different situation from what you first described. It’s a big jump to apply ED to a school like MIT that doesn’t give a whole lot of confidence to the recruited athlete when they commit to apply, but if you want to go to MIT that is what you need to do. Presumably, the athlete has been talking to other coaches along the way. The athlete needs to be honest with the other coaches, but can also hedge their bets by stating MIT is not guaranteed and they are still interested in the other school if it doesn’t work out. You will likely miss the chance for an admission bump via ED, but if you have a shot at getting into MIT, there should be a couple of schools on your list you can get into without the coach’s help, and sometimes things play out so that a coach has a leftover slot later in the game than they normally want.

My son had to go through this to a lesser extent for a different school. Coaches appreciated the honesty, and I am pretty certain he would have had four good fits willing to take him if things didn’t work out with the first choice.

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MIT doesn’t have ED and their EA round is not restrictive.

With that said, the situation you describe will vary by school, sport, coach. Other coaches know that the MIT athletic recruiting process for supported athletes is far from a sure thing. So, some NESCAC or other D3 coaches may in fact let a recruit take their shot at MIT, and if it doesn’t work out, apply ED2 or RD with full support at the second school. There is a recent thread with exactly that situation. So, it just depends. The key is to be honest with all of the coaches you are dealing with.

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If MIT is my imaginary student-athlete’s first choice, then they are restricted from applying ED somewhere else, right? Someone who is hoping for MIT can’t accept a coach’s help for an ED slot elsewhere.

I guess I’m confused because I thought that all the support was given away in the ED round. I didn’t know you could get support for ED2 or RD.

Most coaches try to use their slots in the ED/EA round but not all do. So support is often available in later rounds, including RD. Not always and not at every school, but as mentioned it’s not out of the question for an MIT recruit to arrange, in advance, support or at least the possibility of support at another school should MIT not work out.

MIT is a pretty unique case. The only athletes I know who were being recruited hard at MIT were also good enough for Ivy or P5 and went for the sure thing rather than take a risk.

The MIT coach was very honest with my child that, even with support, the odds of admission were low. We made a decision to go for the ED bump at another school rather than “waste” the early round on MIT especially since Mountainkid wasn’t totally in love with MIT. Mountainkid’s teammate did apply early, was rejected, but accepted RD to Brown. MIT is a tough nut to crack.

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Did they get to play at Brown?

I’m just using MIT as an example, because that’s the post that made me think of the question. I am pretty sure I don’t have an MIT kid.

I did realize, as I mulled this over though, that a variation of this could happen with my older kid (not the one I’ve posted about here). He hopes to study music in college, and my guess is he’ll build his college list entirely based on music things. But, he’s a decent XC runner, and if the stars align so that he ends up at a school where he has a shot at the team, he might take the shot, because he does like to run.

Or it could happen for some other reason that a kid who wants to compete, and is good enough that they could have been recruited, doesn’t have a spot after the ED round. Maybe the kid turns down an ED offer because of financial aid, etc . . .

No, she’s not playing at Brown. Like Mountainkid, she had two college lists: schools where she could play and schools where she couldn’t. Brown was on the latter list.

My D22 runs XC. Her times weren’t quite fast enough to get her recruited as a D3 runner, especially because her junior year was truncated and weird from the pandemic. But she has talked to 5-6 coaches at the schools she’s applied to and all of them have invited her to participate on their teams. Seems like XC is a very stretchy sports in terms of number of people participating.

XC tends to be stretchy. It’s not hard to have larger groups of kids practicing. Likewise, swimming (up to a point) and even crew. Not everyone may travel - or even compete - but it’s not a big deal to have more practice. Some of them may even light a fire under some of the less driven squad members.

Some sports also like having big practice rosters. And then there are others where the numbers are held firm.

Totally agree that candor with coaches is helpful. Some, particularly in stretchy sports, may have a little more leeway in terms of timing. A soccer coach who needs a goalie is unlikely to hold a spot open at the risk of not filling it at all but a swimming coach might be happy to have two great sprinters.

It’s been mentioned many times, but the recruiting process is a hard one. It’s a twisty road for most to a school where they have coach support and that is also a top choice. @mountainsoul 's tale is a good reminder of this. Just as often as not, the top choice is not a place where the coach needs you. Since you are early on, OP, this is worth taking note of. Otoh, it can be freeing to find that because the coach at Williams didn’t need you, you can say yes to Dartmouth…


My goalie is young enough that I am not really asking specific questions about him. I just saw the MIT/HMC thread and fell down a rabbit hole of curiosity.

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