SLACs for non-athletes

My DD is athletic, but does not want to play her sport in college. She is looking at smaller colleges such as Denison, Kenyon, Muhlenberg, Dickinson, etc, but I am beginning to hear that it is hard to find your place socially in schools like those if you do not belong to a sports team. Does anyone have first hand experience with those or similar schools? Is there really such a divide between the athletes and those who aren’t on teams?


My son is at Wooster, he is an international and he is not an athlete. He has made lots of friends within the first month of his college itself. So if you are outgoing person then assimilating should not be a problem is what he has experienced. Wooster is sort of special that it has 18% internationals and 65% out of state so that might be a reason as well. It has Greek life but it is quite mild so you can have fun at frat houses without joining as well.


It may help to say a bit more about your daughter - would she want to play a club sport, or participate in drama or board games club, outdoors club, be a tour guide or ? i am just throwing things out there. how does she see herself outside of sport? i would think people familiar with these schools could talk more specifics if you said a bit about her interests or what she may want to explore :slight_smile:

My LAC kid was a recruited athlete but, while some of his core group of friends came from their team, their broader friend group was all non-athletes. We know lots of other non-athletes from other LACs, including Dickinson and Denison, and sports was just one more thing to go to, or not, sports didn’t dominate campus culture.

My daughter is not an athlete – she’s just starting her first year at a SLAC, but found her people pretty quickly (mostly non-athletes) – she’s not the most outgoing social type, so I was actually surprised at how quickly she made good friends. She did note that her friends with athlete roommates (especially fall athletes) tended to feel on the outs in the roommates’ social circles, but that didn’t mean that they couldn’t find friends elsewhere. First-year orientation programming did a great job of mixing students in different groups (residential groups, first-year seminars, orientation outings), so it was easier to find like-minded people.

There are plenty of SLACs where sports don’t dominate campus culture. You could look for those with less than 30% athletes in the student population if you want to be sure. Also look for schools with no football, since that sport (more than others) amounts to a large percentage of a small student body, because teams have to be so big. (But, FWIW, my daughter’s school does have football, and student athletes probably make up about 30% of the population, and she’s still had a social experience not dominated by sports).


I have never heard something quite like that before.

Obviously sometimes there is a decent percentage of recruited athletes, and some more who walk on. And then even more (including lots of former HS athletes) will play some sort of club, IM, or recreational sports. But there are usually many, many different student activities, so all sorts of other ways to get involved.

Now, different LACs may be a little more into sports, or a little less. Like, NESCAC LACs have a general reputation for being into their sports, but of course not everyone is on a NESCAC team, and a lot of people are just going to games and such. And again, lots else is happening too.

Other LACs still have sports, and some people are into them, but it is maybe a little less of a big deal.

If you are interested, this is a little old, and it only covers the US News Top 25 LACs at the time, but there is a varsity athletes by LAC list (the second list) in this article:

Williams was 36%, Carleton half of that at 18%, and so on.


Mt D attended a LAC as a non-athlete and had no issue finding great friends. She made friendships in her dorm, in class, through involvement in ECs etc. She was friendly with some athletes as well. Years after graduation she maintains many of these relationships.


I’m the original poster. Thanks everyone who has responded! More info about my daughter - she would definitely want to play some type of club or intramural sport. She is very athletic and loves sports, but does not want the commitment it would take to play at the NCAA level. She loves film and music and wants to get involved with the radio station and newspaper. She hadn’t been interested in joining a sorority, but after touring some of the schools they seem more low key and service oriented than she expected, so she is open to exploring those. She is not a huge partier.

Even at the LACs where around a 1/3rd of the class are varsity athletes, you just described a profile that would fit in extremely well with the other 2/3rds.

My two cents is I would not worry about this at all. She should of course pick LACs that feel like a good fit in other ways. But former-HS-varsity-athlete-now-just-club-and-IM is seriously way too common to be an issue.


Sounds like your D would be fine anywhere. D had a number of friends involved in different club sports at her LAC and they all enjoyed the experience.

In terms of LACs I’d recommend visiting if possible. When we toured LACs with D we felt that each one had its own vibe. Some LACs my D gravitated towards and others she quickly dismissed from consideration after visiting.


Student athletes have a ready made community and a schedule to fit into, so it can be easier for them to assimilate. Especially for students who were athletes in high school but are not on a team in college, it can feel a bit distressing to be outside that dynamic. What your D is worried about is founded in a truth, but it isn’t the truth (if that makes sense)!

Students ultimarely find friends in a number of places – on their teams, in their classes, in their dorm, at parties, through ECs. LACs have tons of kids who intersect groups – they play football and sing a capella, for example.

Your D will be fine anywhere – playing club and intramural sports, doing theater, or just hanging out with hall mates. You may want to look at schools’ orientation programs – many are very intentional about creating ways for students to connect and feel comfortable even before classes start.


Non-issue at my D22’s SLAC. She hates sports. There are plenty of students who aren’t on sports teams.


My daughter is a senior at Kenyon, not an athlete, not a partier and has had a wonderful social (and academic) life there. She’s into theater, music and dance (as extracurriculars, not majors). I wouldn’t worry about it at all.


This question comes up from time to time, but I hope it won’t scare your daughter off small LACs generally. My son, who graduated from Denison in May, is an athlete, but he has always had a very diverse group of friends and doesn’t like to be pigeon-holed, so one thing he actively tried to avoid when putting together his college list was schools where there was a divide between the athletes and non-athletes. He was very happy at Denison, where his team was an important anchor but by no means the only one. He had friends and roommates who are non-athletes, he had friends and roommates who were in fraternities (he was not), he was a tour guide and made friends there, and so on. Denison is a pretty open-minded place, but as far as I know, I don’t think any of the schools on your daughter’s list would fall into the category of schools that have an athlete/nonathlete divide, nor would Wooster, which is mentioned above. On the other hand, if your daughter is an athlete, she might really enjoy having access to the non-varsity athletics at these schools, as well as the fabulous facilities some of them have (certainly Denison and Kenyon, the only two I’ve seen in person).


Until today, I didn’t even have an idea, that someone is connecting SLACs and sports programs as supposedly having any particularly strong relationships?

Is there any kind of stats/numbers behind it, e.g., an overwhelming percentage of student athletes compared to regular" universities? I knew that my daughter’s SLAC did have sports programs, thus must have had some athletes, but I don’t know that anyone in her friends circle either whom I met in person, or she mentioned in conversations, was an athlete.

Instinctively, I would have rather expected a topic on “SLAC for athletes”, not the other way around. But apparently I was misinformed?

Sport is very important to D23. Her college list was built around wanting a SLAC and wanting a big sport culture. There are SLACs where over 50-60% of the student body are in varsity or club sports. There are also SLACs with less than 25% of the student body in a varsity or club sport. Very different vibes to the campuses. Because SLACs are by nature pretty small, if 600-900 students are athletes on a campus of 1600-2000 students - you’re going to notice. If there are only 300-400 student athletes, it might be much less noticeable.

For D23, the number one building she wanted to explore during college tours? The athletic facilities. Again, wide variety of resources and amenities across SLACs, there were some she immediately discarded due to poorly resourced facilities. Others she kept on her list way longer than I would have imagined just because their facilities were incredible.

D20 on the other hand? She couldn’t have cared less whether sports were on offer or not. She, too, found plenty of SLACs that fit her wants and needs. Her school does have some sports which are fairly competitive, but attendance is sparse at even the most competitive games. Sport are there but not a major focus for the majority of students.


Thanks - so are there any stats where one learns which LACs have majority athletes, vs. those where they are in line with general averages of HS varsity shares?

We had to check, school by school. We narrowed down schools by other factors (location, potential majors, price) before figuring out which ones fit her athletic facilities and % of athlete targets.


If you scroll over and look at the percent of enrollment column in this article I linked before, you can kinda see that:

Among universities, Princeton, Caltech, and Dartmouth are the highest and in the 19-23% range, and of course Caltech is really small, and Princeton and Dartmouth are pretty small (the smallest two Ivies)

Among LACs, you have several in the 30s, more in the mid-high 20s.

Lowest LAC (with a reported figure) was Richmond at 13%. 44 of the 52 universities were below that, some way below.

A lot of this is basically just math. If you want to field a varsity team, you need a certain number of students. If you want to field a bunch of varsity teams, that multiplies out. If you have a small college, this adds up percentage-wise. If you have a large college, less so.

Really the big variable is then which teams a small college decides to offer. More teams, or of the bigger teams (like football) tends to mean a higher percentage.

I note those are just varsity athletes. Club wasn’t included, and just anecdotally, it is a good bet if varsity is 30%+, varsity+club might get you over 50%.

And then there is IM too . . . .

I note a lot of this is mirrored at the HS level. Small high schools can have much higher percentages of varsity athletes than large high schools. Of course that can take resources, so small independent private high schools with a lot of resources can end up really high by these measures, as they are not only fielding the “normal” HS sports like football and such, but also relative niche sports like crew, squash, fencing, and so on.


I am not sure how SLACs stack up against “regular” universities in terms of percentage of athletes, but as a relevant example, at both Kenyon and Denison, about 1/3 of the students are varsity athletes. This happens in part because these schools tend to have a lot of teams. Denison has 24 varsity teams, the most well-known probably being the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams. Those teams win national championships, and it’s a source of pride for the school, but it’s a different kind of sports culture than one focused on football and tailgate parties.