The Only College Fencing Recruiting Thread You Need to Read

POST 1 of 15:
I’m posting this on behalf of sherpa, superdomestique, and BrooklynRye (just in time for the start of the 2016-17 college fencing recruiting season!)…

Google “College Fencing Recruiting” or some variant of that phrase and you’ll be rewarded with a wealth of information (and quite possibly a link to this thread). For the average student or parents looking to get either a snapshot/overview or perhaps an answer to a specific question — it can be a daunting task to sort through all the available info.

In an effort to consolidate some of the information in a single place — and to vet and preserve it for future reference, a few of the more experienced fencing parents on the forum got together to develop this new thread. All have successfully shepherded at least one child into a top fencing program at a selective college/university.

If you are truly new to the process, this article by longtime Northwestern University fencing coach Laurie Schiller is a great overview, including some insights on when to do what:

“College Recruiting Decoded”

The article originally appeared in USA Fencing’s “American Fencer” magazine, and the link goes to an archived scan that was hosted by Z Fencing Los Angeles.

Another good primer is this 2014 article from (authored by Gerhard Guevarra):

“Fencing in College — How to Get on an NCAA Fencing Team”

One nice thing about this article is that has a relatively updated/accurate list of the various college fencing programs (though not broken into Div I, Div II, and Div III categories, the lists do include links) as well as a list of schools that have club programs.

And finally (for now), here’s a link to the Wikipedia list of NCAA programs:

If you are a freshman or sophomore in high school (or the parent of one) and are just getting started thinking about possibly fencing in college, these articles are pretty much required reading — and may answer many of the more basic questions you have about the process.

POST 2 of 15:
If you’ve made it to this post, we’re going to assume you have read the articles shared upstream and have a basic understanding of the process.

So here is a list of many of the fencing-related threads on College Confidential, along with a summary of each (in mostly chronological order):
Started October 2010 — TOPIC: Junior Saber Fencer asks for guidance/“Chance Me” type info
Started March 2011 — TOPIC: A “Chance Me” type thread
Started May 2011 — TOPIC: Chances for a strong academics/test scores, unranked fencer (very short thread)
Started January 2012 — TOPIC: Strong Fencer/Strong Academics…but still have questions
Started July 2012 — TOPIC: A general fencing recruiting thread started by sherpa
Started August 2012 — TOPIC: Understanding televised fencing (Olympics)
Started September 2012 — TOPIC: Is 11 years-old too late to start fencing/Is fencing “a good route to Ivy League schools”
Started September 2014 — TOPIC: “How much pull do coaches have in admissions process”
Started December 2014 — TOPIC: Another “Chance Me” type thread
Started May 2010 — TOPIC: The thread that launched this one. Arguably the most robust thread on CC (and possibly the internet), but at 29 pages and over 400 posts, a lot to sort through. Only the most committed will have the drive to get through it all, plus there are many tangents.

POST 3 of 15:
For the next few posts, we’ll look at some replies to various posts on the most active college fencing thread — exchanges we think will be the most helpful to the greatest range of people. SOME OF THE POSTS HAVE BEEN UPDATED AND EDITED FOR CLARITY.

In September 2010, a poster named anxiousfail wrote the following:
“I am a female. I fence foil and epee, but unrated in both. I’ve started fencing in sophomore year, hiatus for months (from September 2009 to Jan 2010), then started back last February.
My grades are mediocre, sad to say. My weighted GPA is 3.51. My ACT score, with writing, is a 24.”

Here is sherpa’s reply:
I applaud your desire to fence in college. Fencing in college can give you an instant group of friends, and it helps keep you healthy and sane.

There are only about 40 colleges with NCAA fencing, most of which are highly selective, and there are also a fair number of schools with club fencing. Club fencing at any given college will come and go depending on the level of interest of the students there and funding is always an issue. I’d recommend trying to attend a school with an NCAA team, if you are truly interested in fencing in college.

I’d advise you not to worry about Division 1, 2, and 3 designations. There are Div 1 teams where you would fit in fine and Div 3 teams where the fencing would probably be over your head. In some geographical areas it is common for Div 1 and Div 3 teams to compete against each other.

The goal for any aspiring collegiate fencer should be to identify schools that are both academic and athletic fits. I think I can help you here. Recently I put together a spreadsheet with all of the colleges with NCAA fencing, and ranked the colleges by selectivity using test score data, acceptance rates, and % of students in the top 10% of their HS class. Some of the schools are too selective for an applicant with a 3.5 weighted GPA and a 24 ACT, and some of the fencing teams will be too strong for an unrated, unranked fencer to fit in.

Here is a list of colleges with fencing that you might want to check into. Any of these is probably within your realistic academic acceptance range, but in some cases possibly only with a little help from the coach.

Division 1:

  • Ohio State, you’d need to get in on your own, team is extremely strong, probably too strong for your comfort.
  • Penn State, same thing as Ohio State
  • St. John’s, pretty easy to get in, very strong team
  • NJ Institute of Technology, I know nothing
  • University of Detroit Mercy, I know nothing
  • Temple, women’s team only
  • Sacred Heart
  • Farleigh Dickinson

Division 2:

  • Queens College

Division 3:

  • NYU, a bit reachy for you, coach might help but I‘d be surprised
  • Stevens Institute of Technology, they have some strong names on roster as well as some unrated fencers.
  • Hunter College
  • Drew

I don’t know much about any of these colleges, but I’m sure there are several on this list where you would be happy.

You might want to start by doing a little research on each of these schools and their fencing programs, filling out the athlete questionnaires on their websites, and maybe calling a few of the coaches to see what they have to say. If you can’t find a link to the fencing team on a college’s website, google the school name and “fencing” to find the athletic website. For example, “Temple fencing” took me to the Temple athletic site, from which I easily found the fencing section.

I hope this helps. Feel free to ask more questions here or by PM, but I’d prefer here, so any other potential collegiate fencers can learn from your experience.

POST 4 of 15:
More from sherpa, answering additional questions from anxiousfail:

“Could you shed some more light on tufts, brandeis, wellesley, vassar, hunter college, temple, and BU’s fencing club?”

I don’t know much about any of those programs, but based on their acceptance rates and the scores of their admitted applicants, I’d think that Tufts, Brandeis, Vassar, and Wellesley are going to be pretty reachy for you, and I doubt any of their coaches would offer much help to a “U”. Hunter and Temple seem more in line with your stats.

“Would it be advisable to fill out the recruit questionnaires even when I’m not rated?”
I’ve found that those questionnaires are often ignored by the coaches. I think it might be better to phone the coaches at your target schools and try to engage them in a conversation about their program and how you might fit in and if they might help you with admissions.

Another thing you could do to get a feel for the skill levels of the different teams is to look at their rosters and then try to get a little insight into their fencers’ USFA ratings and past results.

The rosters are on their websites, and it is fairly easy to find ratings and past results at FRED: Fencing Tournament Info :: Home Just scroll over the pull down menu under “Results” and click on “Results Search”. Then you can type in the fencers’ names from the college rosters and, in most cases, you will find links to their past results and their USFA ratings as of the date of any given tournament. ASKFRED is very widely used and pretty comprehensive, so it should give you a pretty good glimpse into the strength of any college team.

Also from sherpa:
Fencing recruiting isn’t aggressive at all. I heard it put this way: “You have to recruit yourself.”

One fairly highly ranked USFA fencer told me he expected to be bombarded by interested coaches on or around July 1 after junior year, but only heard from one, even though he’d filled out the online questionnaires and sent athletic/academic resumes to a lot of coaches.

You need to be proactive.

POST 5 of 15:
superdomestique wrote a great recap of the experience his son had going through the process. His son is a more experienced and accomplished fencer than anxiousfail (the poster that sherpa was reacting to in the previous posts), fairly high up on the NRPS list but not a Cadet/Junior team member. Another good thing to point out is that superdomestique’s son had ZERO international experience (which answers the “do you need to have international fencing experience to be considered by top college fencing programs?”).

Our son has recently completed his college fencing recruitment odyssey and the process is very fresh in our minds….

It is important to be aware that the road from Y14 to college fencing is a long one. With the onset of adolescence and the impending transition to high school, it can be a challenging period for a 14-year old. It is important that fencing stays fun and enjoyable. Emphasizing its possible college admissions benefits at too early an age may add more pressure than motivation to a young person.

While great fencing results are important, for the academically elite schools (Ivies/Stanford/Duke), it is equally important to have excellent grades/test scores. Most of the coaches at these schools are not willing to invest time in recruiting young fencers (or talking to their parents) unless there is real evidence that the fencer will be academically viable from an admissions standpoint. At Y14 there just aren’t any real academic data points that will be relevant when the recruiting process actually begins.

Looking back at the process, the best advice we received was the following:

1. Be a great student and take the most academically rigorous program that your high school offers.

2. If #1 can be accomplished, strive to be in the top 32 of the Junior National Points List (JNPL) in your respective weapon by the end of Summer Nationals prior to your senior year.

If you can achieve #1 AND #2, you will be in a strong position to be recruited by an academically-elite college fencing program.

My rationale for this statement is as follows: Of the top 32 fencers (in each weapon/for each gender) on the JNPL, about half of these fencers will already be in college, generally at top fencing programs. Of those who are not already in college, about half will not be academically viable for the academically-elite universities. The top fencers who do not have the best grades will end up at ND, PSU, OSU, StJ, etc. (this is not a criticism or judgment, just what has historically happened).

This will leave the approximately 8 fencers (per weapon/per gender) in a very good position to be recruited at the academically-elite schools. In any given year, each school’s specific needs in each weapon will vary, but the fencers in this pool will likely have multiple/enviable choices. Fortunately, the aggregate needs of college fencing programs in any given year will go beyond the fencers available in this pool so most serious high school fencers who want to continue fencing in college will probably be able to do so somewhere.

It is worth noting that my comments are from the parent of a fencer who did not have any meaningful Y14 results. Our son was an okay Y14 fencer, who also played soccer seriously. After disappointing national fencing results during the fall of his sophomore year (splitting his time between fencing and varsity soccer), he dedicated himself to fencing in January of his sophomore year (changing coaches/joining a more serious club). This renewed focus paid off. He began to get top 32 finishes in both Cadet and Junior NACs with a few podium results in the two Summer Nationals leading up to his senior year. By the end of last year’s Summer Nationals he was comfortably in the top 32 in the JNPL.

While my son had introduced himself via email to the majority of the college coaches during his junior year, very few coaches wrote him back (even fewer responded to emails from his parents). The few that did, replied to his question about fencing internationally in his junior year (all recommended against going if it would harm his grades). As his fencing results improved, he would send updates on his progress to the coaches and most of his correspondences did not receive responses.

He met many of the college coaches for the first time the day following his last competition at last year’s Summer Nationals (which was the first day the NCAA permits direct contact between coaches and rising seniors). It was only at these meetings (late June) that we had the complete set of academic information that the coaches wanted to see (junior year grades/transcripts, AP scores, SAT/SATII scores, etc.). All of the coaches acknowledged receiving his emails, but were most interested in his one-page resume he brought to the meeting highlighting his best fencing results and detailing his academic records. The bulk of the SN conversations focused on his academic viability and the pre-read process.

The combination of his fencing results for the most recent two years and his academic accomplishments throughout high school resulted in a heavy recruitment; unofficial campus visits in July (6 schools), positive pre-reads by admissions officers in August, and offers of Likely Letters in September. At the end of this process, our son received a Likely Letter from his first choice Ivy in October and ended up only applying only to that school.

I guess this is a long way of saying that it matters more where you are at the end, rather than where you are at the beginning…good luck to all and try to pace yourselves.

POST 6 of 15
Poster arwarw wrote the following “During the college application process how did you guys handle communication between your club coach and the college coaches. Was it a supplemental letter of recommendation attached to the common application or informal communication (emails, phone calls etc…)or both?”

superdomestique replied:
Ours was very informal. There were never any formal or written recommendations from our club coaches to the college coaches or their admissions committees.

During our son’s junior year, after he had some initial success (top 32 finishes in JO/NACs) with the new club, we met with the head coach of our club to discuss potential colleges.

We are very fortunate that our club is well-known and our coaches (both head and assistant) have outstanding reputations in the fencing community. As a consequence, they have positive relationships with all the college coaches and know both the strengths and weaknesses of all the programs. Most importantly, they were aware of which programs/coaches have influence in admissions and which do not.

Our club coach’s primary concern was with our son’s grades/scores as they felt he could fence at any academically-elite program he wanted to the degree his academic record permitted.

Given our son’s interest in fencing in college, his list included the academically-elite fencing powerhouses (HYP/Stanford/Duke), as well as the academically-elite D3 programs (JHU/Haverford/MIT). My wife and I wanted him to consider some academically-elite schools without fencing programs just in case, but no one listened to us.

In our conversation with his coaches, our son listed his college preferences and we were fortunate that his first choice happened to be the academically-elite school that our club has sent 3 fencers in the last 4 years. Our coach said he would make a call, but it was more likely he would see this coach and others at an international event in the near future so he would better be able to discuss our son’s viability at that time. As mentioned in my previous posts, my son did not fence internationally, however his club coaches have active WC schedules, so they crossed paths with other coaches regularly.

Several weeks passed, but the month before SN, our coach told us to try to make appointments with the college coaches at SN in Columbus to talk after our son’s events at SN were completed. We were able to make appointments with all but one of the coaches. This one coach (at an Ivy powerhouse) said it didn’t make sense to meet as he only needed one fencer in our weapon and he already knew who he was going to take. While disappointed, we appreciated his candor.

At SN, we were fortunate that our son had two podium finishes, confirming our club coach’s support of our son’s college potential. All of our post-SN meetings went as well as could be expected and we were grateful to our club coaches in paving the way for these meetings.

As we were leaving SN (we were at the gate at the airport) our club coach called us to say that the college coach who did not meet with us called him directly to express his interest in our son as a recruit. While we do not know exactly what happened, it appears his first choice committed to another program at SN, so our son was now being considered for that single position (a real Maverick & Goose/Top Gun moment!).

That college coach did not have our contact info, so he called our club coach directly to get us the message that he wanted to recruit our son before we made any decisions. While we were not able to meet with that college coach in Columbus, we did eventually visit that program the following month and that school was on our short list when made our final decision in August.

I guess the reason I bring all this up is that anything can happen and good communication between your club coach and the college coaches can be very helpful.

POST 7 of 15:
More from superdomestique:

For the HS fencer (with little national points recognition) who has to/intends on being a walk-on in college, it is in their best interest to find the college coaches who have little pull with admissions (i.e. MIT), or that are not given all the recruiting spots they want (i.e. Brown). These coaches are historically not getting all the recruits they want and have to hope for experienced walk-ons to fill their rosters.

With regards to etiquette approaching college coaches at NACs, there is a fine balance and a perhaps a back door.

In our experience, the college coaches are watched/stalked by many hopeful parents at NACs and it must be tough to be polite to every stranger that interrupts you while you are doing your job (which usually is coaching their college’s fencers).

When our son was a sophomore and his fencing results were unheralded, at NACs I tried to introduce myself to all the coaches from the academically-elite schools. Despite all my efforts, most of these coaches could not be less interested in meeting me or hearing about my son. Most would cite the NCAA rules and kept their distance and avoided all eye contact at future events. It was very frustrating and looking back, quite unnecessary.

Frankly, unless you are making the podium at NACs, you do not need to introduce yourself to coaches at the academically-elite schools when your kid is a sophomore. At that time in your fencer’s life, they also have not completed any academic milestones (test scores) that would make having a detailed conversation worth a college coach’s time anyway.

I withstood the indignities of having my friendly waves and attempts at eye contact almost entirely ignored well into junior year. However, as my son’s fencing results improved and his academic milestones become available (which my son emailed to the coaches as they occurred) the icy reception didn’t seem as bad as in sophomore year. While the kids/families with better fencing results always seemed to experience a warmer reception than we did, that could have been my imagination.

In hindsight, I realize for the academically elite schools, their cup runneth over with HS fencers who have world/national class results, however the HS seniors who have the strong academic records to get past an admissions preread AND have notable results are very rare.

Once there was solid evidence of academic viability (which really doesn’t happen until full junior grades are out), there is a politeness and respect that makes it seem silly to even approach these coaches before this information is available.

All this being said, there is a backdoor (sort of) to gauge your fencer’s recruitability. If your club/HS coach has a strong reputation and/or good relationships in the fencing world, they can/may be able to make your fencer’s case or get feedback on their viability in a more timely and more courteous manner.

While most club/HS coaches will not know the nuances of SAT scores, class rank, AI etc. they will be able to ask about what a college coach is looking for in a fencer, or what their current roster weak spots are. At the end of the day, this is what you really want to know.

POST 8 of 15:
sherpa offers the following commentary on some of superdomestique’s points:

“While the kids/families with better fencing results always seemed to experience a warmer reception than we did, that could have been my imagination.”

It wasn’t your imagination. There are definitely nods and smiles, and lots of “top 8” bouts that are carefully watched followed by subtle and not so subtle positive feedback, both indirectly through a club coach, but often semi-directly, to a parent. Direct contact with the fencer is usually very limited.

“While most club/HS coaches will not know the nuances of SAT scores, class rank, AI etc. they will be able to ask about what a college coach is looking for in a fencer, or what their current roster weak spots are. At the end of the day, this is what you really want to know.”

This is so true! It amazes me how much misinformation about college admissions I’ve heard from (successful) club coaches. They may know fencing, but the odds a successful club coach “knows” admissions is surprisingly low.

One other thing to keep in mind is that, while a college coach can’t have these discussions at an event, they are free, and often happy, to speak at great length to a student or parent by phone, so long as the coach doesn’t initiate the call.

More from sherpa:
For another data point I’ll relate my son’s timetable. As background, he had a very strong AI and had been consistently highly ranked in cadet, junior, and senior.

Junior year he (and I) made unofficial visits to Princeton, UPenn, Columbia, Brown, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Haverford, and maybe one or two more. Every coach knew that, with their support, DS would fly through admissions. Ours were exploratory visits; DS wasn’t ready to commit and wasn’t seeking offers. Still, coaches at four of the eight schools I’ve listed explicitly offered support and two others, while less explicit, were extremely supportive and encouraged us to keep in touch. The only two schools where support was unclear were Yale, where the coach was relatively non-communicative and Harvard, which we visited but didn’t meet with the coach because he had erroneously told us that NCAA rules precluded us from meeting on campus.

We wondered if the Harvard coach’s unwillingness to meet had been a sign of disinterest or an honest misunderstanding of NCAA rules. We suspected the former (though this made little sense considering son’s AI and ranking), but later learned that it was apparently the latter when the coach reached out to recruit him after SN. After (as opposed to during) SN may seem strange, but son skipped SN that year for an academic activity. Later still my belief that the Harvard coach had misunderstood NCAA recruiting rules was confirmed through PMs on CC from recruits who had heard the same thing from him.

For another anecdote, as a student at Princeton my son once hosted a top prospect for an official visit. This prospect was clearly that year’s number one recruit in his weapon but, there he was, in the fall of his senior year of HS, not yet having committed to any college. As I recall he made OVs at most if not all of HYPS before finally making his choice.

I believe that it is not uncommon for mutual commitments to be made well before SN but I also believe that this is neither the rule or the exception. Another question is how strong these commitments truly are. My guess is that most hold, but the athlete might have a change of heart, receive a better offer, or suffer an injury. A coach with limited slots might happen upon a better prospect. Or there could be a coaching change, at which point the prospect might follow the coach, or ???

As for my son, he didn’t commit to Princeton’s coach until August or September of his senior year, and had a likely letter in October.

My advice to any potential recruit is the same. Make unofficial visits junior year and, once you’re sure you know where you’d like to go, try to secure a commitment from the coach. I wouldn’t assume that all positions are filled by SN; it’s more like a game of musical chairs where the last slots are available into the fall. More than anything, it’s important to understand where you truly stand and to maintain open and honest communicating with the coaches. Good luck to all!

POST 9 of 15:
Poster Thibault shared this perspective on getting into Ivies:

The odds of getting into HYP/C are better for A) an academically outstanding student who’s an OK-to-very good fencer than for B) an outstanding fencer who’s a good but not outstanding student.

BrooklynRye, whose child was a former national team member, offers a perspective for fencers/parents of fencers at or near the top of the NRPS lists:

As a practical matter most if not all of the top recruits in each gender and weapon have already met with coaches at their top choices. In fact, a chosen few (as indicated above) may have even ‘committed’ to the college of their choice.

While rule of thumb is no official contact prior to July 1 after the athlete’s junior year in high school, there is nothing that stops the fencer from initiating the contact, including an unofficial campus visit.

Other than so-called dead-periods, e.g., in late November, a coach can meet with the athlete and even with his/her parents, on-campus and discuss pretty much everything. Depending on your son’s relative position on the recruitment ladder for his year and weapon, you will have greater or lesser success at setting up these meetings. Post-JOs a lot of coaches have downtime and are willing to meet with visiting fencers. After last year’s JOs we were able to meet with coaches at a couple of the Ivies as well as at some of the “big box” schools including UND and OSU. The more desirable a recruit, the more urgency there will be from coaches to commit. Most will certainly want to know before SNs, probably in March-April. Some, those with tighter rosters, may even want a commitment earlier. Good luck!

superdomestique offers a few examples of how things don’t always work out this way (edited for clarity):

I think commitments before SN are unusual…additionally any “commitment” made by either a coach or a fencer before July 1st before the high school student’s senior year is not binding on either party.

This is an important distinction as these non-binding commitments may serve as distracting “noise” to an already opaque recruiting process. For many families who follow this informative CC thread it is important to separate the noise from the realities of the process and I would not want any college fencing aspirants to be discouraged from fully participating in the process and/or having the opportunity to put their best foot forward because the noise because too loud — meaning they assume they have no chance at the top schools because the slots are already filled.

I can think of two examples of the inherent dangers of listening to this noise. Leading up to my son’s recruitment year, during the period between JOs and SN, there were two fencers who were ranked higher on the JPL whose pre-SN college “commitments” were openly discussed.

The first example was the top fencer in our weapon, and was widely expected to attend a most prestigious Ivy powerhouse. When my son emailed the coach of this program to schedule a SN meeting he was told by the coach that “I already know who we are going to take, so it would be a waste of everyone’s time to meet at SN.” While disappointed, my son expanded the universe of schools he was interested in, but continued to update this coach with his grades, scores and fencing results.

At SN, my son did not meet with this coach, however, the top fencer whom this coach wanted, to everyone’s surprise, announced his commitment to another Ivy powerhouse (thankfully to a school my son was not considering). We were fortunate that our son had diligently kept this coach apprised of his interest, and perhaps more importantly his improving grades/scores/results, so he was then aggressively-recruited and was ultimately offered a LL by this program.

In the end, our son accepted a LL from a different program, however, the lesson we learned was: regardless of all the “noise”, it’s not over until it is over for both the fencer and the school until binding commitments can actually be made.

My best advice: Keep plugging away and leave all options open until everything is official and final.

The second example was a top-10 fencer who made it known well before SN that he had “committed” to a 2nd tier Ivy. While my son had initiated correspondence with this coach during junior year, he did not meet with the coach at SN, partially because we had heard the recruited position in our weapon had been filled. However, in late September of senior year (a few days after SAT results came out) the coach of this program called our son to offer him a recruited position on the team. At that point, we had already decided on another program, but we later learned that the fencer who “committed” before SN did not pass the pre-read and could not be recruited at that Ivy. He ultimately matriculated at a non-academically elite fencing powerhouse.

Examples like those described above happen every year. It is worth noting that while we did not meet with the above-mentioned Ivy coaches at SN, we tried to meet with all the coaches of academically-elite programs at SN because nothing is certain until your academic record is complete (full junior year grades are published). One surprise can upset the whole recruiting universe, so it is important to keep all your options open and lines of communication clear with all the coaches.

As a data point, my son received 4 LL offers (the 2nd example above would have been the 5th) and was given strong encouragement to apply Early from the two other academically-elite fencing programs. He verbally committed to his first choice Ivy program in mid-August after the pre-read was official (and informed all the other programs of his decision), submitted his application on September 15th and we sweated it out until the actual LL was received on October 1st.

In our experience, you do not have to have extensive contact with college coaches or a lot of school visits before July 1st to successfully participate in the college recruiting process.

Quite frankly, our son had a slow start in the sport (he was still splitting his time between fencing and soccer thru sophomore year) and we were not sure if he was recruitable in fencing. As a consequence, we had a late start in the overall recruiting process. We had only taken one unofficial visit before SN, so July was a bit of a whirlwind.

In summary, at the academically elite fencing programs, binding recruitment commitments cannot be made until the pre-read has been successfully completed, and a student’s academic file is not complete until full junior year grades/scores are available (which is generally around the time SN begins in late June). The college fencing recruitment process is long, stressful and can be noisy. Try to ignore all the noise, stay focused on the process, and what is best/possible for your fencer.

POST 10 of 15:
More from BrooklynRye (again, from the perspective of a parent of a former national team member):

There are as many experiences with this process as there are athletes. One of the reasons why I inquired of arwarw as to the level of her son’s fencing is because, despite what superdomestique writes, commitments before SN are fairly common.

Now what I mean by “commitments” is clearly not a binding contract. Up until a student is accepted to the college, either party may change course. However, speaking from personal experience, starting in August and running through Junior Olympics into Worlds, more than a dozen of my son’s peers had made non-binding commitments to their top choices and every single one of them ended up at his/her respective school. Again, these are not binding commitments until the ink is dry on the acceptance letter, but when it comes to the very top recruits, they can often pick their spot, have a handshake deal with the coach, and usually the deal closes. I say this not as a matter of opinion but of documented fact.

You are correct that allowing the “noise” of unsubstantiated commitments can distract an athlete and his/her parents from continuing to target properly. Because, even if talk of such commitments is accurate in the sense of an understanding between a coach and an athlete, they are not binding, there may always be a last minute change of plans and thus an opening for the enterprising runner-up. But not being distracted by “noise” is different than being unrealistic about one’s chances of recruitment. It does not take a rocket scientist to lay out the projected rosters at the major fencing programs around the country, match that up against the current recruitment class, and have a sense of who may need/want/take who and of who may go where. Yes, there’s a bit of guesswork involved, but fencing is such an intimate sport, those in the upper echelons of recruiting are more than a little privy to information and intentions.

I cannot speak for the relative number of recruiting decisions that are made before or after Summer Nationals, but I know it is not as cut and dried as “all” or even the majority of decisions post-SN. As I said, the top recruits in each weapon and gender will have communicated with the top programs as early as the summer prior to their junior year in high school. Many of them will have non-binding understandings with the coaches.

You very rarely see a top recruit running around the convention center at SN having interview sessions. Rather, you see the 2nd and 3rd tier at tables and couches all over the venue trying to squeak out remaining recruitment slots or at least a spot on the team assuming academic admissions.

Yes, July 1st (or earlier depending on confirmation of high school senior status) is the date after which the gloves are off and everyone is talking to everyone. But please believe me when I tell you that most of the top recruits are done. Non-binding or not when these deals are made, they are done, and most of them will matriculate at the school with which they made their deal.

By all means stay the course. If your child is exceptionally intelligent and fortunate, he or she may get in to their school of choice on their own, non-recruited merit, and may well compete on the school’s fencing team. There is no reason to throw in one’s cards until the final hand is played. Just be realistic.

What superdomestique describes with last minute changes does indeed occur. I would argue that it is rare, but any such occurrence provides that one opening your child may need to land his/her desired spot. Even in a year in which there are a disproportionate number of early commitments, there can be cases in which a fencer changed his/her mind, leaving room for someone else.

In keeping with superdomestique’s data sharing (much appreciated), my son received LL/commitment offers from 8 DV1 fencing programs. He met with the coach at his first choice school (unofficial visit) in the fall of his junior year. He met with many other coaches dating from as early as July prior to his junior year through just after JOs. He met with no coaches after February of his junior year. He exchanged verbal commitments with the coach at his first choice in March of his junior year (the pre-read was expedited to accommodate the early commitment). He applied ED in September, received his LL in October and was officially accepted in December. Yes, any student (not just recruits) can be bounced for illegality, misconduct or an academic meltdown during senior year. I say unlikely if only judging by the high-functioning demographic most unique to the fencing community. Possible? Yes. Likely, not even close.

It is important to differentiate between the top-tier recruits and those essentially waiting for those dominos to fall before finding their own slot. If you are in that lower tier then, yes, it may not matter how often you visit or how much contact you have. I would advise showing interest, including a visit if it is not too burdensome. Coaches want to know of your interest even if you are not their top choice. You may also be appealing to them based on your academics (see standardized test averages and balancing at NCAA schools). I would not deny my child the process, even if he was not a top recruit, however unrealistic. But as the parent, I would always try not to fantasize too much.

POST 11 of 15:
A bit of a coda from superdomestique:

I think BrooklynRye’s general comments offer a rarefied insight into what can happen at the highest levels and I congratulate him on his son’s success.

While we did not experience it, I have learned the practice of early recruitment and/or non-binding commitment does happen and may be common practice for cadet and junior national or world #1s or legitimate Olympic hopefuls. BrooklynRye and I have some disagreement on this, however, as I feel early recruitment is rare and happens only in the most special cases. For those of us not in this rare classification of fencers (human Unicorns if you will) let me assure you that successful recruiting at the highest levels can, does, and often happens after July 1st.

It is worth noting that all the coaches at the academically-elite schools told us that in our weapon, top fencers with top academics were much more rare than top fencers in the other weapons. Apparently, there are some years where no academically-qualified candidates are available, so the competition for fencers in our weapon with top academics can be really fierce. My son’s academic record was pretty solid and his SN performance was his best to-date (2 podium finishes), so perhaps this is why, despite no early commitment offers, our recruiting experience went so quickly and successfully after SN.

While it is not clear if my son took someone else’s non-binding spot, we are extremely grateful that the coaches we met with at SN had not made any early commitments to other fencers in our weapon. As a data point, of the four LLs my son was offered (in July), the three programs that he did not pursue did not take another fencer in our weapon in the EA/ED round.

While I am now aware that ultra-early, non-binding recruiting does happen, I would offer that the overlap between this universe and the universe of post-July 1st binding commitments is not 100%, and that one does not have to enjoy early, non-binding commitment to be considered a recruitable fencer at the LL/NLI level.

I think that while BrooklynRye’s and my experiences were very different, what we are saying is not that far apart. Our main difference seems to be how much a fencer and their family can/should rely on a commitment that is still non-binding.

For those who have enjoyed ultra-early, non-binding commitments, I wonder when these fencers and their families feel comfortable telling other coaches, programs, and/or peers that that have decided on a given program? Personally, we found it difficult to “go public” with any admissions information until the LL was in our son’s hands. Perhaps we are the exception, but we fully acknowledge how crazy/competitive the admission process is at the top schools. I am not sure if my son were a significantly better fencer would have made us confident enough to share our news any earlier.

POST 12 of 15:
A reply from BrooklynRye:

I think discussions such as this are good for all to gain various perspectives, none of which is less valid than another. What you say about staying the course to possibly break a tie with a stronger academic record is a very important concept. Less competitive Ivies, e.g., Brown and Yale, as well as Stanford, and to a certain extent Duke, put academics substantially ahead of athletic accomplishments. I have heard of more competitive programs extending all manner of accommodation to desirable athletic recruits to compensate for academic records not quite in line with the school’s general requirements. There are limits, but a lot of leeway as well.

From our respective experiences I think it is clear that to each his/her experience is unique and that there can be a tendency to view such experience as “the norm.” In my case, as the parent of a highly-recruited fencer, there were seemingly no holds barred in the outreach from all of the major DV1 fencing programs, the extent to which each was willing to ‘commit’ (recognizing the limits of such early promises), and the degree to which there were perks that can be offered to entice top recruits to commit.

Yes, this does indeed happen. From both my personal experience as well as from what common sense tells me, I believe that each year there is a depth chart of roughly 4 top fencers in each gender and weapon. These become the early and primary targets for schools looking to recruit in those genders and weapons. Some years are clearly stronger than others in any given gender and weapon. While there are probably top fencers who wait until late in the game, I would argue that this is rare (at least as far as those top 4 in each gender/weapon), and that most often the more recognizable fencers who wait do so for reasons other than recruitment offers, e.g., for academic or desire-to-go-to-a-specific-school reasons.

Actually SD, we don’t even disagree on the extent to which a given fencer should rely on early commitments. I think it is the norm for the elite and should be taken with a grain of salt, if given at all, by any fencer outside of that rarified group. While there are occasional rumors of fencers ‘promised’ slots who were then rejected by the school, I often find these to be unfounded or, when investigated, based on a factor outside the control of the committing coach, e.g., academic issues.

As far as going public, I abide by the age-old adage that a true secret is something you share with no one. Once a second party knows the information the possibility now exists for others to find out. In any case, I think it is a personal matter. One fencing family told of their fencer’s commitment in the late summer of the fencers SOPHOMORE year in high school! Others wait until the last minute, at least until the LL is received. In any case, as I noted earlier, in a community as small and intimate as fencing, most people, at least in a given gender/weapon group, have a strong sense of where at least the top fencers are going. As an aside-hobby, by breaking down the rosters of the major DV1 fencing programs and cross-referencing those ‘needs’ with the current recruiting class, and injecting my personal knowledge of families and fencers, I have been extremely accurate in predicting where the top fencers in my son’s weapon (as well with respect to his female counterparts) land. In fact, in my son’s recruiting year I was 100% correct.

As far as the competitive side, I am leery to attribute too much power to people to affect the recruiting process with knowledge of someone’s early commitment. I know that this is a factor and fear of many of the more reticent parents, but I’m not so sure. On the other hand, I believe that when coaches get wind of a fencer committing elsewhere it can definitely poison the soup and, unfortunately, sometimes this wind is blown by the parent of a fencer competing for recruiting slots. This actually happened to us (the parent actually confessed to doing this) and, as it turned out, there was more than one parent who did the same thing.

In keeping with SD’s sharing, I personally think that it is unethical and inconsiderate (for the reasons SD cites) to make more than one commit. Although technically “non-binding” if the fencer truly wants to go and the coach truly wants him/her, then the parties at least intend to follow through. Committing elsewhere in such cases is a breach of trust and in bad faith. It is also inconsiderate to other fencers who may have truly made one of the offending fencer’s secondary choices their first.

I guess, once again, it depends on your relative security in your recruiting position. For the rarified few, they probably feel at little risk of being screwed over by a coach. But for the large majority, positive words, even of the most flattering kind, should probably not be enough to suspend the search. There are coaches, well meaning, kind and smart, who are known to be great schmoozers. Many a fencer has gone down the primrose path of reassurances and a sense of commitment only to find they are out in the end.

Interesting contrast. Of the top 12 HS seniors in our weapon, 10 committed and were accepted ED/EA to top DV1 programs/schools. 1 fencer applied RD. The remaining fencer, by rumor only, is SD’s cautionary tale of counting on reassurances of a place only to be rejected by the school. You can see, SD, from whence my take on early commitments stems. In the case of the RD applicant, note that this was solely due to academic issues, not a lack of desire on the part of either the fencer or the school in question to commit. However, to SD’s points, the 1 unfortunate anomaly should act as a big caution sign to parents and fencers.

This is a great group discussion which I hope gives much information and food for thought to the general community of parents with kids looking to fence in college. I too hope we get some feedback as to the helpfulness (or lack thereof) of our posts).

POST 13 of 15:
More from superdomestique:

The discussion of the recruitment of the very top fencers reminds me of an old Steve Martin bit:

“How to be a millionaire and not pay taxes…first, get a million dollar, then….”

Of course if you are a consistent NAC, WC, Olympic multi-medalist, have a (gross) top 5 ranking on the JNPS and have an AI close to 240, there is little on this thread or CC in general that can add to this level of fencer’s recruitment toolbox.

Readers of this thread are fortunate that many different perspectives have been represented and I think for the general reader the takeaway should be that there are some basic college recruiting fundamentals that all fencers and their families should know about. While the pursuit of fencing superstardom is a worthwhile path for some, it is not the only way to enjoy intercollegiate fencing in after high school.

I stand by my initial postings with regards to my best advice to fencers and their families to approach the college recruitment process.

As those of have been following my postings are aware, my son was not a #1 national or world fencer and did not have a perfect AI, but his fencing accomplishments and academic record were strong enough to be considered by all the academically-elite programs.

To be honest, I believe much of the success our son enjoyed as a recruit was a product of the depth of our understanding of the recruitment process. Not being discouraged when coaches do not acknowledge your correspondence, continuing to regularly update everyone his academic and fencing improvements (when no one seems to care), and most importantly, not listening to the non-binding commitment noise were central to our approach.

In my opinion, there are enough competitive fencing programs that even if all the #1 fencers in a given year go to their top choices, recruitment at elite college programs is still possible if you approach the process with proper focus and discipline.

FWIW, in our recruitment year, a number of the academically-elite programs took non-elite fencers. If you look at the rosters at Yale, Brown, Stanford (and others) there are some names that have no overlap with the top 50 on the JNPL. Additionally, some of the non-academically elite fencing powerhouse schools, exhibit similar phenomena for the larger squads. It is worth noting that some squads that have elite fencers who expect to continue to fence at NAC/WC/Olympic schedules, often need larger rosters, so they will have a complete team to fence the NCAA events. I was surprised at how many top fencers at other schools were not at my son’s NCAA events due to conflicts with NAC and WC events.

With regard to the recent discussion on whether coaches talk to each other, in our experience they do, however, not all the coaches get along, so some talk with each other more than others. During our recruitment year, we followed the “Ivy League Trail” (otherwise known as the Amtrak Northeast Corridor Line) to our unofficial campus visits in July after SN. We started at one end of the Trail and moved down the line. In general, all the meetings went well, however, when we arrived at the final school on the Trail, the coach told us he heard our son had committed to another school (the first school on the Trail). I assured him we hadn’t, but it was really unsettling that these two coaches seemed to be in such close communication. In the end, our son committed to neither of these schools.

I am not sure if any of the programs felt they knew our son’s preferences ahead of time, and quite frankly from an academics standpoint we would have been happy with any of the schools. That being said, there are vast differences between elite college fencing programs and important nuances to be aware of before anyone, from Superstar #1s to Lucky-to-be-there’s, make a final commitment.

Now that our son is in his first year at college, I think fencers and their families also need to be aware that there is a big difference between NCAA fencing and NAC/WC events. The team aspect (and the resulting comradery/support) is really fun compared to the solitude/loneliness of individual competition. One only has to watch the 2016 Ivy Championships to see the different “vibe” of the competitions.

Quite frankly, I think the NCAA style of competition is more fun and possibly healthier than the NAC style. While many fencers continue to fence in NAC and WC type competitions in college, many do not. Elite college programs offer varying degrees of support/flexibility to fencers who want to do both, and it is important to discuss these expectations during the recruitment process.

In any case, I am glad of the recent feedback this thread has generated and hopeful for all of those still in the process. Good luck to all and let us know how things have worked out.

POST 14 of 15:
BrooklynRye, In response to another poster’s question about Notre Dame:

IMHO, UND is a hybrid, between the Ivies and what I refer to as the “big box” schools. Notre Dame is clearly not an Ivy League school. While very highly ranked and respected, it is not in a league with Harvard, Princeton, Yale or Columbia. It is, however, clearly deemed superior academically to other large-recruiting D1 programs such as OSU and PSU. It is also clearly more competitive than its non-Ivy League peers such as Duke and UNC. Purely from a fencing standpoint, UND perennially fields one of the best run and competitive D1 fencing programs in the country. The program features first-rate administration and coaching which is often reflected in Olympic fencers, e.g., Gerek Meinhardt and Lee Kiefer, and Olympic hopefuls. I know that the academic standards are pretty high, but not as high as those for Ivy League schools. As a competitive program, UND will of course target the highest ranked fencers, but the school tends to carry a relatively large squad and will go further down the depth chart to make sure there are plenty of competitive fencers on its squad. Hope this is helpful.

In reply to fenceforthejoy’s inquiry on behalf of a sophomore fencer described thus:
“So let’s say by Junior year November he’s a strong C or B. On the academic side let’s say a 3.3 unweighted GPA and a 27 ACT, this would be consistent with current grades/psat projection. He attends a very competitive Jesuit prep high school and plans to continue with 1 or 2 AP classes a year. He enjoys the Jesuit educational atmosphere and is looking at BC and Detroit Mercy which are Jesuit and Div 1 fencing schools. He also is checking out Sacred Heart and probably others since we are just starting process. He also likes OSU and one of his coaches fenced for OSU in the not that distant past. Based on admission standards and my best guess on the 25/75 stats BC and OSU may be reach schools with Sacred Heart and Detroit Mercy being good fit or safety on the Academic side. Looking for Liberal Arts and not sure major.”

BrooklynRye wrote:
Although I am not a fan of rankings or what I perceive as their out-sized importance, as a strong C or B, your fencer is right in the pocket for the non-HYP DV1 schools on that criterion. However, I think his GPA and ACT scores fall a bit short of the standards for BC. Detroit Mercy and Sacred heart are much better targets. OSU would be at the top of your student’s range and is obviously a much more competitive fencing program. A few touches here and there and, even one fencer short, OSU could be hoisting the 2016 NCAA Championship trophy in Columbus. This said, he is at a strong Jesuit prep school and has a great story. Many schools have specific pathways for students who will be the first in their family to go to college. You should look into these. As economically hardship, your student should almost certainly receive substantial financial aid anywhere he goes. Whether or not he makes an NCAA Championship, most schools will welcome a competitive fencer who is willing to learn and will contribute to even the strongest team. Good luck!

In reply to this post by stencils: “I’ve heard that on strong squads with more than 3 or 4 per gender/weapon, there’s a sense of internal competition within the team to actually get to compete. Perhaps some experienced parents can comment on this?”

BrooklynRye wrote:
I think that most schools try to give as many fencers as possible the opportunity to reach the minimum number of bouts (I think it is 24) necessary to qualify for Regionals. Depending on the level of competition during the regular season, the coach may choose to rotate fencers in order to accumulate the minimum for as many fencers as possible. Most college meets are multi-team, usually including at least 4 teams, so there is plenty of room to accumulate bouts. For perspective, however, it is probably a lot if one team has 4-5 from one gender/one weapon at Regionals, so we are not talking about a lot of slots in any case. Post-Regionals is where it boils down to the maximum of 2 fencers per weapon, per gender that may receive berths to compete in the NCAA National Championship. There are formulaic “power ratings” that factor in seasonal as well as Regionals performance, but it may ultimately come down to the coach’s or even the team’s decision regarding berths.

So directly to your question, if your fencer is joining a squad that is deep in talent in your gender/weapon, the competition will be that much fiercer for a berth to Regionals and even moreso (not quite a real word, but getting there…) to Championships. I actually find this to be a critical question often asked by recruits and their parents. Do I want to be a potential “bench warmer” on very competitive DV1 team or a starter (or even a potential star) on a less competitive team? Ancillary to this question is the straightforward strategy of parlaying national fencing success into a slot at a top school. While being the #1 recruit is great and affords a multitude of offers, top schools, e.g., Yale and Brown, often play 2nd fiddle to the elite schools with more competitive fencing programs, but can afford a great landing place for fencers a bit lower on the recruiting depth chart, but strategic enough to take advantage.

In response to fencingmom1, who asked about when/where/how to contact coaches for her fencer (a high school junior):

BrooklynRye wrote:
Assuming you have had no contact with any coaches and that you do not intend to visit any schools or to meet with any coaches prior to Summer Nationals (SN), I suggest that you send an introductory email to the coach at every school in which your daughter is possibly interested. Clearly, you are sending this to your top choices, but don’t limit yourself. Have a strategy in place that allows you to fall back to schools lower on your list. You can probably afford to pass on “safe” schools for now, but don’t be too-too selective for the time being. In addition to introducing your daughter to each coach, detail her GPA and best board scores. Also include a resume’ showing her extracurricular activities, work experience, and community service. Schools will eventually want official transcripts and score reports but the initial contact will provide them with the basis for proceeding. Express your interest in meeting with each of these coaches at SN. Be prepared to provide days and times during which your daughter will be available, i.e., is not competing. You may also need to arrive earlier and/or stay later to cover all your meetings. There should be at least a representative from each school, if not the actual head coach, at SN. Should a coach indicate that he or she will not be at SN, and that coach is at a top choice, you may want to consider visiting the school and meeting with the coach prior or shortly after SN.

POST 15 of 15:

As their time permits, sherpa, superdomestique, and BrooklynRye will continue to monitor this thread and address questions directly (they also welcome questions via Private Message (PM)…but have patience if they don’t get back to you right away) for the foreseeable future.

However, they do make the following request:

“While we understand the need for discretion for families and fencers who are in the midst of the process, we ask all participants in this thread to be honest and forthright with their questions — especially those on asked on the public side of the forum (like this thread).

Some general guidelines that will help us provide meaningful answers in good faith:

  • Try to post about your own fencer/family’s situation only
  • Try not to post unsubstantiated rumors or misinformation
  • Do not support a position if you have a conflict of interest (or at least disclose the conflict)

A good rule of thumb:
If you want to ask a question, but don’t feel comfortable posting the details publicly (as they might be used to ID student/family/club/coach/college), consider using College Confidential’s Private Message (PM) feature to reach out to sherpa, superdomestique, or BrooklynRye directly."

Thanks for the summary! Makes referring to this information more convenient.

Just returned from SN and trying to digest what went on with my son’s talks with college coaches.

I second @Lvillegrad – a huge thanks to sevendad, sherpa, superdomestique, & brooklynrye. DD just finished at SNs as well.

Came across this link today (while incessantly checking to see if USA Fencing had updated their Cadet and Junior rankings post Summer Nationals):

It’s a version of the Laurie Schiller article posted above…“updated June 2016” according to PDF.

@SevenDad I am so impressed by your effort. This is what I am looking for. Thanks so much.

Two quick notes (especially for women fencers/parents of women fencers):