#College Essays and Applications

Guest post by Matthew Gnall

The Athletic Advantage

Forced to transparency by the SFFA lawsuit, Harvard revealed in a report from the University’s Office of Internal Research that recruited athletes with an academic rating of 1 or 2 (the two highest scores on a scale of 1 to 6) were accepted at a rate of 83%, in comparison to 16% for non-athletes of the same ratings.

Even more telling was an analysis conducted by Duke University professor Peter S. Arcidiacono that revealed athletes with a rating of 4 were admitted at a rate of 70.46%- astronomically higher than the 0.076% success rate of non-athletes 4’s.

While the ramifications of these statistical trends for the generally excellent high school students applying to schools with acceptance rates below 10% are bleak, athletic excellence will continue to open the doors of esteemed learning to those wishing to pursue a true student-athlete experience of the highest level.

Upfront Conversations

With all of this said, one of the first things I tell a family in our initial meeting is that being open to a wide range of schools is so incredibly important at the beginning of the search. As crucial is getting an accurate assessment of what you are capable of achieving in this process. Use your high school or club coach as a resource. An initial evaluation from a consultant like myself or a recruiting identification camp could yield a beginning understanding of what may be possible in your athletic career.

  • Are you clearly a high level Division I recruit with a long list of possible suitors?
  • Are you capable of finding your way onto a Division I team, but may want to consider the pursuit of some of the strongest Division III programs?
  • Or are you clearly a Division III athlete who should focus all of your effort on schools that fit your ability if you are set on continuing to play?

These are all questions that need to be answered before a student even begins to dream of playing for any college at any level.

Getting Started

I would previously advise that the end of sophomore year was an ideal time to take stock of your student-athlete journey and envision where you would like it go. However, the new NCAA legislature intended to curb early recruiting now prohibits any type of recruiting communication until June 15 after sophomore year, which may inadvertently move the timeline up even earlier. It is now even more critical to begin the process earlier and be organized prior to this date. Coaches are now anticipating a firestorm of early commitments around the opening of communication. Unofficial and official visits have also been pushed forward and are now allowed to begin on August 1st before junior year.

It is critical to begin working with someone knowledgeable when crafting your initial list who will be able to advise what you will need to do in the classroom and on the field to position yourself to achieve your collegiate goals. This list should be exhaustive and include any school that holds interest.

Considering both the academic and athletic prowess of a given school, I advise including at least 20 schools, covering a fair amount of reach, match, and secure schools. Unless you have received guidance that you are clearly a Division I recruit, I would also advise considering schools at the Division III level at this point.

From there, I have students craft an effective player profile or an athletic CV showcasing an athlete’s accomplishments, academic information, link to highlight tape if available, and coaching references. Providing a detailed visual snapshot of your own gives the first impression that you are organized and effectively communicating. (Coaches do not like to waste time chasing down information.)

Effective Communication

Communication is so essential in order to allow yourself to be fully evaluated by college programs. Here are some of my basic guidelines:

It is fine to use the same basic template when sending initial emails to the schools on your list, but take the time to personalize at least one or two lines about why the school or program interests you.

Send your upcoming schedule, ask when they will be holding ID clinics, plan a visit to campus.

Don’t be timid about setting up a time to speak by phone. Coaches will want to get to know you as much as possible, and there is no better time to receive real time feedback than when you are speaking directly. Please note the above mentioned rule change that coaches are not allowed to make contact in any manner prior to June 15 after sophomore year. The NCAA has also closed a previous loophole that allowed a coach to receive a call from a prospect as long as it was initiated by the prospect.

Taking the time and effort to visit a school initially will not make the difference in their decision to recruit you, but it can be the difference between a coach taking the time to come evaluate your or not. If you don’t hear back from a school initially, don’t be afraid to try again. If you don’t hear back after a second try, it may be time to move on.

Choosing ID Camps and Clinics

ID clinics have rightfully earned a cynical reputation over recent years as simply money-making endeavors for coaching staffs. Nonetheless these camps remain essential opportunities to be evaluated, visit a campus, and work with a coaching staff in one fell swoop.

One of the first questions families ask is which camps or clinics they should attend. My questions back are which schools have consistently been in touch and where have you garnered any existing momentum. It is very unlikely to go into a camp situation “cold” and stand out amongst a group of athletes that have likely been evaluated several times and have been brought to camp for a final look. Also consider that the recruiting pool of a particular school is far larger than a given camp. That is why it is incredibly important that you begin the process early, understand where you are with the schools on your list, and choose your camps wisely.

The best advice I can give in this confusing process is to be exhaustive initially, but after the initial wave of communication and evaluation, it becomes imperative to be realistic and judicious in how you allocate your time. If you spin your wheels for too long focusing on the wrong schools, others on your list that are a realistic fit may have filled their recruited spots and used all of their influence in admissions.

How to Be Direct

As the process evolves, asking the right questions is essential in understanding how to proceed. Don’t be afraid to ask specific, directed questions. Coaches are generally willing to be honest and straightforward in response.

  • Where do I currently stand among those remaining on your recruiting list? What do I need to do to further improve my standing?
  • What is the timeline for making final decisions?
  • What specifically are you going to require from me academically?
  • What is the feedback you are receiving from admissions about my viability as a candidate?
  • How much support is being lent to my application?

These are just some of the questions that I advise my clients ask with regard to the process in particular. Understanding the culture of a program and school at large are equally as important in determining the social fit. Make sure you are asking questions beyond the athletic experience. While you will devote a significant amount of time to your sport, don’t forget that committing to academia and experiencing life as a general college student is the ultimate reason for undertaking this journey.

Parental Involvement

Parents – remember that this is your child’s journey! You have shuttled them across the country or perhaps even the world to compete at the highest level. You have paid for SAT tutors, coaches, private school, AAU programs, recruiting clinics, and never mind the equipment (sorry hockey parents). We applaud you for wanting to give your child every opportunity to chase a collegiate dream-now is when you take a backseat.

All of the correspondence and communication I speak of above should be coming directly from the prospect. You are more than welcome to accompany on an unofficial visit or ID clinic if requested, but make sure that you fade into the background. If you are meeting a coach with your son or daughter, allow them to do all of the talking. If you have a specific question relating to the well-being of your child that you feel is important to ask by all means feel free. Anything else should be off limits.

We need to be teaching young men and women that they are responsible in advocating for themselves and tasked with dealing with setbacks and challenges on their own. Coaches take notice when a prospect can speak confidently, intelligently and with humility about their experiences and ambition. Afterward, be a sounding board and nothing more. Listen to their thoughts and concerns and help them to think analytically about what they have just experienced. Be proud of them and encourage them. This is their life, their career, and you have likely done a great job in guiding them to this point.

Visiting Campus

Just as schools are trying to evaluate a prospect several times before making a final decision, so should the prospect be as familiar with a school and program as possible. Many athletic programs have shifted policy, only offering official visits to admitted students who are matriculating. This change means unofficial visits have become even more important for a recruit to glean glimpses of what life could be on that campus. Visiting class, eating in the dining hall, staying in the dorms, watching how a team trains, experiencing the excitement of a gameday – these are all crucial elements in forming a full opinion before making a decision.


No two recruitment experiences are exactly the same. That is why it is so important to start early and commit to the process. Sometimes events unfold perfectly, but often the journey from recruitment to matriculation is long and arduous. Stay focused and on top of what needs to be accomplished each week. My clients who are most successful in the process are often the ones in touch with me several times a week to provide updates and ask what else they can be doing.

Keep a level head throughout. Don’t let one coach saying “no” derail you just as you shouldn’t believe the hype because you received one email from Stanford. Remind yourself to continually embody the elements that will make you a successful college athlete – belief, diligence, and humility.

Some departing advice: focus on what you can control and don’t internalize the challenges that inevitably occur – your worth is not defined by the school you attend. In my experience, once everyone gets over the initial disappointment of not getting an offer from their dream school, playing Division III when you hoped for Division I, or attending a school with less “prestige” than you expected, the dust will settle and you will begin an incredible journey as a collegiate student-athlete. The four years spent as a student-athlete will be some of the most formative and meaningful of a young person’s life. Put your head down, get to work and enjoy a ride that will be over all too quickly.

Please visit www.advantageathleticgroup.com to find out more about AAG and founder Matthew Gnall.