Archive for Division 1 recuiting

Does Signing the NLI Guarantee Admission?

Signing the National Letter of Intent, or NLI, means your long recruiting journey is finally over and you have a rock-solid commitment from the school, right? Unfortunately, no. The NLI is a binding, legal agreement that states you will attend the college and the college will pay x dollars or percentage of your cost of attendance. But it doesn’t mean you are admitted to the college. There is a clause in the NLI that the contract is declared null and void if you are denied admission. From the National Letter of Intent site:

  Admissions Requirement.  This NLI shall be declared null and void if the institution named in this document notifies me in writing that I have been denied admission or, by the opening day of fall classes, has failed to provide me with written notice of admission, provided I have submitted a complete admission application.  It is my obligation to provide, by request, my academic records and an application for admission to the signing institution.  If I fail to submit the necessary academic credentials and/or application to determine an admission decision prior to September 1, the NLI office per its review with the institution will determine the status of the NLI.


In practice, by the time you have reached the point of actually signing the NLI, the school will have a good idea of your academics and it would be very unusual for a signed recruit to be denied admission. But at the academically selective D1 scholarship schools like Stanford or Northwestern, you will sometimes hear the advice to push for the NLI to guarantee your admission spot. The NLI doesn’t do that. The National Letter of Intent only covers the exchange of athletic scholarship money in exchange for attending the college. Admissions decisions are an entirely separate entity.

The “Soft Likely Letter” in the Ivy League

Although it’s written clearly in the Ivy League Common Agreement that a Likely Letter may only be issued after October 1st of the applicant’s Senior year, there are tales of early or “soft” Likely Letters being issued well before the October 1st date, sometimes as early as a student’s Junior year of high school. These “soft likely letters” are supposedly emailed to the recruit and are verbatim copies of the actual printed likely letter that is mailed by the admissions office after October 1st.

It’s no secret that some sports run on a much earlier recruiting timetable than others. I’ve written about that practice before. If an Ivy lacrosse or hockey coach waits until the fall of senior year, he’ll be out-recruited by the rest of the Division 1 programs that are pressing kids for verbal commitments in the Sophomore and Junior years. It’s not unusual for an Ivy coach to tell an athlete early in the process that he will put him up for a likely if he can count on the athlete committing. An ethical coach will make it clear, however, that only admissions can admit him and admissions won’t make that decision until the complete application is submitted. But coaches of the early-commit sports are under pressure to make their offers sound as solid as possible to prevent another competing coach from planting a seed of doubt it the recruit’s head. And that may be the rationale behind the “soft likely”.

I can’t believe any Ivy League admissions office would have any part in sending early correspondence to a recruit and blatantly violating the terms of the Ivy League agreement. I think it’s far more likely that a coach may be using the text of the LL in his email to secure his recruit early and stop him from talking to other coaches. Maybe there is some small print preceding the text that indicates this is not an actual likely letter, or maybe it says “if you were to receive an actual likely letter, it would look like this” Either way, people hear what they want to hear and a “soft likely” might give a recruit a false sense of how certain his admission will be.  In my opinion, any coach that would take it upon himself to issue a “soft likely” is going beyond the limits of ethical recruiting behavior.

So if you are a Junior hockey player and are emailed a “soft likely”, I think your best response would be a “soft commit.” Understand that your recruiting journey isn’t over until you hear it, in writing, from the admissions office.

Early Decision for Ivy League Athletic Recruits

I got a note from someone going through the Ivy League recruiting process and her questions brought me back to the gut-wrenching, 11th hour dealings we experienced on the night before the Early Action deadline. Hopefully, I can help someone else avoid that…

I have some questions about Early Action and Early Decision and how that plays out if you are a recruited athlete in the Ivy League. First, should the athlete ask for a likely letter when deciding whether to apply EA or ED?  If the coach refuses your request for a Likely Letter or gives a reason you cannot get one, should the athlete be more wary and maybe consider other schools, programs?

In addition, we are trying to figure out what, if anything, the current dialogue means and how dependable it is. It seems that a lot of problems can be mitigated somewhat by asking the right direct questions, but maybe not. And I do realize that Admissions Committee admits (coaches don’t), but presumably with academic pre-reads and knowledgeable, experienced coaches, the chance of being blind-sided should be reduced, right?

Just to be clear, Early Decision is binding and Early Action is not. So if you designate your application ED and you are accepted, you agree that you will withdraw any other applications and will attend that school. Early Action, on the other hand is non-binding.

In the Ivy League, Cornell, Brown, Dartmouth, Columbia and Penn have Early Decision and Harvard, Yale and Princeton have ‘Single-Choice Early Action’, which means that you are not obligated to enroll if accepted, but you can only designate one school as your early choice.

Coaches like to use the ‘early application’ as a way to get a commitment from a recruit. Although the Common Ivy Agreement states,

“A coach may both inquire about a candidate’s level of commitment to an Ivy institution, or interest in attending that Ivy institution, and encourage that interest. However, a candidate may not be required to make a matriculation commitment, to withdraw other applications, or to refrain from visiting another institution, as a condition for receiving a “likely” letter,”

The reality is that part of “inquiring and encouraging commitment” usually means the recruit will be encouraged to demonstrate that commitment by applying ED or SCEA – this is the part that causes a lot of sleep loss for recruits and their parents. Basically you’re being asked to use your one-and-only early application to a school that  rejects 9 of 10 applicants and the coach has made it clear that he will put you up for a Likely Letter, but ultimately, the acceptance decision is out of his hands.

So  to get back to the questions, if an Ivy coach asks you to go EA or ED but can’t offer to list you for a Likely Letter, you should definitely be wary. Actually, thank him for being straightforward and telling you that you will not be supported. It makes your decision much easier – absolutely pursue other options.

As for the second part of your question, how do you reduce the chances of being blind-sided during this process? Asking direct questions is important, of course. Listening is even more important. There’s a line in The Boxer, by Simon and Garfunkel (showing my age here)

“…still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”

Before you pull the trigger on that ED or SCEA application, you need to know that your transcripts and test scores have had a positive pre-read with admissions. You also need to know that the head coach will be submitting your name to admissions for  Likely Letter consideration. I’m stressing head coach because it has happened where an assistant coach has been gung-ho and assured the recruit of support, only to be denied when the head coach decided on other recruiting priorities.

One other important way to protect yourself is to get this done early. When we went though the Ivy recruiting process it all came to an incredibly stressful boiling point on the night before of the ED/EA deadline. Next, I’ll go into more detail on timing the application process to help minimize the stress and leave you with a backup in case things don’t work out.




NCAA Recruiting Rule Changes 2013

The NCAA made some recruiting rule changes during the 2013 convention that took place this weekend. It looks like the Division I contact restrictions will be less rigid (restrictions on texting have been lifted.) Hopefully the rule changes bring some uniformity across all sports.

Right now the Division I rules manual is only slightly less complex than the US Tax Code

NCAA Division I rulebook changes 2013





Calling a College Coach

Some of us are extroverts – they love the chance to pick up the phone and have an interesting conversation with a complete stranger. That’s great. This column is not for you.

For others, the thought of calling a college coach can can induce anything from mild “butterflies” to full-blown panic. If you fall into this category, you’re not alone. Here are a few tips and strategies  to help you get through this – and maybe even enjoy it.

Manage expectations

The Coach sees the call as an opportunity to sell the program and make a personal connection with the recruit. He’s not grading your conversational skills. If you stammer a little or don’t give a perfect response to a question, it’s not a deal-breaker. Remember, he wants to make a good impression just as much as you do.

Be prepared, but not scripted

Make a few notes for yourself prior to making the call. In particular, any PR’s or special honors you’ve received recently. Also, make a note of any big meets, tournaments or showcases that you’ll be attending in the future. The conversation will probably start with the Coach asking you, “So how has your season / summer been going?” Be prepared to touch on a few high points to start the ball rolling.

Coaches tend to be very good at carrying conversations, so chances are you’ll be doing more listening than talking.

Showing an Interest in the Program

I’m going to give you a little peek inside the head of a college coach. They want to find great athletes who are genuinely interested in their program. I can’t overemphasize that point. Coaches are talking to dozens, or even hundreds, of kids and they need to figure out who is legitimately interested and who is stringing them along as a safety or backup.

As an athlete, it’s smart to ‘cast a wide net’ in your college recruiting – make contact with a variety of schools. But when you are speaking to the coach, he needs to know that he’s not just another school on the list.

At some point he will ask you, “What is it about our school / program that interests you?”.

Your answer should demonstrate that you have done your research. Is there a great coach on staff that you want to work with? Does their style of play fit especially well with your skills? There is no right answer, but show him that you know something about the program and you are genuinely interested. That’s the best way to make sure you end up on the ‘continue contact’ list.

Any Other Questions?

The conversation will almost certainly end with the coach asking, “Do you have any questions about anything?”

“Um…not really.” is not the best response. Give it some thought and jot down a question or 2 on your notepad. It could have to do with athlete housing, practice schedules, off-season training, etc.

As the conversations continue in the weeks and months to follow, you can get more in depth and ask about his recruiting priorities, official visits, admissions support, etc. But for now, listen a lot and make it clear that you’re interested (if you are interested).

So if you’re a little phone-phobic, just remember the words of John Wayne:

Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway







How to Get Recruited: Part II

In How to Get Recruited: Part I we talked about researching the schools that interest you and how to craft your initial email to the coach. If things work out as planned, within a few days you might see something like this in your inbox:

Dear Mike –

Thanks for your email. Congratulations on a very successful high school career so far. I was glad to hear you’re interested in Northern State U. I would be interested to talk with you and see any game footage that you may have. Per NCAA rules I can’t call you until after July 1st, but you can call me anytime you’d like. Please fax a copy of your transcripts and test scores and also fill out our online recruiting questionnaire. Thanks and I hope to hear from you soon.

Coach Kindle

Northern State University

The first door is now open and you have established a dialogue with the coach, congratulations! If you haven’t already put up some game footage on YouTube or Vimeo, get to work!  You don’t need a professional service to do this. Here are a few tips on making a recruiting video. The actual video editing is pretty easy to do with a program like Windows MovieMaker. Remember, it doesn’t have to be fancy. it just has to be clear. Upload the clips to YouTube and I’d recommend setting the privacy settings so that only users with the link can view the video.

If the coach requests it, go ahead and fill out the recruiting questionnaire. Personally, I don’t think recruiting questionnaires are the greatest tool, but he asked you to do it so go ahead and show him you can follow directions.

Now let’s craft your return email to the coach.

Dear Coach Kindle –

Thank you for your reply. I filled out the recruiting questionnaire as you requested and here is a link to some of my game footage from this season:

I’ll fax over the transcripts that you requested and will follow up with a phone call. Is there any time or day when it’s best to reach you?

Thanks again-

Mike Jones

Washington High School, Class of 2014

You hit ‘send’ and fax the transcripts and scores, and you wait. Maybe you wait for a few days and you don’t hear anything. You start to worry a little that maybe the email didn’t go through. You can log on to your YouTube account go the the ‘Analytics” link and see – yep, somebody in Minnesota (the location of fictional Northern State U) watched your video 3 times! At least you know you’ve made contact.

Eventually you get a brief email from the coach:

Mike- thanks for the video. Call me when you have a chance – between 7 and 8pm is usually a good time.


Coach K

Things are moving along – the good news is, the Coach wants you to call. The bad news? Coach wants you to call.

Relax, it’s not that bad. I’m running long here so I’ll go into “making the call”  next time.

A member of the College Confidential community (a terrific resource, if you haven’t checked it yet) summed up the essence of recruiting perfectly:

Recruited = passion + skill + exposure + persistence + luck.

Good luck!


How to Get Recruited: Part I

If you are a high school athlete and you want to play your sport in college, there are a few basic things you need to know about how to get recruited. Unlike the Hollywood storyline, you probably won’t have coaches knocking on your door and throwing scholarship money at you unless you reach out to them first.

How to Get Recruited: Step 1

Don’t Rely on the Online Recruiting Form

Most high school athletes get a little freaked-out at the thought of contacting the coach of a college program. Relax. It’s important to remember they are looking for athletes like you just as much as you want to get recruited by them. One of the biggest mistakes that kids make is they just fill out the standard athletic recruiting form on the school’s website, sit back and cross their fingers.

The best way to find out if a coach is interested is to reach out directly. Online recruiting questionnaires have a nasty habit of disappearing into cyberspace, never to be seen again. The first step in ‘how to get recruited’ is to e-mail the coach directly.

Compose Your E-mail

A few things to remember, the coach of a college program is going to get hundreds of emails each week from prospective athletes. Here’s an example of what NOT to do:

Dear Coach:

I am a midfielder at Washington High School and have played soccer since I was 6. Soccer has always been a passion of mine. I have always dreamed of playing college soccer. I am attaching a PDF with my full resume as well as 2 video files of some of my soccer highlights.

Thank you for your time,

Mike Jones

Yikes. First problem: The generic introduction. If you can’t be bothered to find out the coach’s name and personalize the e-mail, don’t count on getting a response.

Secondly, a coach doesn’t want to hear about your ‘passion’ and ‘dreams’. A coach wants to win games. Give him something to make him believe you might make his passion and dreams come true. In other words – how can you help him win?

Finally, don’t send a bunch of attachments and video with your introductory email. Remember, at this point you are one of hundreds in his inbox. Besides the very real possibility that your attachments will trigger spam filters and he’ll never get your message, he’s probably not going to open every file sent to him by every random kid.

Here’s a better way to structure your 1st email to the coach:

Dear Coach Kindle:

My name is Mike Jones and I’m a Junior midfielder at Washington High School in Seattle. I’m very interested in being part of the Wildcat program. A little about me:

  • All-conference as a Soph, All-State as a Junior
  • 23 goals and 18 assists this year
  • Team co-captain this year
  • Have a 3.4 GPA and scored a 28 composite on my ACT

I plan on majoring in accounting, and I know the department at Northern State U is highly respected. If you think I might be a good addition to the Wildcat soccer team I’d be happy to send you a more complete resume, as well as transcripts, my coach contact info and game footage.

Thanks very much for your time-

Mike Jones

Class of 2014

Okay, that’s the first step in ‘how to get recruited’. If things go well, the coach will reply to your email. Be patient. College coaches are busy people, if you don’t hear anything back in a week or 10 days, try again. In “How to Get Recruited” Part II, we’ll talk about what kind of info to send the coach after he replies and the power of picking up the phone (even though it’s nerve-wracking).

Until next time –




Interpreting “Coachspeak” as a Recruit: Are You a Buyer or a Seller?

"She loves me, she loves me not...."

At the highly selective Tier 1 colleges, leveraging your athletic ability into admissions support is often the name of the game. Almost every school can offer some sort of admissions support to athletes with strong academics. The Ivy League has Likely Letters (as does the University of Chicago), the NESCAC has “tips” and “slots” (although not every NESCAC school uses those terms in their recruiting vocabulary), and MIT, Stanford and Patriot League schools all have varying degrees of support that a coach can provide.

The question is, how do you interpret the level of support that you’re getting? I get a lot of emails from athletes describing their dialogue with a coach and asking for my interpretation. Here’s one, for example:

“The coach has told me he thinks I would be a good addition to the team and he’s going to do his best to get me here, but at the end of the day it’s up to admissions. Does that mean I’ll be getting one of his slots?”

Okay, aside from the obvious advice -“ASK HIM”, how do you interpret “coachspeak”? How does a coach talk to a top recruit compared to one that’s on the bubble?

Are You the Buyer or the Seller?

One very good way to get a read on the tone of the interaction with a coach is to ask yourself, “Do I feel like the buyer or the seller in this relationship?”

The “buyer” in the relationship is the one who is evaluating choices. In the conventional sense of the word, the buyer is the one with the money and needs to be convinced that the seller is offering something worthwhile. In the Coach / Recruit relationship – the coach is trying to sell his product (the school and team) to the top recruits, while the lower level recruits are doing their best to sell their talents to the coach.

For example, are you the one making more of the calls and waiting for your messages and emails to be returned? If so, that sounds like you’re the seller.

Is the coach calling you regularly just to check in and let you know interesting or exciting things that are happening on the team? In that case, you’re the buyer – he’s the seller.

If he tells you that he thinks you could be an impact player right away instead of spending 2 years on the bench like you might at School X, he’s selling. But if he tells you that your times or academics are good, but he’d really like to see them at _____, he sees you as the seller, and your product needs to be a little better.

I think the buyer/seller analogy is a good way to help you interpret the strength of the coach’s commitment to you. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that acting like a buyer will give you an advantage. No, no, no. Acting like one who has a lot of choices to evaluate and really needs to be shown exactly why this school is better than the competition is a great way to be put on he “do not call” list as a potential attitude problem.

Be respectful, be polite and be professional as you go through the process. But when you’re trying to determine where you’re really wanted, ask yourself: Do you feel like a buyer or a seller?




Interpreting the Academic Index Number for Ivy League Athletes

We’re treading on dangerous ground here so I suppose I should start this with a big disclaimer. The number that you have calculated using the Academic Index calculator should only serve as a general guideline to help you plan your recruiting. Hitting certain numbers does not mean that you are assured of admission since many different factors go into determining admissibility.

The Academic Index is really a tool to evaluate large groups (teams, overall athletic cohort and entire student body.) That said, I think it’s helpful to be able to see where you stand in relation to other students and athletes.

Below are my interpretations of the strength of different AI ranges. These are based on interviews, articles and statements, but you should not consider them to be any sort of official guideline or standard.

Under 176

An Academic Index under 176 is below the minimum generally required to be recruited in the Ivy League.


I would classify AIs in this range as “possible”, but weak. Nationally known, big-time recruits in high profile sports may be okay with an AI in this range.


We’re getting closer to the comfort range. This is still on the weaker side, but scores in this range may be adequate for highly desirable athletes in certain programs.


This equates to about 1850 -1900 combined SAT and 3.5 unweighted GPA and should put a recruit on fairly solid academic footing. Teams that tend to attract kids with stronger academics may want a little bit more.

Over 210

This is really where you want to be. With an AI over 210, I think it’s pretty unlikely that academics will be a deal killer in your athletic recruiting.


So much more goes into athletic recruiting in the Ivy League than the academic index. For a thorough overview of the process, check out The Essential Guide to Ivy League Athletic Recruiting

Early Decision for Athletes

As a recruited athlete at one of the Tier 1 Colleges, the coach will probably request that you apply Early Decision or Early Action if he is helping support you through admissions. Although The Common Ivy League Agreement states:

“A coach may both inquire about a candidate’s level of commitment to an Ivy institution, or interest in attending that Ivy institution, and encourage that interest. However, a candidate may not be required to make a matriculation commitment, to withdraw other applications, or to refrain from visiting another institution, as a condition for receiving a “likely” letter, or an estimate of financial aid eligibility, or a coach’s support in the admissions process”

The reality of the situation is that a coach will encourage you to go ED/EA and if you are unwilling, he may feel he has to move down the list. This situation isn’t unique to the Ivy League. Selective D3 colleges operate in a similar manner.

Since all financial aid is need-based in the Ivy League and many selective D3 colleges, binding Early Decision can put you in a bad spot if financial aid is going to be a concern. If you are accepted Early Decision, but find that the FA award is insufficient, generally speaking, you are allowed to withdraw from the ED commitment. The burden, however, will be on you to demonstrate that the Financial Aid award is insufficient.

To help avoid an unpleasant surprise from the FA office, get a financial aid pre-read before pulling the trigger on your ED application. The pre-read is an estimate, but should be accurate provided that you give them good information. Also, if your actual offer comes in much lower than your pre-read estimate you have stronger case to withdraw from the ED commitment (or ask for a re-evaluation).

Early Decision for Athletes Without Support

But how about if there is no support coming from the coach – is it still advantageous to apply ED or EA?

If you look at the data from some of the Tier 1 colleges, it certainly looks like it’s wise to apply Early Decision/Early Action. Let’s look at Princeton as an example. According to the Princeton Newsletter, in the class of 2016, 726 students were accepted out of 3443 in the Single Choice Early Action pool. That translates to a 21% acceptance rate – far higher than the 7.9% of applicants accepted overall.

Ivy League Early Decision 2016

Ivy League Early Decision Acceptance Rates 2016


It seems like a no-brainer, if you want to maximize your chances at your dream school, apply early-decision or early-action, right?  But let’s dig behind the numbers a little bit.

The vast majority of recruited athletes apply during the Early Decision or Early action round. At a school like Princeton, it’s safe to say that approximately 250 athletes are issued Likely Letters (and maybe another 150 Likely Letters go to non-athletes). So, out of the 726 students accepted in the Early Action round, approximately 400 of them were Likely Letter recipients and their acceptance was a foregone conclusion.

If we take the Likely Letter applicants out of the equation we see that for non-supported applicants, approximately 325 out of a pool of 3043 were accepted. That gives a rate of 10.6%. Still better than the 7.9% overall, but not by much.

The numbers are similar throughout the Ivies and in the NESCAC as well. Most supported athletes are coming through in the early rounds and that skews the early acceptance numbers significantly.

So as an athlete – your ED or EA application is a way to demonstrate your commitment to attend which is key to getting support through admissions. But if you are not being supported, does it make sense to commit to ED / EA?

When you take to Likely Letter applicants out of it – there just doesn’t seem to be a big advantage to going ED. The downside of ED is that you also lose some control over your Financial Aid award.

For those who have been through a binding ED process, were you satisfied with your financial award? If not, were you able to get it changed?