Archive for Emails from Parents and Athletes

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.




How to Pick a College

I read a note from a student who had been accepted to two very different schools and wanted advice on how to pick a college. Here’s his situation:

I’ve been accepted to two very good schools. School 1 is ranked in the top 30 in US News, has great research and study abroad opportunities. But athletically, it’s not very strong in my sport.

School 2 is far better athletically, and pretty good academically. I feel like I would have a real opportunity to be a member of a successful team. To be honest I never thought I would get into School 1.  Now that I have been accepted there, I feel as though I have this great opportunity that I shouldn’t pass up. But there’s something about School 2 that I’m drawn to even though my instincts tell me that I might only be pulled that way because of the athletics.

I can’t help but think I’m being stupid to pass up an amazing academic experience just for an athletic one but my sport is truly my passion and I’m so driven to become the best I can be  I feel like whatever decision I make I will always wonder “what if” and I don’t really want to be burdened with that question my whole life. Any advice?

Well, I do have advice. But how meaningful will that be coming from some random guy on the internet? I have, however, built a College Decision Making Machine that I will share with you to help you arrive at your own decision:

Tier1Athletics College Decision Making Machine

Don’t read any farther, go use it now and come back.


Done? Okay, let me tell you how to interpret the results. Go back and look at the ‘intangibles” column. Which school did you rank the highest in intangibles?

That’s the school for you.

We all want to think we make or decisions purely based on logic and rational thought. (If that were true, nobody would decide to have children) The truth of the matter is that we process far more information in our brains than we can present on a spreadsheet. And while we can’t always put our finger on why we decide a certain way – we call it gut-feel or instinct – it’s a powerful and usually accurate assessment of the ‘big picture’. The ‘intangible’ column was the place where your subconscious mind, that has been busy evaluating everything, can weigh-in on the decision.

Take it for what it’s worth – no guarantees that your subconscious has made a good decision, but hopefully it helped you get closer to deciding.



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?




Comparing Financial Aid – Question From a Parent

I recently received the following e-mail from a parent, and I think she brought up some excellent questions and concerns about comparing financial aid:

Our child is a top student-athlete (1st in her class/AP scholar/2370 SATs) who has been invited for official visits at three top Ivy League schools.
Since we are new to this process we didn’t realize how accelerated the timeline is for these students. We had always thought she would apply Early Action to her 1st choice school, and, if admitted, apply regular decision to a couple of others, with the idea of comparing financial aid packages.

As we understand it, athletic recruitment puts a new wrinkle in this–even though you are admitted non-binding Early Action to a top Ivy, the recruited student has committed to the coach of his first-choice school to be on the team, which essentially eliminates applying elsewhere regular decision if the student is going to honor his/her commitment to play for that school (which our daughter would definitely want to do).

We just learned about the financial aid pre-read option from your website and were hoping you might be able to answer some questions we have.

We have never mentioned the need for financial aid up to this point. Is it too late in the process to ask for a financial aid pre-read? (she completed 1 OV and has 2 more this month)

Can we ask it from all 3 schools, and then ask her 1st choice school to match the best package without jeopardizing her admissions desirability? Also can you ask about matching finaid before a student is admitted or do you wait until after she (hopefully) gets a likely letter and/or acceptance?

Thanks for your help

Thanks for the email – you bring up some great questions. Recruited athletes, especially in the Ivy League, have to deal with some unique challenges. The financial aid pre-read is your best friend in this situation. You can certainly request it from the coach at this point (who can possibly expedite it from the FA office). The more lead time the better, obviously. I would request it as soon as the arrangements have been made for an official visit. (requesting a FA pre-read before the coach has even offered an official would be a little, well, presumptuous)

You should definitely try to get a pre-read from each school that you’ll be attending an Official Visit so you can compare financial aid packages. You may find a big discrepancy between the awards at each school. I used some arbitrary numbers on each of the Ivy Financial Aid calculators and found some interesting results.

After your daughter has taken her officials, now the dance can get a little tricky. She’ll probably have a favorite school. The coaches will have their top list of recruits they want and each school will have given you a different cost estimate. Ideally, you want to end up on the coaches list at your top school and with the best financial aid package. Getting on the coaches list at your top school is beyond the scope of this article – so let’s focus on getting the best FA package.

When the talk comes down to Likely Letter offers and telling the coach how much you want to be a part of his program – I think that’s a perfect opportunity to talk about finances. My advice is to approach this topic in the manner of one who is asking for help rather than slapping three pre-reads on his desk and asking him to match it. Realize that the financial award (in the Ivy League) is completely out of his hands. He may, however, know if the financial aid office is receptive to matching offers. Different schools have different policies on this. Remember, the coach brought you out for a reason, if he wants you on the team, he’ll do everything in his power to help make that happen. Ivy League schools are need-blind, so don’t worry that requesting a review (a better phrase than ‘negotiating’) will negatively impact your desirability as a recruit.

The advice here is all my opinion, so take it as such. Good luck!