Archive for Academic Index

Does Ivy League Coach Support Always Mean a Likely Letter?

The Likely Letter, it’s the Grail for athletes that are recruited in the Ivy League. It’s a formal, written communication from the admissions office that states that you will be admitted as long as you don’t really screw up. Finally you can relax and stop worrying about how to interpret the vague nuances of coachspeak -you have it in writing.

But there are situations where the recruited athlete is supported, put on the list to admissions but the admissions office does not send the Likely Letter. Are those recruits any less solid than those that get the letter?

Let’s examine a few facts from the Ivy Manual to try and get a handle on this.

The Ivy Manual 2011-2012 contains the following:

As determined by each institution, admissions offices may advise applicants before the common notification date, in writing, of the probability of admission; e.g. likely, possible, unlikely. Such notifications may be made to recruited student athletes
only from October 1 through March 15.

This basically states that admissions departments at Ivy League colleges may choose to send  Likely Letters to their recruited athletes. Note that it says “may”, not “must”. Admissions may send the Likely Letters at their discretion.

Another excerpt from the manual

Offices at each Ivy school may offer some athletic and other candidates a “likely” letter, which has the effect of a formal letter of admission provided the candidate continues to have a satisfactory secondary school experience.
Coaches may initiate the requests for these letters, but only the office of admission can issue a “likely” letter.

(The bold is mine)

The Likely Letter is solid. The only things that would get the offer rescinded are the same things that would get a regular admission rescinded.


Here’s one more fact to help shed light on the process, this is from a Harvard Crimson article, June 27, 2003:

At its biannual meeting, the Council of Ivy Group Presidents limited the number of recruited athletes who may matriculate to 1.4 times the number needed to fill the travel squads for the 33 “Ivy Championship” sports.

The minimum Academic Index (AI), a measure of eligibility that incorporates SAT scores and GPA or class rank on a 240-point scale, was also raised from 169 to 171, and a requirement was added that the mean AI of recruited athletes be no more than one standard deviation below the mean of all undergraduates at the particular college

(The AI minimum has been raised to 176 since this article was published)

So we know that each college in the Ivy League is granted a set number of spots for recruited athletes. At a school that fields that full number of Ivy Championship sports this may be around 230 spots per year over a rolling 4 year period. These 230 individuals are used in the Academic Index calculation. Their names are on a list that is submitted by the coach to admissions and their entire application, test scores, essays and recommendations are evaluated by admissions. Before they get on this list, their academics have been pre-screened. The vast majority of recruited athletes that make it to the list are admitted.

The majority of those (I don’t have data on this, just many anecdotes) will receive a Likely Letter from admissions. But there are some sports at some schools that apparently don’t automatically send the Likely Letter to all of their supported recruits. Does that mean the support is any less solid?

My opinion is that a recruited athlete on the list is just as solid whether or not they get the letter in the mail. They are one of the 230 or so recruits that has been identified by admissions. I spoke to one athlete that was recruited and put on the coach’s list. The kid asked about the Likely Letter and the coach basically told him it was an unnecessary formality. The student reiterated that he would feel a lot better about the process if he got the letter and the coach initiated the request. He eventually received his letter.

What’s so important about the Likely Letter?

The original intent of the Likely Letter was to give athletes that were also considering offers from scholarship schools some early indication that they would be admitted and they could forego the National Letter of Intent signing day, secure in the knowledge that their admission was all but assured at an Ivy school.

But even for students with recruiting interest from several Ivy schools, which don’t do the NLI, it’s important to have that written assurance.

You have to wonder what would prevent a school from automatically sending the letter to all of their accepted recruits. The cost of a stamp? The extra time it would take the staff to prepare and mail the letters? Or is it something in the language, (a likely letter) “…has the effect of a formal letter of admission” that makes them reluctant to put it in writing?

As one who has gone through this, I can tell you that the wait until the official notification date is agonizing enough, even with a LL in hand. If you’re waiting for that notification without the letter, trying to recall the specifics of exactly what the coach told you… well, I wouldn’t want to be in that spot.

My advice is to request that the coach initiates a request to admissions for the letter. It doesn’t cost them anything to do it (over and above the stamp and a few minutes of staff time). If they are reluctant to put it in writing, maybe there’s a reason. If an Ivy coach tells you he will be supporting your application, ask for the letter. In the words of Ronald Reagan, trust, but verify.


Ivy League Football Academic Bands

Football recruits in the Ivy League have a slightly different set of rules than recruits in the other sports. An Ivy League football coach can recruit up to 30 players and those recruits must fall into one of 4 academic bands based on their academic index. Band 4 is the highest, which seems counter-intuitive, but that’s how they label it. A Band 4 athlete must have an Academic Index that falls within 1 standard deviation of the Academic Index of the general population of students at that school. So if the general AI is around 220, the Band 4 guys must be around 207. 8 of the coach’s 30 recruits must be Band 4. Next is Band 3 which goes down to 2 standard deviations off the mean index. Approximately 13 of the 30 recruits must be Band 3 or higher. That’s an index around 194 or better. (Standard deviations can’t be calculated precisely without knowing the exact distribution of all scores which is not public knowledge- so these benchmarks are educated guesses). 7 more recruits can be in band 2, which is 2.5 standard deviations. That’s around 180. Lastly, the coach is allowed to bring on 2 players that are at or above the 176 index floor.  So it’s:

Band 4: 8

Band 3 (or higher): 13

Band 2 (or higher): 7

Band 1 (or higher): 2

Total: 30

It’s interesting to note that the Ivy council that keeps tabs on such things may shift these numbers a bit to allow struggling programs to add a few recruits in the lower bands to help bolster the recruiting efforts and keep some parity in the league.




Flexibility of the Academic Index

In the Ivy League, the Academic Index is used to evaluate the academics of athletic recruits. The method of determining and interpreting the score is covered here. But what about a lopsided index score? If you have SAT scores of 720 math, 720 writing and 540 critical reading along with a 3.8 GPA, that comes out to an Academic Index score of around 213. A score of 213 puts you in the ‘pretty safe’ range by most standards. But what about that 540? Is that going to be a deal-breaker with admissions?

There are some firm rules and standards in athletic recruiting in the Ivy League. The AI floor of 176 is one of them. Recruits that score lower than that are not recruitable in the Ivies, and recruits even near that floor are very rare. The other firm rule is that the average AI of all athletes must fall within 1 standard deviation of the general student body at that school. After those 2 big rules, there is a lot of room for nuance depending on several factors.

How desirable are you as an athlete? How important is your sport to the school? What are the academics of other athletes with similar skills? Let’s take swimmers as an example. In my experience, there is a pretty deep pool of top tier swimmers with stellar academics. If a coach has a list of top national swimmers with SATs of 700+ across the board, then yes, that 540 in the above example may be a problem.  On the other hand, if you are one of the premier recruits in a sport that tends to have fewer academic all-stars – that 540 probably won’t be an issue.

To look at it from the coach’s perspective – he needs to present you to admissions in the best possible light.  He doesn’t want to lose a recruit in the LL evaluation process. Admissions, on the other hand, wants to make sure the athletes are representative of the student body. They don’t want to set up a student for failure because he can’t do the academic work. They aren’t doing the coach or the athlete any favors if they admit a recruit that is failing classes and has to drop athletics or drop out altogether.

So back to the 540. Technically you’re admissible. There will probably be some concerns. The end result will largely depend on the other recruits and how you compare to them athletically and academically.


Harvard Academic Standards for Athletes

I was watching the first round of NCAA Basketball and Harvard played a great game against New Mexico. One of the announcers said something to the effect of, ‘since Harvard has relaxed their academic standards for athletes, they’ve really turned things around.’

Well, as it turns out, Harvard hasn’t relaxed academic standards for athletes. If anything they are higher than ever. That’s right. As Harvard admissions have become more selective, test scores of the average student have risen and as a consequence the academic standard for Harvard athletes has also risen. Here’s how it works:

Throughout the Ivy League, there is a common agreement that specifies the academics required for incoming athletic recruits. The purpose of this is to make sure the athletes on campus are academically similar to the rest of the student body. The tool for evaluating academics is called the Academic Index. The Academic Index is calculated using a formula that takes into account SAT scores, ACT score and High School GPA. This number is calculated for the entire student body at each Ivy League school and the scores of the recruited athletes, taken as a group, must be within 1 standard deviation of that score. Standard deviation, in case your stats knowledge is rusty, is a measure of the variation in a set of data values, in this case Academic Index scores.curve2


So if the typical Harvard (non-athlete) student  index of 225 (estimated), the typical Harvard athlete would have an AI around 210 (estimated). What does a 210 AI look like in terms of test scores and GPA?  That’s about 680 per section on the SAT(2040 total) or a 30 composite ACT, along with a 3.7 unweighted GPA.

As admissions become more and more selective at Harvard, the academic standards for athletes rise accordingly.

Since we’re talking about the entire group of athletes falling within that range, that means that some lower index athletes can be recruited, as long as  they are balanced by a higher recruit. If Harvard chose to recruit from a bigger pool of  basketball players, for example, they could go after some players with lower Index scores, but they have to balance it out with higher index athletes.

Wesley Saunders, for example, the workhorse of the Harvard squad, was over 1800 on the SAT according to an ESPN article. That puts him around 200 for the Academic Index, depending on his GPA. That’s going to put him in the top 15-20% of all college-bound students in the US.

How does that compare with the minimum requirements established by the NCAA? Most Division I athletic programs only require an athlete to meet the NCAA standards to be an eligible recruit. According to the table published by the NCAA, there is a sliding scale of GPA and SAT scores. To be eligible with a 3.0 GPA, a recruit has to have a combined 620 on the math and verbal sections of the SAT. That’s somewhere around the 5th percentile. In other words, 95% of college-bound kids will score higher than that.

So you can see, at Harvard coach can only recruit from a very, very small subset of the players that are available to the rest of the Division I schools.

So while the concept of a true student-athlete is dying throughout much of Division I college athletics, it’s very much alive and well in the Ivy League.



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

Reliability of Likely Letters

Here we are in late October and athletic recruiting at Tier 1 Colleges is coming down to the wire. The past year of casual phone calls and emails is heating up and coaches and athletes are making their decisions. November 1st is the day when athletes will have submitted their applications Early Choice or Early Action in exchange for the promise of coach support. Then the whole process disappears behind the moon for awhile and coaches and recruits are holding their collective breath to see what the admissions committee decides.

Having been through the process, I know the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with submitting a single application to school that admits less than 10% of its applicants, with nothing more than a coach telling you that he’s supporting you and he doesn’t foresee any problems, but he also can’t make any promises.

I remember trying to find someone, ANYONE, who could put my mind at ease and tell me it was all going to work out. Our public high school guidance counselor had never even heard the term ‘likely letter’ and advised us to have a backup plan because, ‘well, you know those schools are very selective.’ Thanks.

In the end it all worked out. There was the call from the coach on the day that admissions was supposed to meet to tell us that the meeting had been postponed for 2 weeks – that didn’t exactly reduce the stress level. But eventually – a congratulatory call came from admissions and the Likely Letter soon followed.

But it seems every coach who has been around for more than a few years has a story about a recruit who looked good on paper, but is denied the Likely Letter by admissions.

“It could be negative recommendations, it could be a problem with grades after they did the pre-read. They never tell us – it’s just ‘you’re getting 9 of the 10 you wanted’. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes they like to remind us that the tail doesn’t wag the dog here.'”

So if you’re waiting on a Likely Letter – relax. While it’s not 100% guaranteed, it’s about the closest thing there is to a sure thing in the world of athletic recruiting at a Tier 1 college.





Academic Index Calculator 2014

This Academic Index Calculator for 2014 reflects the recent changes that have been adopted by the Ivy League in calculating the Academic Index.  Ivy League schools have moved away from using class rank in the Academic Index calculation. This 2014 version of the academic index calculator also takes into  account that the SAT Writing and Critical Reading scores are averaged and added to the SAT Math score as explained in this article in the New York Times.  The link below will open an Excel spreadsheet.

The Academic Index Calculator for 2014

Academic Index Calculator 2014

The above link opens an excel file – some users have reported difficulty using it. I also have it shared on Google docs here

Academic Index Calculator – Google Docs version

Please let me know if you have any difficulty with it
Plug in whatever information you have available. You’ll get the most accurate results if you have SAT scores, GPA (weighted or unweighted) and 2 SAT II subject tests. But plug in whatever information you have – even if it’s only your GPA and ACT composite.

The calculator will return an Academic Index estimate for an unweighted GPA over 2.3  and ACT composites over 20. Please leave a comment after you use it so I know if there are any inconsistencies or flaws that need to be addressed.

Using the Academic Index Number

It’s important to understand that your academic index doesn’t mean you’ll be admitted. It is, however, a useful yardstick to help you determine if your grades and test scores are in range to make you a potential recruit.

Interpreting your Academic Index score

An excerpt from The Essential Guide to Ivy League Athletic Recruiting 2012:

“By mutual agreement, the minimum Academic Index to be admitted as an athlete in the Ivy League is 176. This is also new for 2012. The AI floor used to be 171. It’s very important that you realize this number is not a standard that will make you eligible to be admitted into an Ivy League school. Consider this number a minimum. In reality, a much higher AI is generally required of most athletes. To make it even more confusing, each school within the Ivy League has a different AI requirement. The rule states that the mean AI of all athletes on campus must fall within one standard deviation of the mean AI of the whole student body. If, for example, the average student on the Princeton campus has a higher Academic Index than the average Penn student, the Princeton athletic recruits must also meet a higher standard.”

“The general consensus is that SAT scores of 700 or better per section and a 3.5 GPA put the potential recruit on solid academic footing to be recruited just about anywhere. Ivy League coaches are looking for athletes who can make the grade with admissions, and just as importantly, they are looking for athletes who can compete and win at the Division I level.”

Good luck



Academic Index Calculation in the Ivy League

You could potentially go through the entire Ivy League recruiting process and never hear a coach mention the Academic Index. But from the coach’s perspective, it’s a ‘make or break’ number. It’s a little like an academic credit rating – three different coaches could calculate yours and everyone would end up with slightly different number.

The Academic Index is calculated by using your SAT scores, GPA and SAT II subject test scores. Each component is worth up to 80 points (so a perfect AI would be 240.)

SAT Score

Take the average of your SAT writing score and your SAT Critical Reading score, add that number to your SAT math score and divide the total by 20. So if our hypothetical student Todd scored a 680 Writing, a 700 CR and a 720 math – his academic index number for this portion would be 70.5.

Grade Point Average

The university has a conversion table to convert grade point average to an Academic Index number. The conversion can handle any conceivable grading scale, weighted or unweighted. A couple examples:

3.5 (out of 4.0) unweighted yields 73 AI points,

3.7 weighted is 71 points

3.0 unweighted is worth 67 points

So let’s say Todd has a 3.3 on an unweighted 4.0 scale, that gives him 70 AI points. Until 2012, class rank was the preferred method to calculate this portion. Since more schools are getting away from ranking, plus it penalizes athletes coming from academically elite high schools – the Ivy League is now using GPA instead of rank.

SAT II Subject Tests

This is calculated the same way as Part I. Add your 2 best SAT II subject tests together and divide that total by 20. Todd scored a 640 in Spanish and a 680 in Biology so he got 66 Academic Index points out of this part.

So Todd’s Academic Index score is 206.5

If the student hasn’t taken the SAT II, the index can be calculated by doubling the SAT I score calculated in Part I. If you have an ACT composite score but no SAT yet, there is a conversion table for that, too.

Calculating Academic Index using ACT Scores

You can get a pretty accurate quick conversion by multiplying the ACT composite by 2.23 to get the approximate AI points. So a perfect 36 gives 80 AI points, a 26 would mean 59 points. Or you can convert the ACT to SAT using a concordance table and calculate the Academic Index using the converted SAT score.

You can see that the AI, like a credit score, can vary a little bit depending on the data that’s used to calculate it. It’s also been reported that a student coming from a particularly rigorous school, or one that’s known for grade deflation – may get a couple of extra AI points.  So get out your transcript and test scores and run the numbers to see where you stand. Next I’ll talk about how schools in the Ivy League use the Academic Index and where you want to be as a potential recruit in the Ivy League.

Update: Here is an academic index calculator that reflects the changes in the way the index is calculated in 2012. It’s an editable spreadsheet – feel free to use it.