Thousands of high school students throughout our region dedicate their afternoons to sports. For most, it’s simply a fun outlet. For others, it could provide significant leverage in the college admissions process. That’s where Tom Kovic comes in. A former University of Pennsylvania gymnastics coach and the founder of Chadds Ford-based Victory Collegiate Consulting, Kovic helps families across the country negotiate the college athletic recruitment process.
CG: Some students aren’t sure if they wan to play sports in college. How do you have that discussion with families?
TK: The first question for prospective student athletes is: “Do I want to use my strength as an athlete to gain an athletic scholarship, or do I want to leverage my athletic ability to gain admission to an academically select institution?”
CG: How much should athletic scholarship money impact that decision?
TK: Just over 25 percent of college athletes qualify for athletic scholarships, and the competition for these grants is fierce. College coaches use simple strategies when recruiting prospects, and scholarship athletes are typically immediate-impact, blue-chip athletes.
CG: Some colleges can’t even offer scholarship money. What are some of those schools, and how is recruitment different for them?
TK: For coaches from these select college programs (Ivy League, Patriot League, Division III), the evaluation begins in the classroom and not on the field. They’re hungry for academic information (transcripts, high school profile, standardized testing) that will help them compute a rough admissions index. Once prospects pass this hurdle, coaches aggressively begin the sport evaluation.
CG: Once students decide to pursue college recruitment, where do they start?
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TK: All student athletes have an ideal college experience waiting for them, and discovering what that may look like is a great place to start. I suggest beginning by meeting as a family to identify college descriptors (academic strength, level of athleticism, geographic location, size of undergraduate population) that will help formulate an initial college list. Students should research a small but equal number of Division I, II and III colleges and their sports programs, athlete profiles, conference competition and team success.
CG: It seems like there are so many NCAA recruitment rules. How do you even start to understand them?
TK: Learning about college recruitment can begin as early as middle school as a fun family hobby that should increasingly grow into a highly organized, disciplined project by the end of junior year in high school. Visiting the NCAA’s website is a starting point. High school athletic directors and sports-club administrators are also tremendous resources in providing an easy-to-understand, scaled-down version of NCAA rules. These leaders likely have strong experience in working with former high school prospects and will serve as great resources.
CG: How much of an impact can college coaches have on an admissions decision?
TK: Ivy League and select non-athletic scholarship institutions can, in many cases, offer significant assistance in admissions. It’s important that prospects, families and high school advisors clearly understand the role the coach plays in this process and make every effort to develop a sincere and strong working relationship with the person throughout the college search.
CG: What do you say to prospects and families who are hesitant about pursuing recruitment?
TK: While recruitment may appear daunting, consider the long-term benefits. Student athletes who bring solid academic credentials to the table and have the ability to strongly impact an athletics program can bring a very strong and competitive chip to the college admissions game.
CG: Some students will be nervous to reach out to coaches if they don’t know what to say. How should they communicate recruitment?
TK: College coaches have clear restrictions on when and where they may contact prospects and families. But prospects and families may call or email a coach early in the recruiting process. An initial letter of introduction accompanied by a profile is a great way to begin, but it’s very important to follow up regularly with significant updates that have grip (competition results, academic updates). The prospect that practices proactive persistence with respect will grab the college coach’s attention.
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