Can Playing Sports Get Me Into College?
Selective colleges now receive applications from many more academically qualified students than they are able to admit. Students with stellar GPAs, high standardized test scores, and plenty of academic achievements now find that those accomplishments on their own aren’t enough to guarantee a spot at many selective colleges. Instead, extracurricular involvement, essays, and recommendations are playing an increasingly important role in college admissions.
If you’re a student athlete, you may be wondering how your athletic involvement and accomplishments might be considered when you apply to college. Perhaps you’ll wonder if your athletic achievements could be enough to get you into college.
Sports can be a valuable extracurricular. They typically represent a significant time commitment and are a good demonstration of a student athlete’s ability to manage time well. In addition, they can highlight your leadership skills if you are able to become a team captain or play another important role on your team. Finally, through extended participation in sports, you can provide solid evidence of your ability to follow through with your commitments and your dedication to pursuing your passions.
Sometimes, standout athletes can even be given preferential treatment in the college application process. They may be recruited, given athletic scholarships, or even admitted in large part due to their athletic accomplishments.
Often, your participation in athletics can be a solid advantage on your college application; it’s a strong extracurricular that shows your strengths outside of the classroom. That said, it is rare that sports will be the determining factor in your college admissions decisions, and even rarer for sports alone to get you into a college. To learn more about how sports will impact your college admissions process and the scenarios in which sports participation plays a significant role in college admissions, read on for our overview of sports in the context of college applications.
When Will Sports Get Me Into College?
Sports will be the determining factor in a college admissions decision only rarely. In order for sports to get you into college, a few factors need to line up for you.
First, you need to be a top athlete. This doesn’t just mean that you’re the captain of your school’s sport team or are the top scorer for two seasons running. It means that you consistently perform well at the highest competition levels available in your sport. Typically, students who get into college for sports are competing at the least at the top of the state level and more likely at the national level in their sport. This usually means that you also compete beyond your school team, participating in club, regional select, and Olympic development teams as well.
Next, you need to be interested in attending a school where a heavy emphasis is placed on your sport. This means most likely a Division I college or university with a well-funded sports program. These types of schools typically have more money for the sports program, including sports scholarships. They generally have a big sports following and televised sporting events.
Finally, the schools you’re interested in attending will usually be less selective academically if sports is the single determining factor in your admissions. For example, many Ivy League schools have successful and competitive sports programs. They compete in Division I and are well-funded. However, if you are far from academically qualified to attend an Ivy League, sports alone will still not be enough to get you into college.
In order for sports to be the single determining factor in your college admissions decisions, you need to be a national-level athlete interested in attending a Division-I school without exceptionally stringent academic requirements for admissions.
When Will Sports Play a Significant Role in College Admissions?
Even when sports are not the single determining factor in your college admissions, they can still play a significant role in your college acceptance. In order for sports to be significantly weighed on your college applications, a few factors will need to be considered.
First, you will still need to be a top athlete, often at the state or even national level. While you may not need to be the single top-ranked player in your sport, you will need to be competitive at the highest levels in order for sports to play a significant role in your college admissions decisions.
Next, you need to be interested in attending schools that are actively seeking athletes in your sport. Sometimes, a school is in the position of actively trying to build a stronger football or golf team. If you are a highly competitive and successful football player or golfer, these skills might be considered particularly important to your college admissions.
Finally, you will generally need to be at least minimally qualified to attend the school academically. This means that while your test scores and grades don’t necessarily have to be in the top 50% of admitted students, they shouldn’t be ridiculously below the school’s average either. Schools will often be willing to give you some leeway, but they won’t completely bend the rules to accommodate you.
When Will Sports Be An Advantage on My College Application?
Even if sports don’t play a significant role on your college applications, they may still work to your advantage. Ultimately, participation in sports will be an advantage similar to any other extracurricular activity on your application.
If you participate regularly in sports over a prolonged period of time, you’ll exemplify dedication, passion, and commitment. In addition, you may be able to build up to a leadership role or win other recognition in the form of coach’s awards or all-star team status. Any of these achievements is an advantage on your application the same way that any other extracurricular achievement can be.
In addition, sports can act like a hook the same way that other highly specialized skills and talents do. Hooks are essentially niche skills or characteristics that fulfill some type of institutional need during any particular application cycle. For example, if the very successful tennis team is graduating all of their top doubles teams, they may be more likely to look for tennis players during the next application cycle.
A hooked applicant isn’t given automatic preference for admissions, but if you are comparable to many other applicants and are otherwise completely qualified for admissions, you may have an edge over other qualified applicants who do not fill one of the institution’s specific needs at that time.
Playing sports is unlikely to be the single determining factor that gets you into college, but it’s not completely impossible. If you are a top athlete in your sport, competing at state and national levels, you might be recruited by Division I schools or even offered scholarships. These are the most likely circumstances in which playing sports can get you into college.
Of course, sports can play other, less significant roles in your college admissions as well. Often, the weight it is given varies, depending on how successful and competitive you’ve been and the priorities and needs of the specific colleges and universities to which you’re applying.
Even if athletics don’t get you into a college, they can still be an important factor in your college admissions. If you are otherwise qualified for a school and also are a highly successful athlete, your sports participation may be a determining factor that sets you apart from others. Finally, even if you are not a particularly standout athlete, if you participate consistently and set yourself apart through leadership or dedication, your participation will still play an advantageous role in your admission, much the same as any other extracurricular.
Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders, and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academics, choosing courses, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and much more!
For more information about extracurriculars or sports participation in high school or college, check out these posts:
- A Guide to Extracurricular Activities for Grade 9
- A Guide to Extracurricular Activities for Grade 10
- A Guide to Extracurricular Activities for Grade 11
- A Guide to Extracurricular Activities for Grade 12
- Extracurricular Activities for Student Athletes
- How to Get Noticed by College Sports Recruiters
- A Brief Guide to Athletic Recruitment
- Navigating the Rules of Athletic Recruitment
- What You Need to Know for a Successful Scholarship Season
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.