Ivy League Admission Tips: Strategies for Student Athletes

Athletic ability can make a powerful difference in the college admissions process. If a college or university recruits you as an athlete, you will automatically gain admission to the school. Even if you are an exceptional athlete, however, you must still develop a compelling transcript and a unique application theme and narrative.

In this article, we explain how top colleges recruit athletes. Then, we provide some Ivy League admission strategies on how to increase your chances of being recruited.

The Athletic Recruiting Process

There are two basic stages in the athletic recruiting process.

First, college coaches travel extensively, review local news columns, and conduct other research to find potential recruits. They look for distinguished players (such as all-Americans, state and national champions, and the like) and evaluate whether these athletes meet the academic standards of the school they represent.

Second, after finding potential recruits, coaches carefully compile a list of athletes who are highly skilled and meet the school’s other eligibility requirements. Regardless of their athletic ability, students with low academic achievement will not gain admission to top colleges.

Factors That Influence the Athletic Recruiting Process

When evaluating an athlete’s college application, admissions officers are typically concerned with determining whether the student will succeed academically. Therefore, your college admissions profile must show that you are a serious student who can handle a top college’s academic workload.


Admissions officers who review an athlete’s admissions profile do not only check the student’s grades—they also place importance on their course load. Athletes who maintain strong grades while taking demanding courses show that they are prepared to face a top school’s challenging academics. If you take on a demanding course load that demonstrates academic strength, determination, and commitment, you will have a much better chance of being recruited.

Still, if athletics is your way of standing out—if you have invested countless hours into practicing a sport and are truly exceptional—the admissions officers will understand if you aren’t quite as strong in other areas. Most top-tier athletes have to dedicate themselves to their sport, so many of them don’t have much free time for studying and preparing for college entrance exams.

Regardless of your situation, always keep in mind that top schools have high academic standards—even the most amazing athlete will have trouble gaining admission if they have a weak academic record. If, however, you pursue a rigorous course load and get strong grades while excelling at your sport, you will be a much stronger applicant.

Student Background

In general, the athletes at top colleges with the weakest academic records play football and hockey. Due to bias against applicants from privileged backgrounds, most athletes with low academic performance are middle class. In fact, athletes who attend private or college preparatory schools, maintain average grades, and do nothing else to stand out are much less likely to be admitted—regardless of their ability—than students from low-income schools.

Of course, this general trend does not necessarily mean that athletes from affluent families cannot be recruited or that the process will be harder for them—each student’s case is unique.

Athletic Scholarships

While many top colleges award athletic scholarships, none of the eight Ivy League schools do so. Ivy League financial aid is based entirely on a student’s need, but other top colleges often award athletic scholarships to the best athletes.

Because of this policy, many outstanding athletes who would otherwise apply to an Ivy League school instead choose to attend another, less selective university that offers athletic scholarships. You will have to carefully analyze your financial situation to decide on the best school for you.

When crafting your athletics-based college admissions profile, keep the above factors in mind. Most importantly, remember that your athletic ability needs to be coupled with a solid academic performance. If you follow these Ivy League admission strategies, you will be sure to impress college coaches and admissions officers alike.