For prospective NESCAC student-athletes, the college application process involves much more behind-the-scenes interactions than it does for other prospective students. However, it ultimately boils down to the same basic steps.
The recruiting process starts either when high school coaches contact their college counterparts to alert them of talented players or when high school students express an interest to college coaches. Typically in their junior year of high school, prospective student-athletes fill out an online form for the recruiting databases of each school in which they are interested. The information required on these forms varies by sport, but typically includes at least the students’ GPAs and standardized test scores, information about their athletic accomplishments, and their basic demographics.
Coaches use third-party sources to access information about potential recruits, more efficiently scout the top players in the country, and look at video footage and academic information.
“I knew as an athlete applying that a lot of my grades and my transcript were available to any coach who was looking at me,” said Julia Geaumont ’16, a pitcher on the softball team.
Recruiting is a highly regulated process for all NCAA institutions, and for D-III schools specifically.
One of the major elements of recruiting is contact between coaches and recruits. Coaches can only make off campus, in-person contact with recruits after their junior year of high school, but may attend clinics, camps or high school all-star games without officially contacting students at any point after they begin ninth grade. Unlike D-I, there are no specific and differentiated contact, evaluation, recruiting, quiet or dead periods of recruiting activities.
“There are a few more restrictions related to recruiting in the NESCAC as compared to D-I and other D-III institutions,” said Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan. The biggest differentiator is that “coaches are limited in the amount of contact they can have with prospective students off campus.”
Similarly, Amherst’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Thomas Parker said that coaches are “allowed to watch students play, but there are pretty strict rules about how and when they can contact them. They can attend camps in the summer conducted by any of the areas’ [schools], but have very limited funds to travel away from campus to watch and talk to athletes."
NESCAC coaches stress prospective athletes’ feeling of belonging to the campus community to a greater degree than some of their peer schools, ensuring that both admissions officers and recruits understand the importance of the overall fit of the student with the college, and not just a team.
“The focus of the NESCAC is on promoting and prioritizing the on-campus visit, and therefore stressing the importance of fit with students,” Ryan said.
“[When] we let admissions know of our interest in a person, [we’re] letting them know that we think they would be a good all-around fit at Bowdoin,” said women’s soccer head coach Brianne Weaver.
This idea is not lost on the students, who realize that, if they have to leave a team because of injury or other reasons, it’s important to feel comfortable with the rest of the Bowdoin community.
Former volleyball player Luisa LaSalle ’14 said that when she was a prospective student, the Bowdoin coach “was very open that the school needs to be right for you, and if Bowdoin wasn’t the right fit but someone was an amazing volleyball player, she didn’t want them to come. I felt like I was going to Bowdoin and I was going to play volleyball. I wasn’t going to Bowdoin to play volleyball.”
Another important aspect of the recruitment timeline is the campus visit, during which prospective athletes tour the school and have the chance to spend time with members of the team, coaches and athletic department staff. According to the NCAA D-III manual, these may be official visits, “financed in whole or in part by the member institution,” or unofficial visits, “made at the prospective student-athlete’s own expense.”
While the families of many students who visit Bowdoin—for athletics or otherwise—finance their trips on their own, those who demonstrate need may receive financial support from the College to help cover travel costs.
“We provide travel support for many low-income students who have not visited and might not otherwise have a chance to come to Maine,” said Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Scott Meiklejohn. “To the extent that someone who is of interest to a Bowdoin coach meets our usual requirements, a small number of them may get the same sort of travel support that other students receive.”
The D-III manual says that “an institution may not provide transportation to a prospective student-athlete other than on the official visit.” Because of this, these supported cases would have to be considered official visits. Recruits are only allowed one official visit, not to exceed 48 hours in length, during their senior year of high school. They may have an unlimited number of unofficial visits, which can be before or during their senior year and have no time limit.
The opportunity is easily arranged, and is generally found to be valuable for the students.
“It was really nice to have a team member show me around Bowdoin and make me feel wanted, whereas maybe a walk-on would not already have that ‘in’ with the team,” said LaSalle. “Hanging out with some of the teammates and being able to envision myself as part of the team was definitely helpful.”
According to men’s swim captain Linc Rhodes ’14, the recruiting trip’s value lies in “the intimate experience of being able to hang out with a team with the focus all being on you. With [regular campus visits] it’s more with students milling around, and nobody’s really focused on you specifically. With the recruit trips, its all about you.”
Starting on July 1, NESCAC coaches may send materials from rising seniors to admissions officers for what is known as an early read. According to Parker, the NESCAC-regulated early read includes an evaluation of the student, a transcript, a hard copy of test scores, and a profile of the high school qualifications.
Ryan said that Bowdoin also asks for a resume of activities from each prospective student, “because you’re not going to come here and just be an athlete.”
But not every prospective athlete applicant gets this privilege.
“The first thing we look at is [if they are] in the ballpark academically,” said Ryan.
“Our coaches are able to do a preliminary analysis to understand whether someone has a remote possibility of being a strong candidate for Bowdoin. That also correlates on the athletics side as well—is this someone we could foresee playing a role on one of our teams? If the answer is yes to both of those questions then we’re likely to submit an early read to the admissions office,” said Ryan.
The athletics department pays careful attention to manage the amount of early reads it sends to admissions, “but we don’t necessarily have a quota that we may max out at during the early read process,” Ryan said, noting that coaches are cognizant of admissions officers’ time and resources.
However, Ryan added that “the NESCAC has a set of guidelines in place that we’re currently operating under whereby institutional personnel are required to keep information related to the admissions support system confidential and internal, and we’re supportive of that.” As a result, he could not disclose specifics about the number of early reads or who in admissions looks at them.
Additionally, Meiklejohn and Director of Admissions Whitney Soule declined to comment on the subject.
Following an early read, an admissions liaison for the athletic department then suggests one of a few options: the coach no longer pursue the applicant because his/her qualifications aren’t viable, that the coach continue to monitor the applicant’s senior grades or test scores as a possible admit, or that the coach consider the student a clear A-band academically and suggest it is likely—but not guaranteed—that they will get in.
“I like to use the metaphor of green light, yellow light, red light,” said Parker.
“An early read is something all coaches are able to get for athletes,” said MaryBeth Mathews, head coach of women’s rugby.
This feedback is then diluted and passed along to the students, without, said Ryan, “going into the details of the level of support that a student may need in order to move forward in the process.”
He said that these conversations either encourage promising student-athletes to apply to Bowdoin, or advise students who do not meet Bowdoin’s admissions standards to look elsewhere.
For those students for whom the admissions office has given the green light, Ryan said “the feedback that we would then give would be that we’d love to have them come to Bowdoin and we would encourage them to apply, and we would be willing to offer our support to them in the admissions process.”
Students are not explicitly told to improve their grades in a certain subject or their scores on a specific SAT subtest, and are not privy to information about which band they fall into.
Once a coach has expressed interest to a prospective student-athlete, that individual must still apply like everyone else. NESCAC rules state that no coach can “offer, promise or otherwise guarantee” a student-athlete’s spot, and that any communication about admission “should be considered preliminary, unofficial and subject to change.”
“It’s a strong statement for a coach to say, ‘I support this person’s application,’ so admissions is certainly going to look very hard at their application,” said Weaver. “But it’s no golden ticket at all.”
The recruited students being supported by athletics in admissions will typically apply Early Decision I (ED I) to their first-choice college.
“They don’t necessarily apply early decision, but a lot of students who plan on playing a sport in college traditionally have been on a faster timeline in terms of making their decision about what college it is they want to attend,” said Ryan. “It’s fair to say that we do have many athletes who apply during the ED I timeframe. But we have members of all of our teams who have gone through the application process through regular decision, ED II and ED I.”
According to Parker, the majority apply ED “partly as a consequence of a school having to control their number [of athletic recruits]. Going over your allotment entails a penalty—you lose the number over from your number the following year.” As a result, “most schools play it safe and come in slightly under their limit.”
Although being supported by the athletics department in admissions does not guarantee admittance, some existing misconceptions imply otherwise.
“Just because they’ve had a conversation with a coach doesn’t mean [recruits] will automatically get in,” said Meiklejohn. “Notwithstanding that, I think some students hear it that way.
“Outside of our league I think there are a lot of students who are being told their spot is set—the NESCAC doesn’t do it that way,” he added. The D-III manual states that “an institution shall not use any form of a letter of intent or similar form of commitment in the recruitment of a prospective student-athlete.”
“The admissions office makes admissions decisions, the coaches make recruiting decisions. [There’s a] big, clear boundary between those two things,” said Meiklejohn.
Furthermore, misconceptions exist that recruited athletes apply ED because they are more likely to be accepted from the ED applicant pool.
“I definitely think there is a kind of a stigma toward athletes getting in ED and kind of securing that position,” said Geaumont. “I knew coming from my standpoint as an athlete that once you find where you want to go it shows you’re committed and want to come play, and I think applying ED shows the college that you want to do that.”
Understanding the regulations behind these recruiting protocols is often the most helpful way to ensure that people don’t spread false information, according to Parker.
“I really believe in candor when it comes to this process, because there are a lot of places where they’ll say, ‘We want our teams to win but we don’t want to discuss it publicly,’” said Parker. “If you can’t talk candidly about your admissions process—and I don’t just mean athletics but also with alumni children, etc.—you’re probably doing your students a disservice. People’s imaginations are inevitably much worse than the reality.”
“We’re all such small communities that gossip can really hurt,” he added.
But even so, the process is not always well understood by people looking at it from the outside.
In a 2005 New York Times article, Washington and Lee University’s athletic director Mike Walsh said, “What I hear back from our coaches is that our system is less automatic than the system used by the NESCACs. There’s a feeling that if you’re on top of one of their coach’s lists and there’s no smoking gun in your application, you’ll be accepted. That’s my impression and the impression of other non-NESCAC schools.”
However, Parker says, “That’s nonsense. We have a floor—the lowest level of the C band range—and we cannot go beneath that floor. I think some of that kind of feeling is because I don’t think there’s another conference that regulates it and is as candid about what they do as the NESCAC is. To be honest, before the NESCAC was putting everything on the table, that existed within it.”
Athletics staff ultimately emphasize that all potential applicants to Bowdoin are going through the same basic process.
“What we always stress is that the application process needs to be treated with the respect it deserves,” said Ryan. “Regardless of the support they’re getting from us, if a student doesn’t treat the application process with respect, then they’ve dealt their own hand. Just like any other student, that’s not going to fly.”
Link to Article: NESCAC Recruiting - Recruiting Timeline and Early Reads