Non-Scholarship Options for the Prospective Student-Athlete

Tom KovicCorrespondent IDecember 3, 2008

As a former 19 year head coach at the University of Pennsylvania, I was blessed with a successful career and many fond memories.


Considering the selectivity in admissions and the high price tag of one of the nation’s premier institutions, I had strong success in recruiting and I learned some valuable lessons about prospective student-athletes and the benefits they may receive in the admissions process.


Ivy League and other select, non-athletic scholarship awarding institutions can, in many cases, offer significant assistance in Admissions that can potentially lend strong support for prospective student-athletes.


It is important that prospects, families and high school advisors clearly understand the role the college coach plays in this process and make every effort to develop a sincere and strong working relationship with them throughout the college search.


Admissions Pre-Reads


Early academic evaluations are an effective means of determining the potential admissibility of a candidate.


Typically, coaches work with an athletic department “Admissions Liaison” which can assist them in requesting “early reads” for prospects. If families have cultivated a strong relationship with the coach, this request will likely be honored and could be a real time saver by providing recruits with an accurate idea of their chances in admissions. Below are some important points to consider regarding pre-reads:


·        Provides the family with a strong idea of the likelihood of admission.

·        Requires current and accurate standardized test scores, updated transcripts and high school profile.

·        Gives the coach a strong indication of the prospects Admissions Index and the level of potential support in Admissions.

·        Coach-family collaboration develops trust and confidence.

·        Shows the coach “strong interest” from family and prospect.

·        Will avoid “spinning of wheels” for the family, prospect and the college coach, especially if admissions seem unlikely.

·        Turnaround time is generally 2-3 weeks


Likely Letters


The likely letter is a tremendous tool typically used by Ivy League coaches that offer “near guarantees” of admissions and these letters can be sent to prospective student-athletes well before the regular population of applicants is reviewed.


This becomes a tremendous bargaining chip for college coaches who are competing with scholarship institutions for the same prospect, or “overlap” prospects who are applying to other Ivy League and select academic institutions. It is fair to point out that likely letters are not abundantly available and only a certain percentage of “impact” prospects will receive them.


Likely letters will provide recruits and their families with a sense of confidence, especially when they are presented with athletic scholarship deadlines from other college coaches, or feeling pressure from non-scholarship college coaches to “move in their direction.”


Likely letters are issued directly from the admissions office and will offer families with relative assurance that, barring any unusual circumstances, their children will be admitted.


Priority Applications


Priority applications are becoming more popular in the recruiting process and are typically used by Division 3 programs as a means of providing families with an early “look” from admissions well before the majority of regular applicants are read.


When broken down, the priority application is a win-win for both the college coaches and the families. Firstly, the priority application is a simplified version of the regular application that offers the prospect with a streamlined and time saving approach to admissions and turnaround time from the office of admissions can be as early as 30 days.


Likewise, college coach’s benefit by offering their top candidates with a priority admissions read that can rival both the national letter of intent, as well as many of the early decision/action admissions programs.


It is fair to say that priority applications are not offered to the majority of prospects, but are distributed to athletes who show significant interest in his program and are part of the coach’s “A” recruiting file.


Either way, the priority application can provide families with early and exact information in admissions and serve as a handy tool that will assist them strongly in the decision making process.



Tips for Advisors, Parents and Prospects


Below are a few pointers that will be helpful in navigating the college quest for prospective student-athletes who are interested in applying to Ivy League and select, non athletic scholarship schools:


·        Cultivate an honest and truthful relationship with the college coach.

·        Provide the college coach with accurate and timely information that will assist him in making a fair and timely evaluation of both academic strength and athletic talent.

·        Be honest with the college coach about the schools you are seriously considering.

·        Let the college coach know where you stand with his/her school, and give the coach a chance to recruit you further.

·        Avoid using the coach as a springboard in Admissions with the intent of not participating on the team. This will potentially backfire down the road for high school teammates and your sports program. Remember, you are representing yourself, your coach, your school and your family. Maintain a high level of integrity.

·        Include community service and leadership activities in your personal profile. This could add some weigh that creates further support for your application by the college coach.


In today’s tough economic climate, the non scholarship option for prospective student-athletes and families may seem daunting; however, considering the long term benefits one can receive from such a potentially rewarding experience, this option is very worthy.


Additionally, it is fair to point out that athletes, although identified in Admissions as having a special talent, are treated as any other candidate and will be admitted only if the applicant’s academic credentials are in an acceptable range and s/he is deemed capable of succeeding.


That being said, student-athletes who bring solid academic credentials to the table and have the ability to strongly impact an athletics program could bring a very strong “chip” to the game of college recruiting that could give them a leg up on the competition.




Tom Kovic is a former 19 year head coach at Penn and the current director of Victory Collegiate Consulting, where he provides individual advisement for families on college recruiting. Tom is the author of “Reaching for Excellence, an educational guide for college athletics recruiting and he has lectured on the topic of college recruiting at several national and regional conventions. For additional information visit: