The Advantage of Swimmers and Runners in Admissions

Swimming and Admissions, Ivy League Swimming, Ivy Swimming

Brian wasn’t a fast enough swimmer to be recruited by Division 1 teams. He knew that. So he walked on.

When you think of college athletic recruiting, you likely think of sports like football and basketball. And you’re right to do so. In college admissions, football and basketball coaches have a whole lot of clout — more than any other coaches. One great point guard like Jeremy Lin can put Harvard’s basketball team on the map and in the NCAA Tournament field. As our regular readers know well, lengthy runs in the NCAA Tournament regularly lead to increased applications and lower admission rates the subsequent admissions cycle. Highly selective colleges are incentivized to work closely with their football and basketball coaches. But what about swimming, track, and cross-country recruits…could swimmers and runners have an advantage in admissions that even football and basketball players don’t enjoy? The answer is yes. While swimming, track, and cross-country coaches don’t have nearly the clout that their football and basketball counterparts enjoy, swimmers and runners have the advantage of competing in objective sports where they can judge for themselves their value to a college’s team.

Swimming and Running Recruits Can Compare Times

So often, we hear from swimmers and runners who don’t realize the power that they have in the admissions process. And what’s that power? They can figure out precisely where they stand in a coach’s eyes. A football linebacker doesn’t necessary know if he’s the linebacker the coach really covets. He relies on the coach’s word. Well, word to the wise, coaches often lie to recruits. They tell student-athletes that they’ll go to bat for them but when a linebacker comes along who may be a little bit faster, a little bit stronger, well, he may not be forthright with the slower, weaker linebacker to tell him that he’s lost interest and that perhaps he would be better served by getting on the radar of another college athletic coach.

But swimmers and runners don’t have this problem. As an example, all a breaststroker interested in attending Cornell needs to do is peruse the heat sheets on the Cornell swim team site. How does their 100 breaststroke compare to the current breaststrokers on the roster in the 100 and 200-yard breast? How do their times compare to other breaststrokers in the Ivy League whom they’d be competing against? And are the breaststrokers on the Cornell roster currently young pup freshmen or are they seniors? Because, if they’re seniors, that means the coach will have a need for fresh blood in the breastroke events. It’s that simple.

The Advantage of Swimmers and Runners in Admissions

So while swimmers and runners may not have powerful coaches pushing their applications through to the extent that football and basketball players can, they have the advantage of knowledge, of knowing exactly where they stand. So often, coaches say things like, “I think you’re a great athlete. I think you might be able to get in on your own, based on your academics.” Please read between those lines. It’s the kiss of death. What that means is the coach is not so subtly telling the student-athlete that he or she has no intention of going to bat for that student in admissions, that he or she won’t be wasting a slot on the student. Swimmers and runners don’t need to wonder if coaches will actually go to bat for them in admissions to the extent that athletes in more subjective sports have to worry. They can rely on their judgement, on their objective analysis of cold, hard data.

Have a question about the advantage of swimmers and runners in admissions? Let us know your question by posting it below. We’ll be sure to write back.


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  • Zachary says:

    I am a swimmer with strong academic as a freshman. However, I don’t have devoted a lot of time studying and swimming, so i don’t have many extra curricular activities. Will this hurt my chance for top tier college admission?

  • kapil says:

    I am a swimmer with strong academic as a freshman. However, I don’t have devoted a lot of time studying and swimming, so i don’t have many extra curricular activities. Will this hurt my chance for top tier college admission? If i am a medium fast swimmer so after getting in an ivy or D1 college will i eventually quit swimming due to pressure?????

  • Matteo Rojas says:

    Do admissions deans understand that being in a swim club prevents me from doing other activities? For example, I know students that are aiming for top schools participate in university/lab research programs or other academic programs over the summer, but my swim club doesn’t allow me to take time off in the summer off to do those programs. We have meets year round, with only 2 weeks off in August before school starts.

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