The Ivy Coach Daily

October 17, 2022

Fencing in Ivy League Admissions

A New York Times piece may lead some to believe that fencing is a golden ticket to Ivy League schools. It’s not.

Thinking about getting your child a foil, épée, or sabre so they can start fencing and earn admission to the college of their dreams? A piece out today in The New York Times focuses on how competitive fencing can be a pathway to elite universities and how many parents sign their children up to start fencing in the hope of booking a ticket to elite universities, including the Ivy League institutions.

As Stephanie Saul reports for The New York Times in a piece entitled “Fencing Can be Six-Figure Expensive, but It Wins in College Admissions,” “For families who invest in this expensive sport, the main target is quite clear — just look up. Hanging from the ceiling are flags from Duke, Harvard, N.Y.U., Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame, Princeton and Columbia, representing the clique of colleges and universities with N.C.A.A. fencing teams. A way with a sword can help students stand out in the college admissions game, according to Yury Gelman, founder of the Manhattan Fencing Center.”

But, respectfully, we beg to offer another perspective on the reporting in The Paper of Record. Sure, recruited fencers to the aforementioned universities improve their chances in admission by virtue of being recruited athletes. But it’s not like the fencing coaches at these universities have the pull of, say, the baseball, basketball, hockey, or football coaches. It’s not like they have the pull of the soccer or lacrosse coaches. Do you think having a strong fencing team inspires droves of students to come out of their dorms and cheer on their school on a lazy Saturday afternoon? Do you think having a strong fencing team inspires millions of dollars of alumni donations? Of course not.

And what percentage of young people who compete in fencing growing up end up getting recruited by these schools? Like in any sport, the answer is a small percentage. Yet when so many students — and especially so many Asian American students in particular — participate in fencing, there’s an opportunity cost. What could these young people have been doing while they were fencing that would have improved their chances of admission to elite universities? What could they have been doing to better differentiate themselves in the competitive landscape of elite college admissions?

Loyal readers of Ivy Coach’s college admissions blog know well that admissions officers at elite universities, including the Ivies, so often unknowingly discriminate against Asian American applicants. It’s not that they mean to discriminate. Admissions officers, like all people, are impacted by implicit biases. Yet a big reason why the Asian American students of Ivy Coach don’t face that same discrimination is because they don’t present profiles that are so often regrettably associated with their race. And, yes, fencing is often associated with Asian American applicants.

So, no, the title of the piece in The Paper of Record, we argue, is rather misleading. Fencing doesn’t necessarily win in college admissions — any more so than baseball or football, tennis or squash. In fact, fencing can often lose in college admissions since the game is differentiation. In short, it’s not the golden ticket.

While you’re here, read about the country club sports of the Ivy League.

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