The Ivy Coach Daily

February 25, 2021

How Swimmers Should Navigate Ivy League Admission

In objective sports like swimming and track where it’s all about times, it’s easy to figure out where you stand in the eyes of a college coach.

Parents of student-athletes who are not our clients often call us around late October. Their call goes something like this: “My daughter just got a call from the swim coach at the school to which she will be applying Early Decision in a few days. The coach told her that he thinks her grades and scores are strong enough that she just might be able to get in on her own. My daughter was so excited.”

We often wonder why parents like these are calling us just a couple of days before the Early application deadline, particularly if they are so confident their daughter will earn admission based on the coach’s words. But, of course, these parents have a sixth sense that the coach was conveying something very different to their daughter. And, yes, these parents would be right to trust their instincts as the call their daughter received from the swim coach is, as we’ve long coined it, the kiss of death from a college athletic coach. In essence, what the coach was really conveying to the high school senior was that someone faster had come along. So he’s not going to earmark one of his coveted recruiting slots for this young woman — in spite of what he may have promised previously. And, unfortunately, it’s a fairly common occurrence. So what can talented athletes do to avoid finding themselves in this pickle?

Never Rely on a Sport to Earn Admission to Ivy League Schools

We’ve worked with many recruited athletes over the years at Ivy Coach. But would it surprise our readers to learn that our students never rely on their athletic abilities to earn admission? That’s right. They never rely on a sport. And why? Because what happens if they get injured just a few weeks before application deadlines? What happens if their jump-shot suddenly goes astray? Hey, it can happen to the best athletes. Remember #1 NBA draft pick Markelle Fultz? No? Exactly. What happens if the coach suddenly reneges on his or her word? What happens if one’s times just start getting slower? Who knows what can happen. It’s why at Ivy Coach we don’t allow our students to leave things to chance. We don’t allow our students to take the word of college athletic coaches as the gospel. Rather, we tell them it’s the gospel according to fibbers.

So what do our students do instead? That’s easy. They rely on a hook to earn admission that has nothing to do with their athletic prowess. It doesn’t mean they don’t still include their sport among their activities but several of their activities must relate to a singular hook that has nothing to do with their sport. What they will not do — what they must never do — is come across as well-rounded. Participating in several activities that relate to a non-sport hook, writing about that non-sport hook in essays, and including an activity or two that relate to the sport does not make a student well-rounded. Well-roundedness, of course, is everything we at Ivy Coach are against in elite college admissions. Our nation’s most selective universities, after all, seek to admit a well-rounded class of uniquely talented students. They don’t wish to admit well-rounded students nor have they wished to admit well-rounded students for decades.

If You Are Going to Rely on a Sport, Do Your Homework

But back to your sport. If you do hope to be a recruited athlete and if you do hope to avoid being in the pickle the aforementioned young woman found herself in just days before the Early deadline, try to take more control of your recruitment process earlier on. In this senior’s case, she’s a swimmer. She competes in a rather objective sport — one based on times. In fact, let’s get a little bit more specific. Let’s pretend she’s a breaststroker. Her best events are the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke, but the 100-yard breast in particular. She goes a 1:01.96 in the 100-yard breaststroke and a 2:25.47 in the 200-yard breastroke.

Here’s How to Do Your Homework

Let’s see how she stacks up against swimmers at a couple of Ivy League schools. And how exactly does one go about doing this? That’s easy. Just comb through the rosters and meet heat sheets at each of the respective institutions. At Harvard, as an example, according to our findings, Alison Hu’s best time in the 100 breast is a 1:05.19 and a 2:22.49 in the 200 breast. Claire Lin goes a 1:07.61 in the 100 breast. Allie Russell goes a 1:03.27 in the 100 and 2:17.79 in the 200. Ingrid Wall goes a 1:01.76 in the 100 and 2:22.43 in the 200. Jaycee Yegher goes a 59:39 in the 100 and a 2:08.47 in the 200. So it seems that our young prospect is faster than all but two specialists in breastroke on the Harvard roster when it comes to the 100 breast, though she’s a bit slower than the pack in the 200.

And what do you know? Both Jaycee Yegher and Ingrid Wall, who boast faster times in the 100 breast, are seniors. So they’ll be graduating soon. It’s thus safe to assume the swim coach will need to replace them with a recruit. But will the coach want to go to bat for a swimmer who has a great 100 time but slows down significantly in the 200? Or will he prefer a swimmer who can score points for the team in both events? It’s safe to assume the latter. Breaststrokers often aren’t great freestylers or backstrokers so the coach is likely going to want to earmark a breaststroke recruiting slot for a young woman who can score points in both breaststroke events — not only one. So is the swimmer a strong candidate to get recruited at Harvard? No. She’s in the running but she needs to improve her stamina in the 200 to be a strong recruit. She’s got work to do!

But while she may not be a top recruit for Harvard, a school that ranked third in the Ivy League last year in women’s swimming and diving, would she be a top recruit at, say, Cornell University? Cornell finished in last place in women’s swimming and diving last year. Combing through Cornell’s roster, we find breaststroke specialist Thea McKenna. She swam a season-best 1:08.85 in the 100 breast and 2:28.46 in the 200 breast. Carolyn Morikawa swam a 1:07.82 in the 100 breast and a 2:25.56 in the 200 breast. Amy Wu is also listed as a breaststroke specialist. But because she’s a freshman and the season was canceled due to the pandemic, her times aren’t listed on Cornell’s site. No problem! A quick search indicates her best time in the 100 breast is a 1:03.22 and 2:20.28 in the 200 breast. Our make-believe recruit would thus be the top 100 breaststroker on the team and she’d be competitive in the 200 breast as well (albeit not the fastest in the longer event). So would Cornell’s swim coach be interested in our recruit? Likely so. Would the coach flag our swimmer as the very top recruit of the year? Likely not. But at least now she’ll know where she stands in the coach’s eyes. The times, after all, tell the story.

Key Takeaways for Aspiring College Athletic Recruits

So what are the key takeaways? Don’t trust college athletic coaches. Don’t just take their word for it. They too often tell you what you want to hear until a shinier alternative comes along, until a faster swimmer comes around at the eleventh hour. Instead, figure out where you stand on your own. In a sport like swimming in which it’s all about times, it’s easy to see where you stand. It’s easy to see if a team will have a need for you next year. But no matter what the coach tells you and no matter where you feel you stand, don’t rely on the sport to get you in. Can being a recruited athlete help significantly in elite college admissions? Absolutely!

But don’t depend on your athletic prowess since you never know what will happen. What if you get hurt? Instead, showcase a singular hook when applying for admission that has nothing to do with your sport but do be sure not to present as well-rounded. And if you need help coming up with that singular hook and getting involved in activities that reflect that hook, well, that’s where we at Ivy Coach come in! So fill out our free consultation form and we’ll be in touch in short order.

You are permitted to use (including the content of the Blog) for your personal, non-commercial use only. You must not copy, download, print, or otherwise distribute the content on our site without the prior written consent of Ivy Coach, Inc.


If you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s college counseling,
fill out our complimentary consultation form and we’ll be in touch.

Get Started