Every year, students who are accomplished athletes come to us with the same College Essay Myth. “But College Essay Advisors,” they say. “I can’t write my essay about sports. That’s what EVERYBODY does.”
The notion that all student who play sports write college essays about their athletic pursuits is simply inaccurate. Last year one our our students, a star football player, wrote about his aptitude for solving puzzles. Another student on the school rowing team wrote about her family’s immigration story. Athletes are not just athletes — they are complex humans with varied talents and experiences, many of which are worth exploring in essay form. Still, it is impractical to think that students who devote thirty hours or more of their lives each week to a sport, won’t feel compelled to write about their passion for soccer or aptitude for tennis or cheerleading. And rightfully so. Sports teach valuable skills like leadership, teamwork and discipline. They foster bonds of friendship that often last decades or longer. A working knowledge of sports can even be a lifelong conversation starter among strangers.
Students do not have to shy away from detailing these experiences and what they learned from them — they just have to shift the lens, add another layer, or approach these topics from creative perspectives to make them both original and reflective of a greater range of interests and talents. For example, maybe your experience diving for the ball as a volleyball player allowed you to take a risk in applying for the job of your dreams. Perhaps the qualities needed to be a good basketball player and also the skills needed to command a boardroom. Students might want to steer away from major tropes like getting injured before a big game or scoring the winning goal — though if those stories are treated with sincerity and an innovative perspective, they can make for effective essays as well. The test of whether or not you have achieved the level of creativity necessary to set a sports essay apart from all the rest is this: Could any other basketball player have written your essay? If another lacrosse player put her name on your application, would the details still be mostly accurate? If the answer is yes, find another way in; add another twist; push towards a more compelling and creative conclusion. So, yes, you can write a sports essay — it just has to be a sports essay unlike any other.
When Will Sports Play a Significant Role in College Admissions?
Even when sports are not the single determining factor in your college admissions, they can still play a significant role in your college acceptance. In order for sports to be significantly weighed on your college applications, a few factors will need to be considered.
First, you will still need to be a top athlete, often at the state or even national level. While you may not need to be the single top-ranked player in your sport, you will need to be competitive at the highest levels in order for sports to play a significant role in your college admissions decisions.
Next, you need to be interested in attending schools that are actively seeking athletes in your sport. Sometimes, a school is in the position of actively trying to build a stronger football or golf team. If you are a highly competitive and successful football player or golfer, these skills might be considered particularly important to your college admissions.
Finally, you will generally need to be at least minimally qualified to attend the school academically. This means that while your test scores and grades don’t necessarily have to be in the top 50% of admitted students, they shouldn’t be ridiculously below the school’s average either. Schools will often be willing to give you some leeway, but they won’t completely bend the rules to accommodate you.
When Will Sports Be An Advantage on My College Application?
Even if sports don’t play a significant role on your college applications, they may still work to your advantage. Ultimately, participation in sports will be an advantage similar to any other extracurricular activity on your application.
If you participate regularly in sports over a prolonged period of time, you’ll exemplify dedication, passion, and commitment. In addition, you may be able to build up to a leadership role or win other recognition in the form of coach’s awards or all-star team status. Any of these achievements is an advantage on your application the same way that any other extracurricular achievement can be.
In addition, sports can act like a hook the same way that other highly specialized skills and talents do. Hooks are essentially niche skills or characteristics that fulfill some type of institutional need during any particular application cycle. For example, if the very successful tennis team is graduating all of their top doubles teams, they may be more likely to look for tennis players during the next application cycle.
A hooked applicant isn’t given automatic preference for admissions, but if you are comparable to many other applicants and are otherwise completely qualified for admissions, you may have an edge over other qualified applicants who do not fill one of the institution’s specific needs at that time.
Playing sports is unlikely to be the single determining factor that gets you into college, but it’s not completely impossible. If you are a top athlete in your sport, competing at state and national levels, you might be recruited by Division I schools or even offered scholarships. These are the most likely circumstances in which playing sports can get you into college.
Of course, sports can play other, less significant roles in your college admissions as well. Often, the weight it is given varies, depending on how successful and competitive you’ve been and the priorities and needs of the specific colleges and universities to which you’re applying.
Even if athletics don’t get you into a college, they can still be an important factor in your college admissions. If you are otherwise qualified for a school and also are a highly successful athlete, your sports participation may be a determining factor that sets you apart from others. Finally, even if you are not a particularly standout athlete, if you participate consistently and set yourself apart through leadership or dedication, your participation will still play an advantageous role in your admission, much the same as any other extracurricular.
If you’re a high school athlete pondering how your participation in athletics will affect your college admissions, or you’re interested in learning more about how you can present your participation in the most favorable light possible, consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from college admissions to career aspirations, all from successful college students.
For more information about extracurriculars or sports participation in high school or college, check out these posts: