Dear Coach Bryant:

I need to make sure what happened to a friend’s child doesn’t happen to mine. A senior girl on my daughter’s rowing team thought she had a commitment from an elite Division III college. The coach repeatedly told her she had a place on next year’s crew. But she just found out this month that admissions rejected her application, and the coach says he can’t do anything. Now the girl and her family are desperately scrambling to find another college.

My daughter is a junior, looking at the same school. How can we make sure this doesn’t happen to her?

Charlotte Crew Mom

Dear Crew Mom:

Unfortunately, too many families find themselves in this position each spring. The best way to avoid such scenarios is to work with someone who really knows how to guide a student athlete through the college application process. Here’s what I tell my clients:

Get it in writing.

Students can’t rely on a coach’s verbal assurances. They should instead ask him/her to send an email confirming statements like, “I’m going to support your application with admissions,” or “I’ve run your profile by admissions and it looks strong.” (Meaning the coach has presented the student’s transcript, standardized tests scores or other documents for “an early read.”) Other written assurances are even better, like a “likely” letter coming straight from the dean of admissions.  A “likely” letter typically states that if a student’s profile doesn’t change it is “likely” he/she will be admitted.  

Get back-ups.

However, not every school can do a “likely” letter. And, since neither the coach nor the admissions staff can anticipate how many excellent applications they will receive for any given year, “likely” is not “certainly.” That’s why I help clients prepare individualized back-up plans. By junior year students should be developing relationships with coaches at multiple colleges where they can compete athletically, academically and financially. I guide them on not only how to find those schools, but how to cultivate those relationships until they receive an official acceptance.   

Get something official.  

The first official acceptance could be a “likely” letter as early as the spring of junior year. For certain seniors (those receiving athletic aid) the official acceptance might be a National Letter of Intent (NLI), received anytime from early November through spring. Since non-scholarship athletes don’t sign an NLI, students targeting those colleges must be persistent throughout late fall and early winter, checking with coaches regularly to make sure they are still in the running for acceptance and a place on the team.  

Get in touch.  

Only when students have their official acceptance or sign a NLI should they contact their back-up schools, telling those coaches they’ve committed elsewhere. It’s not necessary to brief each coach before then, unless they’re asked about their intentions. If a coach says, “Where are we on your list?” then a student should be honest and say, “Near the top. I’m still considering five schools,” or whatever is truthful. Once a student has accepted an official offer, he/she should notify the other coaches, thanking them for their interest. 

The Reality

Student athletes shouldn’t fully commit to a program until the program is fully committed to them. Since college coaches and admissions officials can’t control/predict all admittance factors, many high school seniors without back-up plans are left scrambling each spring. That’s why I guide student-athletes to start investigating realistic college options as sophomores, refine their college lists as juniors, and keep their best-bet options open as seniors — avoiding the spring scramble.

Good Luck,

Amy