Sports and College Admissions

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How important are sports on your college applications?


Besides a fun and exciting way to get involved in competitive physical activities, playing sports in high school can also help with college admissions.

Sports provide for a well-rounded character: they help develop skills based on teamwork and camaraderie, as well as teach young people how to set goals and persevere through hardships to achieve those goals. But how exactly do athletes in high school have the upper hand when it comes to college applications and admissions?

If you plan on getting a college athletic scholarship, then of course, sports help. But according to the NCAA, less than five percent of high school athletes go on to compete in college; which leaves 95% wondering if their athletic resume will make them look more attractive to prospective colleges.

Sports vs. Extra-curricular Activities

To college admissions boards, sports aren’t technically any different from any other extra-curricular activity. A varsity basketball player doesn’t necessarily have an advantage over a jazz band or theater participant. The important part to admissions boards is the time commitment and goal-achieving skills developed in these extracurricular activities.

But sports do offer a unique advantage: college admissions boards know the time and commitment that go into being part of a team sport. Other activities, like chess club for instance, are more ambiguous. Without further investigation, it’s hard to say whether a chess club member had a weekly commitment of 20 minutes or 20 hours. College admissions boards are aware of the level of commitment that is required for playing a varsity sport, such as soccer or softball.

Level of Sports

Not all levels of athletics are the same. Admissions boards understand the commitment difference between JV and Varsity sports. They know that a varsity softball player probably worked harder and for longer than her JV counterpart, and these athletes’ applications will be analyzed accordingly. Perhaps it’s not fair in some cases, but in most cases, varsity athletes will have a leg up on JV participants.

Elite Athletes

Obviously, elite athletes are often in a different category than most high school student athletes. Nationally known recruits, Olympic athletes and other standouts will most likely have some unique advantages in applying to college, including the possibility of athletic scholarships to college. Learn more about NCAA eligibility requirements for athletics and what you need to do if you plan to participate in athletics at the college level: NCAA Clearinghouse for Athletes and Performers


Leadership is an important quality to college admissions boards. In sports, athletes typically exhibit leadership skills by taking on captain or co-captain positions. A captainship on a winning team shows college admissions boards that you weren’t only a part of goal-making move, but that you were also a part of a goal-achieving team.

Depth of Commitment

College admissions boards want students that focus on a keen balance between activities and academics, and who show a depth of commitment rather than a scattered, superficial commitment to a wide-range of activities. A four-year letter-winner and devoted member of the Physics club will always show greater commitment depth than someone who dabbles in seven different sports, without ever fully committing to one or two.

Pros and Cons

Certainly, there are some inherent risks in playing high school sports. Oftentimes, athletes become burnt out when they focus too greatly on one sport. And injuries are always a possibility in any sort of athletic competition. But sports can also bring many other positive skills to an athlete, like organizational skills in both high school and throughout college.

Sports force student-athletes to manage their time and organize their lives accordingly. These organizational and time-management skills, as well as other skills (leadership, commitment, goal-setting) seep into the students’ character - making him a well-rounded, responsible person.

College admissions boards are aware of these additional traits, so when they see a deep commitment to sports along with a balance of academics and activities on your application, they are more likely to assume that you can contribute positively to their college, and consequently, more likely to put your application on the top of the stack.

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