by Jackie King
Earlier today, I saw a video that went viral showing two students in the 6th grade talking about their dreams. One of the students tells the class that she wants to go to Harvard and become the President of the United States. She has already started her own non-profit, is fluent in French and Spanish, and is well-spoken and outgoing. The video then shows the boy, clearly uninterested in the discussion and very dull, saying he “just wants to play ball.” Fast forward 7 years to graduation day, the girl is on the stage with countless awards, devastated because she got rejected from her dream school, with the boy in the corner being congratulated on his commitment to play baseball at Harvard. The video’s comment section was full of remarks such as “this is the truth,” “athletes never deserve it,” “really how it is this okay, it’s so unfair.”
The idea that recruited athletes are unintelligent and do not deserve to go to prestigious universities has become very common as the college application process has become more competitive. Because of this growing belief, countless college athletes have begun to experience what scientists call “imposter syndrome,” which Time Magazine defines as the worry that one has only succeeded due to luck, not because of their talent or qualifications, and the constant feeling that they will be exposed for being a “fraud.” The question is, are these beliefs justified for recruited athletes?
The main argument against high school athletes who go on to compete at prestigious universities is that these athletes did not have to get good grades or take hard classes in high school like most other applicants in order to even get a chance at an acceptance. In most cases, this is not true. For example, within the Ivy League — an athletic league composed of some of America’s most prestigious schools including Harvard, Brown, Yale, and Princeton — there is a standard agreement that specifies the academic requirements for incoming athletic recruits to ensure that the athletes fit into the student body. These schools use what is called the Academic Index, which they calculate using a formula that takes into account standardized testing scores and high school GPAs. This score is calculated for the entire student body of each Ivy League school, and in order to get recruited, athletes must fall within one standard deviation of that score.
Although the exact calculations for the Academic Index have been kept secret, the schools often tell their prospective athletes what goals they should aim for to guarantee a spot. When talking to athletes at prestigious colleges, it becomes very clear that they put a lot of effort into their academics and are not just “dumb jocks.” For instance, one anonymous women’s water polo player at Brown University explained that “my coach was very straightforward with what grades I needed to get, what classes I needed to take, and what I needed to get on my standardized tests.” The coach also stated that the athlete “should keep a 3.6 GPA or higher and take 3-4 AP classes before [she] graduate[s].” The athlete was in constant contact with the head and assistant coaches, sending them her planned class schedules and “constant grade updates.”
An athlete at Stanford University said nearly the same thing. “The coaches were very clear that if I did not take enough AP classes or my grades dropped senior year that I would not be considered for a spot at Stanford,” the student athlete explained. “If they thought I needed another AP class or a higher math level, we had a conversation, and I always did what they said to ensure my spot.” Her coaches told her that she “had to be taking at least 5 core classes [in Math, Science, English, History] a semester” and, like the Brown University athlete, she sent the coaches her planned classes.
Another argument commonly used against recruited athletes is that they do not have to do things like community service, participate in clubs, or other extracurricular activities that other applicants must do to be considered for acceptance. College athletes are the best of the best at their sports, and only around 7% of high school athletes go on to play at universities, and fewer than 2% play at the Division 1 level. This skill does not come easily. An average D1-level athlete puts in about 10-12 hours a week of training to perfect their skills, not including watching film or professional athletes in their sport, according to Skyd Magazine. Although some athletes work a little more or a little less than this average, it is still a significant amount of time dedicated to an activity.
In reality, admissions to prestigious schools are so unpredictable that no one really “deserves” to attend these universities. People who continue to say “student-athletes don’t deserve to be here” unfairly overlook all of the hard work these athletes dedicate to their academic course work and extracurricular sports throughout high school. Athletes are passionate students who put their effort into something they love — just as much as any talented musician, brilliant scientist, or published author.