College Admission Tips for Ivy League and Division III

Thinking about playing your sport at an Ivy League or Division III school? STACK Expert Tom Kovic offers some important tips.

Harvard and Yale

If academics are your top priority—or if you want to play sports in college but not make it your life's work—then an Ivy League or Division III team might be a good place for you. I spent many years as a head coach at an Ivy League college. Having seen many recruits who were clueless about the process, I thought I'd share some college admissions tips and terminology. It is important that prospects, families and high school advisors clearly understand the nuts and bolts of admissions and make every effort to grow honest and strong working relationships with college coaches.

Ivy League and Division III college coaches are unable to offer athletic scholarships, but they can lend strong support to prospective student-athletes.

Admissions Index

Academically select colleges often use an "Admissions Index," which objectively analyzes a student's academic qualifications. The AI is determined by simply combining core course grade point average with standardized tests results (SAT I, SAT II, ACT).

A perfect Admissions Index would reflect impeccable scores on standardized tests and a top class rank at a prestigious high school with brilliant academic credentials. The lowest AI (the Floor) acceptable for admission to an Ivy League or D-III school will vary, depending on the school, division and conference.


Typically, Ivy League sports programs are allocated a certain number of "admissions support slots" for athletes with AI scores at or near the average for regularly admitted students. More popular sports tend to receive more "select" admission slots. In many cases, athletic directors "tier" sports depending on the popularity and level of success the teams achieve at the conference, regional and national level.

Many colleges have developed a system that divides the AI into "bands" to assist coaches in recruiting prospects who potentially fall within a coach's allotment of support for a given recruiting cycle. Athletic departments are encouraged to maintain an average student-athlete admissions yield no less than one standard deviation below the average AI for regularly admitted students.

Each coach's number of admission slots varies from sport to sport and college to college. Coaches' recruiting strategies are usually well-planned and systematic, keyed to the number of slots they receive. Coaches are well aware that certain prospects will not be admitted, despite their level of athleticism, if they are judged unable to meet the academic standards of the institution.

Admissions Pre-Reads

If you're a good athletic prospect, a coach can work with the college's admissions department to determine a fairly accurate AI and get a clearer idea of your chances of being admitted. For an "admissions pre-read," the coach will need a copy of your high school profile, transcripts and test results from the SAT and/or ACT. Following an early read, a good college coach will advise you whether the recruiting process should advance. Turnaround time for a pre-read is about two weeks. This information will prevent you and your family from "spinning your wheels" if an admission is unlikely.

Likely Letters

Likely letters are "near guarantees" of admission that prospective student-athletes can receive well before the regular admissions process. The "likely" is a tremendous tool for college coaches who are competing with scholarship institutions for the same prospect or "overlap" prospects, who are applying to other Ivy League or D-III institutions. Likely letters are limited to certain institutions, originate from the admissions office and offer families near assurance and confidence that, barring unusual circumstances, the prospect will be admitted.

Academic-select institutions admit a limited number of student-athletes who bring strong qualities that are identified as "important" to the admissions table.

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