Surprisingly early in a student’s junior year and continuing intolerably late into their senior year, the college application process is a daunting task all students face. It is a chance for them to portray themselves in the best possible light, despite being limited to a grade point average, three standardized test scores, 10 slots for extracurricular activities and 500 words. This long process is completed in the hopes that come April 1st, they will be accepted into a top tier college.
Every so often, however, the tables are turned and students finds several top tier colleges contacting them– months before applications are submitted– trying to convince the students to attend their schools. The college recruitment process validates a student athlete’s dominance in his or her sport.
The recruitment process starts when college coaches contact athletes at some point during their junior year; but to get from the first contact to an acceptance letter requires a significant amount of interest and effort on both the athlete’s and the coach’s part. Many students are contacted once, and then never again. Others have to work hard to contact coaches themselves. The recruitment process is almost as complicated as the application process itself. As a result, come the end of senior year, only several athletes find themselves successfully recruited by a college.
This year, En Wei Hu-Van Wright of the boys’ swimming team, along with teammate diver Noam Altman-Kurosaki, will be attending Princeton University. Co-captain of the cross country, indoor, and outdoor track teams, Konrad Surkont will be attending Harvard College. Co-captain of the soccer team, Krit McClean, will be attending Amherst College and co-captain of the tennis team, Christopher Jou, will be attending Johns Hopkins University. These five student-athletes have successfully completed the college recruitment process and will be playing their sport at their respective schools.
Being tremendously successful athletes was not all that it took for these boys to be recruited by prestigious colleges; prospective recruits first have to maintain certain academic standings to be considered for recruitment by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
The NCAA requirements are not too difficult for Stuyvesant students to achieve, but many schools have their own specific academic requirements in the recruiting process. Ivy League schools are known to scrutinize an athlete’s academic record more than other Division I schools do. The admissions office goes through the athlete’s grades, and if they aren’t satisfactory, the student will not be admitted to the school, regardless of his or her talent level.
Division III schools are subject to their own eligibility requirements and are not determined by the NCAA because they do not receive funding from the NCAA for athletic scholarships. For example, Johns Hopkins required a 1300 combined math and verbal SAT scores, as opposed to the 1000 required by the NCAA.
The general consensus may be that Division I consists of the best athletics, followed by Divison II and then Division III, but it’s not quite black and white. Many factors go into an athlete’s decision of which division they will play for.
While Division I schools provide athletic scholarships (with the exception of the Ivy League), they also expect more of athletes, requiring them to play and practice more than a Divison III school does. In addition, Division I schools require that athletes complete a certain amount of coursework every year to ensure that they graduate on time.
Division II, the smallest division of the three, offers a slightly more relaxed alternative to the extremely competitive Division I, while maintaining the athletic scholarship.
However, Division III offers more top academic schools than Divisions I and II do. “Division I coaches were talking to me, but I knew that [Division III] soccer at Amherst was for me. I wanted to play soccer, but my education was more important to me, and Amherst was the best school academically. It was a no-brainer,” McClean said.
Unlike Hu-Van Wright, Altman-Kurosaki, and Surkont, who are all members of teams that have won the PSAL city championship, McClean had to join a high profile club team, Manhattan Ajax, to become a more prominent college prospect. Though the boys’ tennis team is not a city champion either, Jou was able to avoid the same problem because tennis is not a team sport. Furthermore, a recruiting site online that ranks all the high school tennis players in the nation allowed college coaches to discover Jou and express interest.
Jou sent his academic record and standardized test scores to several college coaches in January 2011, played at a tournament at Johns Hopkins, catching the interest of the coach there, and kept in touch throughout the year until it was time for early decision applications. “For [Division III], you technically can’t get recruited since you can’t commit to the school before you officially get in. You are never guaranteed [admission] until you get the acceptance letter. The coach simply pulls for you and tells admissions that you will be an impact player toward the team,” Jou said.
McClean had a similar experience as he was also recruited for a Division III school. He e-mailed the soccer coach at Amherst for about six months until the coach finally came to see McClean play in May, without warning. “He happened to be standing on the side I was attacking, and he stood there for twenty minutes. I played really well and scored a sick goal at which point he left, without a word. The next day he came back to watch my game for fifteen minutes, during which I scored another really good goal. And that was it. He left and called my house Monday,” McClean said.
Those two surprise visits were essentially the basis of McClean’s recruitment, and after getting in touch with every coach that had seen McClean play, the Amherst coach displayed an extreme interest in McClean. He pushed McClean’s application through admissions and got him an early read by the end of his junior year with a positive response. McClean was told that if he applied early decision and played soccer for Amherst, admission was practically a guarantee.
“[Division I] can give you a written commitment, but [Division III]’s commitments are verbal. So you have to put a lot of pressure on the coach, and they have to be able to trust you,” McClean said. He did eventually apply early and received his official acceptance in December.
Surkont, Altman-Kurosaki, and Hu-Van Wright had experiences that varied greatly from McClean’s and Jou’s. To be recruited to play in Division I, athletes must go to the NCAA eligibility center and fill out required paperwork so that college coaches can contact them. Once they receive contact, they are then asked to respond their preferred schools with transcripts, standardized test scores, and reports on their athletic progress. Coaches usually respond with a definitive answer of whether or not they can recruit the athlete, and keep in touch as they observe their season and any changes in their performance.
In the summer of 2011, Hu-Van Wright caught the attention of many top colleges after he qualified for the 2012 United States Olympic trials. “Qualifying for trials was a goal of mine since I was very young, and making trials opened up new possibilities as many top Division I schools began calling me, as well, including [University of] North Carolina, [University of] Michigan, Northwestern, and [University of] Florida,” Hu-Van Wright said.
Toward the end of August, Division I prospective recruits are invited to attend recruiting trips for five of the colleges interested in them, arranged and paid for in full by the NCAA.
These recruitment trips take place near the beginning of the school year to allow athletes to get a feel for prospective schools. “I ended up choosing Princeton because it was the best fit for me. I loved hanging out with the team, talking to the coaches, and getting to know others in the Princeton community,” Hu-Van Wright said.
While the NCAA does set up guidelines for recruiters and student-athletes, the process is different for everyone. Surkont didn’t know he was going to be recruited until his senior year started, and he took his five recruiting trips in the fall and winter. “For me, this process happened very late. I wasn’t offered these trips until much later than most,” Surkont said.
If the coach decides he can support an athlete through the admissions process, after deciding to commit, he or she can apply early and expect to be admitted. If an athlete is committing to an Ivy League school, he or she will receive a likely letter, which is essentially a guarantee of acceptance. Hu-Van Wright and Altman-Kurosaki received likely letters in early November of their senior year.
Surkont’s situation was different because there were no real commitments to any school. “I had the option to commit to every school I visited, where they would basically guarantee me admission, but I just wasn’t ready to,” Surkont said. When he got into Yale early, it was without the help of a track coach, and as it turned out, he was not bound to go there.
Surkont had an agreement with Harvard; the track coach helped push his application through admission on the grounds that he would most likely go if admitted. This was also non-binding, so he had a choice between Harvard and Yale after the entire process.
All five athletes felt it was a relief to get such an agonizing process out of the way so early on and to be guaranteed admission into these highly prestigious colleges. They all have practiced playing sports year-round, often once or more a day, while keeping their grades up in Stuyvesant’s rigorous academic environment. Through college recruitment, their hard work paid off, and they were recognized as top athletes in the nation. “People don’t realize that putting in twelve years of work into something is actually pretty damn time consuming. I’m glad that that’s being recognized,” Altman-Kurosaki said.