Admissions for Athletes

Written By: Ben Aguilar

Are you an athlete considering any of the following schools?

Amherst, Williams, Tufts, Middlebury, Bates, Colby, Bowdoin, Hamilton, Middlebury, Wesleyan, Connecticut College, or Trinity…

If so, you probably know that these schools make up the New England Small College Athletic Conference, or NESCAC. Although the NESCAC operates as an NCAA Division III athletic conference, certain sports are exceptions to this (depending on the school). For example, at Bates, cross country skiing (nordic) and squash are actually division I sports. The Bates Nordic team even has rivalries with its Ivy League cousins Princeton and Dartmouth, who they compete with in world class winter carnival races.

Photo of Tufts Cannon

The "little Ivy” NESCAC schools are elite institutions, but more so academically than athletically. Unlike some of the bigger division I cash cows, these division III colleges do not have binding athletic contracts. This has its pros and cons, depending on what you are looking for. For example, once you are recruited to a NESCAC, your enrollment will not be contingent on your athletic participation. If you happen to get injured, or decide to quit your sport, you won’t have any major problems. On the other hand, no contract also means that DIII technically doesn't offer athletic scholarships. This is mostly a technicality, however, since financial aid offers are obviously influenced by an applicant having strong pull (wanted by athletic coaches). If the school really wants a student - for whatever reason - they will usually find a way to make it work.

Although coaches are the people who will give you pull, the final decision is ultimately in the hands of admissions. To understand how coaches interact with admissions, it is essential to get familiar with the student-athlete banding system.

The Banding Algorithm
Like many other schools, the NESCACs use a banding system to rank athletes for admission. Banding is a way to quantitatively compare sports recruits by their academic standing, which is then combined with other factors. The band that a student-athlete falls in will depend on the following: GPA, Board Scores, Class Rank (usually by percentile bracket), and class rigor. Below is a detailed breakdown of a typical NESCAC banding hierarchy, with C bands being the lowest official band.

Band GPA (UW) Class Rank SAT ACT Courses
A BAND 3.9+ Top 5% 1450+ 32-36 Courses: 4+ APs with multiple 5s, all honors classes
B BAND 3.7+ Top 15% 1300-1449 29-31 Multiple AP Courses, some honors classes
C BAND 3.2+ Top 20% 1200-1299 27-28 Usually at least 1 AP, some honors classes

Below C Band
Athlete applicants that fall below C band criterion can still get successfully recruited, although they will have to make up for their academic shortcomings. Remember, your “pull” will also greatly depend on your athletic abilities, which can make up for bad scores. As you move down from the A band tier, it is merely the uncertainty of admittance that increases. C bands and others can still gain spots on a team, but this will largely depend on the luck of the draw (spots available and needs of the school). In other words, coaches won’t be making room for you, but there might just happen to be some.

The Truth Above NESCAC Recruitment
The academic standards at NESCACs - especially the most selective ones - are extremely high. That being said, your admittance to these schools is not determined by grades and test scores alone. There are plenty of capable students who, for whatever reason, don’t have a flawless high school record. Likewise, plenty of smart and hardworking students struggle with standardized testing. Recruiters and admissions officers know this, and select hundreds of these students every year.

Photo of Tufts Cannon

Will students with lower grades and test scores be considered more risky? Yes, but that is generally the full extent of the damage. If a student reduces their ‘risk level’ by supplementation, omission, and honest explanation, they can work around their weaknesses. Additionally, applicants can prove that they are even worth a large risk, simply by honing in on extraordinary strengths (your strength doesn’t need to be a junior olympic medal, it could even be your personality).

Your ideal strategy will be very particular, because where you choose to focus your efforts can drastically change your results. There is only so much room on an application, but there is enough. For all tailored counseling, we recommend that you reach out to our team at