With spring now well upon us, the bloom of flowers, buzz of bees, and growth of new life brings about a new season of growth for our community as well, as we add a number of new faces during SwatStruck. For these new accepted students, the campus, the people, and college life in general are new — in both an exciting scary way. However, a small subset of these prospective students have visited countless times, decided long in advance, and rival even the most experienced Swatties as experts on campus: the varsity athletes. Through recruiting visits, shadows, showcases, and games, many recruited athletes have endured an even longer and possibly more strenuous process in choosing Swarthmore. I hope to provide insight from my own recruiting story to show the vastly different path that student-athletes take to get to Swarthmore today.
To identify the differences between student and student-athlete admissions, let’s first start at the end. After varsity student-athletes commit to Swarthmore, they each must fill out a brief survey about their background, identity, and a few survey questions, including “Why Swarthmore?” The resounding answer among athletes to this question in almost every single survey is that Swarthmore was one of the few places that uniquely combines athletics and academics at a high level. And it is true. This unique phenomenon at Swarthmore also motivated me to attend such an academically prestigious institution, while also participating in athletics, extracurriculars, and a well-rounded lifestyle.
Looking up to coaches and teammates before me that had, in my mind, reached the pinnacle of baseball,I always knew that I wanted to play baseball in college. My best coach ever (no offense to my Swarthmore coaches here) taught at a baseball camp in my hometown of Washington, D.C. Each day at the start of camp, he would introduce his employed coaches, college baseball players. I idolized all of these college kids, seeing their maturity, success, and swagger as the highest achievement I could realistically reach in baseball. In retrospect, this idolatry definitely overlooked some major flaws, because even as a college student now, half the time I can barely remember to feed myself here. For whatever reason, I nevertheless persisted in my convictions to become a collegiate baseball player.
To get to the more interesting part of my recruiting process, I will skip over the more boring details about workouts and years of dedication to baseball. Needless to say, my passion for baseball and academics consumed my life, and it took countless hours to receive any consideration in the collegiate recruiting process. My big breakthrough came when I received an invitation to play in the Area Code Games, an exclusive tournament for top high school M.L.B. recruits in the country. I was by no means an M.L.B. prospect and was way out of my league, but upon making the trip to California, I pitched two scoreless innings and now had more publicity than ever before.
Using this experience and publicity as leverage in the recruiting process, I travelled to showcases and camps around the country, speaking to college coaches of all levels of competition along the way. Speaking to coaches over the course of a few months, it quickly became clear who was genuinely interested in recruiting me further. Coaches constantly called and e-mailed, hoping to set up meetings, recruiting trips, and more and more time consuming responsibilities. The exhausting process continued all the way until the critical decision-making time right before college applications were due. In the end, I received 13 offers from all types of schools, and the ball was finally in my court. Applying to Swarthmore early decision, I still fully stand by the decision that I made.
The Division III athletic lifestyle varies greatly from the Division I, II, or N.A.I.A. schools in the prioritization of different attributes of student-athletes. At other levels of competition, money and the desire to win dominate the scene, leading to a neglect of the students’ best interests in many cases. That is not to say that these things do not occur at the DIII level or that DIII athletic programs do not strive to win either, but simply that DIII programs emphasize the success of the individual student-athlete as a student, an athlete, and a teammate more so than other institutions. Thus, many student-athletes appreciate the emphasis on ethics, the ability to focus on academics, and the lesser time commitment of the DIII athletic lifestyle. At least at Swarthmore, students always attend classes, can major in what they truly want to do, never receive more help than their counterparts, but have access to all that they need to succeed.
Another major draw of the Division III lifestyle is the ability to play more often in a competitive but laid back environment. Without this money and high level of commitment on the line, each athlete still plays to their fullest potential, but without the stress and external influences of the Division I competition. On top of this, most athletes find it easier to contribute to a Division III program earlier on in their careers than at their Division I counterparts. In my freshman season on the baseball team, I started a few games as a pitcher, before settling into my current role as a more consistent reliever out of the bullpen. This ability to play early on appeals to many students who desire academic rigor in coordination with an emphasis on athletic success, competition, and character development.
However, this whole process lasted only a matter of months from about July to December of my senior year, a thrilling and terrifying ride. From traveling literally across the country to the agonizing wait to hear back from the admissions office, the stress wracked my mental and physical strength the whole time. Often, non-athlete Swarthmore students complain that student-athletes have it easy in the admissions process and once they matriculate, but that is far from the case. Many of my close friends faced rejections from schools they had committed to quite publicly, leading to even more shame and pressure. Division III schools have no guarantees of admission and little influence in the process, meaning that student-athletes must truly merit admission as much as their counterparts. And this does not even begin to cover the increased workload and obligations that student-athletes have to bear for the sake of their team. Thus, both athletes and non-athletes deserve equal respect for making it to such a challenging and competitive institution.
Although different, the regular and student-athlete admissions processes both retain the same level of stress, competition, and effort. We should celebrate our non-athletes and athletes alike for their accomplishments and need to make a concerted effort to better integrate the two communities. As you may have read in my article last year about President Smith’s efforts to this end, we have made massive strides, but there is much to be done still about removing the stigma around athletes. If we do, the overall community will be better off for it.