The Truth about the ‘Sports Sway’

Despite its reputation amongst our hometown friends and neighbors as either a word that doesn’t exist or a mispronunciation of Hogwarts, Swarthmore is an incredibly difficult school to get into. Although there is no known magical formula that will merit an acceptance into Swarthmore, our entire student body covered all the application bases and went through the same application process. We adorned our transcripts with shiny AP or IB classes, polished our apps with slightly-longer-than-short essays, and even threw in an extra sparkle with how we were the president of that one club that one time. We all paid our dues and worked hard to get in here, regardless of the differences in our applications.

But what if there was one difference that helped a select group of applicants stand out from the rest of the crowd? An application with an extra garnet-like jewel that signifies that this application is that of a student athlete’s, or in other words, a recruit’s? It shows the admissions staff that this student’s application has been supported by a fellow member of the Swarthmore faculty who has already offered the student a position on their respective team’s roster.

Is the title “recruit” truly advantageous to a student’s application or is this notion of the “sports sway” just a myth?

Dean of Admissions Jim Bock explained that, “all files are read at the same time and compete in the same broader pool,” meaning that whether or not a student is a recruit, their application is not separated from the others and are all considered concurrently. “We do look at the strength and talent of a prospective student athlete based on a coach’s assessment when appropriate and when there is interest from a coach,” Dean Bock continued, “and we believe it might impact a decision in a positive way.”

However, this positive impact is also applied to those who submit optional supplements such as an original composition on the violin or a portfolio of watercolor paintings. “Being a recruit is no different than being a musician, an artist, a dancer or someone who juggles flaming knives,” explained Head Women’s Soccer Coach Todd Anckaitis. “Admissions seems to like those types of people regardless of their specific interest,” he said.

Nevertheless, the official support of a Swarthmore athletic coach seems like a fairly big advantage to a student’s application, especially to those who receive it. “I really don’t think I would have gotten into this school if it wasn’t for baseball,” revealed Henry Cappel ’17, a member of the baseball team, as he explained the advantages he reaped from being a recruit. “I applied early decision with baseball and I really think it helped me out. There’s definitely a sports sway,” he concluded.

But this kind of talk sounds a lot like the typical Swattie who, although extremely intelligent and capable of being admitted, doesn’t know why or how they got in. Despite Cappel’s belief, Dean Bock reiterated that although the coach is in constant contact with the admissions staff and sends them the names of the recruits he supports, “the coach determines the talent… and the admissions office determines admissibility.” This implies that no matter how fast Cappel can pitch a ball or how desperate the coach is to have Cappel on his team, if he doesn’t have the brains he doesn’t get the acceptance letter. “All students are admitted because we believe they can succeed and thrive at Swarthmore academically, intellectually and socially,” Dean Bock concluded.

Thomas Vernier ’17, member of the tennis team, also commented on the sports sway and whether or not he believes it affected his admission into Swarthmore. “To me, being a recruit means that the coach was interested in me coming and was able to give me a boost to my application. If I was on the borderline, being a member of the tennis team could help me out,” he said. However, he was sure to emphasize that his coach’s support was not the loudest voice in the admissions room. “My coach insisted on the fact the he wasn’t the one making the final decision, but that he could have just a little bit of a push,” he explained.

After serving as a crucial member to the tennis team during his freshman year, Vernier has grown to know his teammates well and knows that tennis is not the reason why all of them are here. “I can tell that everyone on the team is someone that would be competitive with anyone else academically. [Head Coach Mike] Mullan told me to not even think about joining the tennis team if I wasn’t interested in the academics that Swarthmore offers,” he said.

A fellow member of the tennis team, Alex Min ’17 echoed Vernier’s sentiments about the importance of prioritizing as a student athlete. “We all play tennis because we all really enjoy it and want to keep playing in college,” Min said. “I’m sure for all of us, academics are the main priority.”

Even during the time of a high school recruit’s official visit, the coaches who meet with them emphasize the importance of valuing academics and possessing the capacity to handle Swarthmore’s workload. Peter Carroll, Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach, explained that during these meetings, he discusses his athletic program with the recruit but focuses on the academic baggage that accompanies a Swarthmore acceptance more. Carroll explained, “The meeting starts out as an informational session mostly discussing the benefits of a Swarthmore education. But more important than the student’s athletic prowess is their interest in the college itself.”

But let’s just consider a scenario where a recruit is accepted into Swarthmore and decides to quit the team on the first day of school. Although this decision may rub a few coaches or fellow teammates the wrong way, admissions is never notified of such an event.

“Students often change their activities and find new ones as they do their prospective majors,” Dean Bock commented. “We do not keep track of this kind of information,” he said, confirming that although sports may be a positive factor of a student’s application, it is not a deciding factor. A recruit’s enrollment has never and will never be contingent upon their continued presence on the team.  No one aspect of an application decides a student’s enrollment. All the impressive tidbits of an application add up whether or not the admissions staff believes that a prospective student will ultimately not only survive, but thrive, from a Swarthmore education. All student-athletes who are here today passed that test and are, hopefully, thriving.

So, sorry, Henry Cappel, but you’re smarter than you think.


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