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A commonly overlooked ripple effect of early recruiting is the importance of grades in your freshman year.
In the past, when you committed as a junior or senior, you had a grace period to make up for a subpar academic performance as a freshman. Now, with most Division I players committing in their sophomore year or summer, coaches must rely on freshman transcripts to project a recruit’s academic ability.
Sure, you’re a great player, but are your grades good enough?
When several of my players ran into this roadblock, I decided to reach out to several coaching staffs from schools with high academic standards — including Brown, Colgate, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Lehigh, Navy, Penn, Princeton, Stanford and Vanderbilt. The results proved the profound importance of starting strong in the classroom your freshman year.
If you have a GPA lower than 3.0 (a B average), none of these coaches can offer you a spot. In fact, one-third of them require prospects to be in the 3.4 to 3.6 range (between a B-plus and A-minus) before they will consider making such an offer.
“With the early recruiting, freshman grades are more important than ever before. Those grades are what we base our earliest impressions on when it pertains to academic achievement and capability,” Penn’s coaches said. “When it comes to a transcript that is less than stellar, prospects have less time to improve their grades and show what they can do.
Kids used to have three full years to work to raise their GPA. Now, many schools are making decisions well before that time.”
Even as a freshman, be intentional when selecting your school schedule. Most elite academic institutions — and, therefore, lacrosse programs — require recruits to take AP classes. Establish that trajectory early.
Don’t overextend yourself by taking every AP class possible, but understand that the top academic institutions like to see you challenge yourself by taking courses that simulate the college academic environment.
“Take honors and advanced classes in your strongest subjects and/or the subjects that you really like,” Duke’s coaches recommended. “Be on track for AP classes junior and senior year. Challenge yourself. Don’t take the easy way out, but find a good balance so that you are able to enjoy school, athletics and social life.”
Nearly half of the college coaches who responded to this survey prefer to see mostly A’s and some B’s on an academic transcript before they will consider the prospect. C’s can be particularly damaging.
It’s a tough reality to swallow, but further incentive to prioritize grades starting your freshman year.
“Academics and the recruiting process go hand in hand,” Johns Hopkins coaches emphasized. “‘Student’ comes before ‘athlete,’ and that should be the driving force in getting into a college. Lacrosse should be the icing on the cake.”
This is a wakeup call not only to expand your academic focus starting freshman year, but also to maintain that concentration through your senior year. Even your grades are great out of the gate and a college coach offers you a spot in his or her recruiting class, declining grades won’t look good in the admissions process.
“No college is admitting student-athletes based on freshmen and sophomore grades alone,” Princeton’s coaches said. “Its not over once you commit. You’ve got to continue to work hard both in the classroom and on the field throughout your high school years to prepare yourself to achieve at the collegiate level.”
Setting proper priorities and academic standards should start at the outset of your high school career, not only to avoid obstacles in recruiting, but also to train yourself to handle the pressure and expectations you will encounter when you enter adulthood. In this vein, early recruiting becomes an opportunity to learn life lessons.
“Your college athletic career will be the best four years of your life,” Colgate’s coaches said. “But your academic success will dictate the next 40 years.”
Lacrosse Magazine reached out to 13 women’s lacrosse coaching staffs at elite Division I universities to canvas their academic requirements.
What’s the lowest GPA you can consider before making an offer?
- 3.0 or better - 33%
- 3.2 or better - 33%
- 3.4-3.6 or better - 34%
Do you require AP classes?
- Yes - 83%
- No - 17%
What grades do you look for on a transcript?
- Mostly A’s and some B’s - 46%
- A’s and B’s - 27%
- A’s, B’s and no more than one C - 20%
More feedback from coaches
“Take math and science all the way through your senior year. … Our admissions process rides heavily on SAT and ACT scores. Do not just take them once or twice and be done. Consider taking a prep course as well.” — Navy
“If a recruit has a C on their transcript, we would definitely have to wait later to see of their grades go up. We may or may not have a spot at a later date.” — Georgetown
“We always are more comfortable offering outstanding students early. We typically need one or two years of grades with kids who are more middle-of-the-road students or those who have underperformed as a freshman.” — Duke
“Don’t take more than two AP classes in a semester. Challenge yourself with class rigor, but not so much that it hinders your GPA.” — Lehigh
“Our verbal commitments commit to going through our admissions process with our support. However, [the university] will not look at a student's admissibility until they are at least through their junior year.” — Stanford
Kate Hickman is the director of the Bay Area Lacrosse Club and founder of Balance Lacrosse. This post originally appeared in her monthly column from the April 2015 edition of Lacrosse Magazine.
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