To Play or Not to Play: Will Sports Get Me Into College?

Let us begin with a story.

One of our writers has an older sister who was captain of the high school basketball team. Her sister was a natural power forward with nimble feet.  Our writer was, well, better-suited for writing. As she entered high school, she thought being on the team with her sister looked like a lot of fun, so even though she had no idea what a layup was until the first practice, she joined. She subsequently developed the nickname “Bench” because that’s where she sat for most of the season.

One day, the coach finally put our writer in. It was great. Her dad (who had stopped coming to the games since her older sister got mono and was also on the bench) had decided to show. She was ready. At some point, a teammate passed our writer the ball. She took off down the court with a fury so swift, it felt like no one was even close behind her. She executed a perfect layup and waited for the roaring applause. A few seconds later, she realized, it would never come. She had scored on the wrong basket.

So, should our writer have stuck it out for four years, investing her blood, sweat, and tears into the goal of becoming a varsity starter by senior year?

We say no.

Invest Wisely

It’s a little bit counterintuitive. By this point in your educational journey, you have been taught not to give up. If you do not understand the math proof, keep working it out. If your chemistry hypothesis is wrong, test a different one. If you run off stage anytime your theater teacher makes you do a monologue, stand in front of the class until you can recite all of Hamlet’s soliloquy without panicking. Persevering in the face of a challenge is an admirable habit to develop.  Sometimes, however, accepting failure can be helpful. You have to cut your losses and make time for what serves you.

If you are anything like our writer, or really, if you are someone who is not being recruited for college athletics, sports are not going to serve you; at least not for the college admissions process. Sure, they are fun. They are a great way to make friends and develop lifelong habits of discipline and exercise, but they are not going to impress the admission team.

High school sports teams want to win. Coaches are going to want as much of you as possible to train, practice, and travel to games. You only have (roughly) between the hours of 4 and 7:30 for extracurriculars before dinner, homework, and bed. That’s over 17 hours of valuable enrichment time each week that you will not get back, so why spend it on something that is not going to help you achieve your long-term goals?

Are You Sure Sports Will Not Get Me In?


Take the example of our writer. She ended up quitting the team early in her sophomore year. It was a tough decision. She was not a quitter, but she was the lead in the high school play and really into writing, something that would ultimately lead her to the Columbia School of Journalism. Those two-a-day practices were giving her little time to cultivate her resume and skills in other ways.

You know what will get you in? We recommend focusing on activities that have longevity for you. As weird as it may sound, extracurriculars are influencing your choices down the line and what may really stick for a career later on. Don’t freak out. This doesn’t mean that you signed your career path over to the woodworkers union when you joined woodshop club. It just means that you should consider choosing activities you love doing and could see yourself pursuing in college and beyond.

But What If I Am Being Recruited for College Athletics?

If you are one of the rare few gifted with tremendous hand-eye coordination and the golf swing of Tiger Woods, then by all means, give it everything you’ve got. You should know whether or not you are being recruited by sophomore year, so if, by then, you are not being recruited or are still scoring on the other team’s basket, it’s time to play casually on Sundays and leave the weekdays to the pros.

If you need help with anything in the college application process, we are here for you. Please contact us here for questions about college counseling.