May 12, 2014

Elite Academics and Managing the Recruiting Process

Dear Coach,

Thank you for all the wonderful advise you give to our volleyball community! I for one find what you have to say very helpful as we try to navigate the crazy ride of volleyball recruiting! I hope you're able to help us with our question.

D is a high school junior, middle blocker, is 5'11", and plays for a competitive club on their top 17's team. We've followed your advice, and based on what we've learned from you, as well as what the recruiting coaches have told us, we believe D is a top prospective recruit for 3 mid level volleyball D1 schools, including 1 Ivy, and 6 highly academic D3 schools. D has had several email contacts with their head coaches, has had phone conversations with their head coaches per their requests, and has been asked to visit, which we are planning on doing during spring break. 

D has been offered a position at a D1 school that is partially funded. Initially this coach told us she believed she could offer D a 50% scholarship, but wanted to see her play at another tournament before verbally committing her. Since seeing D play again, this coach said D is a great player, with a fast swing, very athletic, jumps high, hits hard and plays smart. She said she'd love to have D on her team. However, she is somewhat  concerned about D's height and thinks it could be a problem when playing a couple of the schools they compete against. As it stands, she's said D could verbally commit now, but it would be for no scholarship. The coach told us she would not know, if or how much money she can offer D until she commits her outside and rightside hitters, as she would then know if she has money still available. She said she would have an answer around the middle or end of April. We believe the coach is sincere in what she says, but we read it as yes, she wants D, but not as much as the middle she has committed already (I have no idea if this player got any scholarship money), and not as much as she wants the outside and rightside she's considering. We are waiting to see if there will be a scholarship offer.

After our visits in April we hope D will have some solid offers, including a scholarship offer from the D1 I've spoken about. This school is a top choice for her and has strong academics, but the D3's, another D1 and the Ivy are also top choices. In a perfect world volleyball would be the magic ticket that gained  D acceptance  to the Ivy and she would go there. Scholarship money does not have to be the deciding factor for us. Obviously financial assistance would be very welcome, but excellent academics is our priority. With or without scholarship money the D1 I've mentioned, is a great option. However, the D3's and Ivy are stronger academically and would ultimately be stronger options in our minds.

The Ivy is D's number one choice. This is a problem because D1's seem to want to commit players sooner rather than later, but the Ivy and  highly academic D3's can't give you a definitive offer until their admissions office accepts the student first, which they cannot do until December. Our understanding of the process of recruiting at Ivy and highly academic D3 schools is that the coach first recommends a girl whom they want on their team to the admissions office. The prospective recruit then submits an early decision application in November, and finds out if she is accepted to the school in December. After a prospective recruit is accepted to the school, then she can officially be offered a spot on the team. Unfortunately, this is much later than most D1's often "officially" verbally commit an athlete, because at these schools the coach gives the admissions office the prospective recruit's grades and test scores, and if admissions approves the athlete, the athlete can verbally commit, and they know for certain that they are accepted to the school. Often the athlete has verbally committed many months before December. 

What if D finds out in December that she does not get accepted to any of the D3's or the Ivy? I assume any D1 offers she had in April, with or without scholarship, would be gone by then. Is our only option to decline an offer made earlier in the year, and hope D gets accepted into one of the other programs in December ( her grades and test scores are within the range of accepted student stats for these schools)? Is there a way to know whether D is a coaches number one choice assuming she is accepted, or whether she is the second or backup choice, in case their number one choice doesn't get accepted?  

We would appreciate any advise you can offer us!

Thank you very much,

D's mom

D's Mom:

Thank you for your compliments and it is a good feeling to help families understand the too often crazy world of college volleyball recruiting.  I also touch upon the Ivy League and Academics/Volleyball in my book, Inside College Volleyball.

By reading your email, the following stands out - You daughter is a small middle for DI but has the talent to be considered for a scholarship, the family has the financial ability to not 'need' a scholarship, and your PSA has the academic credentials for the Ivy League to be a possibility.

Here is the answer to your question - Be patient and wait to see if the Ivy's will accept your daughter in December.

Why, oh why, do I give this advice?:

1.  The Ivy is your PSA's first choice and you are correct; the Ivy degree will carry forward with great influence.

2.  The partially funded DI should be struck off the list for VB - Any DI which is partially funded is wholly not supported by the school.  Do you want your daughter playing for a school which does not respect WVB enough to give 12 scholarships?  If they won't give 12 scholarships, you can bet they are not providing adequate resources for the program.  

In addition, if the coach is stringing your daughter along with the scholarship and basically saying she will have to walk on, what is to stop the coach from telling your daughter as a sophomore she is 'no longer needed' by the program - Walk on's are disposable because it is easy to find another/better walk on.

3.  Don't worry about the timing of all the Ivy's/D3's, as it will actually help your PSA's DI opportunities.  What? How? You drinking Bailey's in your coffee this morning Coach????

Your daughter seems to have mid-level DI talent, but is short for her position.  A mistake I see families make is panic and commit to a walk on position or take a partial scholarship at a 'good enough' school, instead of being patient and letting the recruiting process mature.  

Every winter there is a large number of DI scholarship opportunities which open up because of today's crazy DI collegiate environment - Coaches cutting players, players quitting, coaches getting fired, coaches getting hired.  

All of this craziness results in more/better opportunities in winter of the senior year for a talented 'shorter' player because there is less availability of talented players for DI coaches to recruit, as a result of so many talented 'shorter' players taking whatever they could spring of their junior year.

If your daughter does not gain admission to the Ivy's/D3's in December, this puts you into the good position of knowing exactly how you need to move forward in January of 2015 with prime recruiting time frame of club volleyball.  Trust me, I absolutely know that if your daughter does not garner an Ivy/D3 opportunity, and you are aggressive/persistent in your outreach efforts next year, you will have a much better opportunity than what is currently being offered from the DI school today!

Feel better?

Coach Sonnichsen


  1. While it's true that no official acceptance from an Ivy school will come before December, a recruited PSA can be issued what they call a "likely letter" several months earlier than that. This basically means Admissions has been provided the usual materials (grades, test scores) by the coaching staff and barring some new adverse information the individual should expect to be accepted. Definitely talk to the coach for more information about getting a "likely letter".

  2. AnonymousMay 13, 2014

    Great advice as always, Coach. My DD is also recruitable at the mid-D1 level but has her heart set on an Ivy. In researching the Ivy recruiting process, I have read that at these schools, a few coach-identified recruited athletes each year are allowed to submit their applications as soon as the Common App is available online. The admissions office gives it an "early read" and if they believe the athlete is capable of handling the academics, they issue a "likely letter", which basically says the athlete is likely to be admitted in December, at the Early Action/Decision point. My DD is not yet at the point where we are having these conversations with coaches themselves so I have only read this. Have you heard of this practice?


  3. AnonymousMay 13, 2014

    Early reads are also available at the D3 level and I would highly recommend having one or two schools in your back pocket in case the Ivy opportunity doesn't pan out. Also keep in mind that some D3 schools will provide academic money (the route my daughter took). I would also echo coach's comment about the D1 school. The basic question we asked our daughter was, "Is VB or academics more important?". Once we had our answer, the D1 and D2 colleges that were looking at her had to be crossed off the list. Best of luck to "D" and your family!


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