Willy Wood On Determining Whether You're A Good Fit For An Ivy Program


Each year, Ivy League coaches use approximately 250 admissions spots on track and field and cross country recruits. Typically the divide between men's and women's programs is fairly equitable, leaving approximately 125 spots for each gender. Here is a list of factors to consider if you are hoping to compete for and attend an Ivy League school. 

1. START EARLY

Based on my 20 years as the head coach at Columbia University and recent conversations with many current Ivy League coaches, I estimate that approximately 75-80 percent of recruits apply with early decision. As a result, it is imperative that you get an early start on the recruiting process. Because of recent NCAA contact rule changes, coaches are now able to start calling you on September 1 of your junior year. Therefore, it is imperative that you ensure that you are on coaches' radars prior to the start of your junior year.

2. DON'T BE DISCOURAGED

The idea of pursuing an Ivy can be somewhat intimidating due to impossibly low admission acceptance rates and the total cost of education. However, both areas of concern may be surprisingly less of a factor than you initially imagine.

It is not impossible to get into an Ivy League school; I cannot tell you how many recruits and future matriculants were told by their high school guidance counselors that they had no chance of being accepted and were discouraged to apply.

A great majority of outsiders grossly underestimate the value of athletics in the admission's process. If you are a great athlete, you will be able to overcome many perceived academic deficiencies. There are student-athletes being admitted to Ivy League schools who score in the 1100s on the SAT and 25 on the ACT.

Ivy League Schools can be affordable; it is possible that an Ivy can be among your cheaper financial options. When Harvard, Princeton, and Yale changed how they calculate their financial aid awards a few years ago, Ivy League schools became very affordable for many prospects. Quite often while I was at Columbia, we would be among the cheaper options for many of our recruits. Most, if not all of the schools have financial aid online calculators that will give you an early indication of the cost of attendance. Do not be discouraged by the initial price tag. Approximately 60 percent of students attending an Ivy League school receive financial aid. On average, those students receive over $45,000 in grant money.

3. DETERMINE IF YOU ARE A GOOD FIT ACADEMICALLY

Ivy League schools are significantly better athletically than most people realize. In my last season at Columbia, we were ranked sixth in the NCAA national cross country poll. Over the last 10 years, 12 Ivy League student-athletes have become NCAA Division I national champions. Most of the programs post their recruiting standards online. Generally speaking, you are going to have to be very close to the marks listed below to get serious attention from an Ivy League coach.

If you are an athlete at or just below the standards listed below, you are going to have to be a very, very strong student.

EVENT MEASUREMENT ESTIMATES: BOYS/GIRLS

  • 100: 10.90 12.20
  • 200: 22.00 25.00
  • 400: 49.00 56.50
  • 800: 1:54 2:14
  • 1600: 4:15 5:00
  • 3200: 9:20 11:00
  • 110/100H: 14.4 14.4
  • 300H: 38.5 44.0
  • LJ: 22 ' 6" 18' 6"
  • TJ: 47' 38'
  • HJ: 6' 7" 5' 6"
  • PV: 15' 11'9"
  • SP: 56' 44'
  • Dis: 170' 140'
  • Jav: 190' 130'
  • Hammer: 185' 155'4.


RESEARCH SCHOOLS -- HOW THEY USE THEIR SPOTS 

The Ivy League office determines the overall number of admissions spots that may be used by an athletic department. Each individual athletics program may determine how to distribute those spots. As a result, there is a great disparity amongst individual programs. If you are set on applying to an Ivy, do your research to determine how each program uses their slots. For example, when I was at Columbia our men used primarily all of our admissions spots on the middle distance and distance events while our women distributed our slots between the sprints, jumps, hurdles and distance events fairly evenly.

In addition, each program is allotted a different number of recruits, and how they are able to support each year. I would suggest looking at past recruit class announcements to get a general idea of how many spots they may have.

APPLY EARLY

Typically, the early decision deadline is November 1. To significantly enhance your chances of getting a spot from the coach and ultimately gain admittance, you should apply early. To be ready to apply early, you should take your official visit in September and October. After your official visits are concluded and you have identified your top choice, you should verbally commit to one of the schools and ask for a "Likely Letter."

WHAT IS A "LIKELY LETTER"?

The Ivy League does not use the NCAA National Letter of Intent program. Instead, they have what is called a Likely Letter. The Likely Letter is the Ivy League's answer to the NLI and brings some certainty to the recruiting process. Likely Letters are provided to recruited student-athletes before official notification from the admissions office arrives. Typically, to receive a Likely Letter you will have to verbally commit to the coach, submit your application for approval from the admissions office, and have completed an early financial aid estimate to ensure affordability. The Likely Letter gives you the assurance that the school will grant you acceptance when the letters are sent out.

WHAT IF I DECIDE THE IVYS ARE NOT FOR ME OR I AM NOT OFFERED?

If you find yourself just outside of the Ivy League recruiting standards or did not find a good fit for you and still want to attend a top tier academic institution, you still have options. I would suggest looking at schools such as the University of Chicago, MIT, John's Hopkins, Washington University, Emory, Tufts, Williams, Swarthmore, Amherst, Middlebury, RPI, and NYU.

Each of these schools are among the top ranked academic schools in the country and have had very successful track and field and cross country programs. Typically, their recruiting process mirrors that of the Ivy League.

A COUPLE COMMON SENSE DOS & DON'TS

DON'T oversell yourself as a student. It is imperative that you express to the coaches or the person to who you are speaking how important the athletic piece is to you. Coaches are going to want to have confidence in your drive and motivation to succeed athletically. Furthermore, never express to a coach how stressed you are because of your high school class load. My initial thought was always, "How will they ever survive the rigors of our academic and athletic demands if high school is overwhelming them?"

DO stay the course if an Ivy League school is what you want. A coach's priority list will change significantly throughout the course of the fall as recruits start saying no, decide they cannot afford the school, or are deemed inadmissible by the admissions office.

DON'T get a "C"! Remember, your admissions process will differ slightly from that of a non-supported applicant. As an athlete, they will look for reasons to take you as opposed to reasons not to. Getting a "C" on your transcript makes it significantly more difficult for a coach to help you.

DO make every attempt to visit each school that you are interested in and to meet with one of the coaches. Meeting with a coach allows you the opportunity to sell yourself. If you are a borderline recruit, it is imperative that you become more than your PR and SAT score. 

In summary, recruiting within the Ivy League is an intense business. The schools are top academic institutions that take their athletics very seriously. Because there are so few admissions spots to go around, Ivy coaches will compete very hard for the same athletes. If you are a top-tier athlete, coaches will push you for an early decision commitment. If you are a borderline recruit you will need a plan of attack to obtain one of the precious 250 available spots.

Willy Wood boasts 26 highly successful years of NCAA Division I head coaching experience, two decades of which were spent at Columbia University. He recently developed a recruiting service designed specifically for high school track and field/ cross country athletes -- www.fasttrackrecruiting.com



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