With college admissions deadlines approaching or passing, I’ve received a lot of questions from my fellow seniors. I’d like to address some of the frequently asked queries here!
“When did you start looking at schools?”
I began my college search right before my junior year, taking two unofficial visits to UCLA and USC to tour the campuses and get a feel for school size. I had no idea what kind of school I wanted to go to, as long as it had a swim program and supported creative writing and computer science.
At that time, I wasn’t allowed to talk to the college coaches, either in person or through email or phone call, so I started creating a list of a few schools that had academic programs I was interested in.
NCAA rules for recruited athletes for the class of 2020 state that after Sept. 1 of their junior year in high school, college coaches can begin to contact them. The first week of September was exciting; I received emails from coaches across the country who expressed interest in my swimming and wanted to talk. From Sept. 1 of last year to the beginning of my senior year, around 130 schools contacted me about recruiting.
As daunting as that number sounds, it turned out to be pretty easy to narrow down my list. I went to several swim meets at large state schools like the University of Texas, Texas A&M and the University of Iowa, and at each campus, I felt overwhelmed by the size. Ever since I had Ms. LaMay as a teacher, I’d fallen in love with the idea of Vermont (her home state) and the East Coast, but I also love the weather in California. This sentiment quickly narrowed my choices to a school on the East Coast or a UC.
“How did you decide?”
It definitely helped that, as an athlete, I had the opportunity to stay with a current college team member for a few days on an official recruiting trip. These trips were during the spring of my junior year after months of phone calls, emails and building a relationship with the coaches. While most students only get the guided campus tours or a summer camp experience, I was able to spend part of a regular school week on campus. I attended a few classes, ate in the food halls, watched practices and participated in student life.
During my visit to Brown in Providence, R.I., the Brown swim coach set up a meeting with an English professor who has taught at several great schools, and he sold me on how Brown could meet my academic goals and blend computer science and creative writing. I walked away knowing Brown was where everything would work for me.
One (good) problem: I was looking for a school whose students were genuinely happy, engaged and excited about the subjects they were majoring in, which I found in all four schools I officially visited. It ended up coming down to location: Did I want to be in a city? In the mountains? East Coast or West Coast? I found something I loved in each school I visited, so it was tough to start narrowing down my list, but I finally decided that I wanted my college experience to be something completely new.
Brown checked all the boxes for me: a smaller school in a small city with engaged professors and students. I could be myself and be comfortable around the swim team and the coaches.
“What was it like to only apply to one school?”
At first, my family and I were concerned about only sending in one application with no backup schools. I remember wondering what I would do if I didn’t get a likely letter from Brown: Could I recommit to a different school? On Oct. 1, other swimmers began to receive likely letters from the Ivy League schools. The suspense grew as days passed with no letter, and I began to wonder if I had submitted my application wrong (in typical Becca fashion). Finally, on Oct. 9, I received an email from Brown with my likely letter!
“What’s a likely letter?”
The likely letter is a way for Ivy League admissions to let athletes know that they will be accepted. A likely letter is not a letter of acceptance, but it has the same effect as long as I maintain satisfactory academics.
This letter is just one of a few things the Ivy League does differently from other Division I colleges. Before my official visit to Brown, I had to send my transcript to the Brown athletic director, who had to make sure I was eligible to be recruited. I also had an “academic pre-read” in July, where my future coach submits my transcript, test scores and senior year class schedule to admissions to see if I would be admitted. Finally, my college application was due before Oct. 1, whereas other seniors had until Nov. 1 for early restrictive action or decision and a few extra months for regular decision.
“What does it mean to commit?”
Committing to a school means I end the recruiting process with all other schools and agree to apply to and attend Brown. For most schools, if a recruited athlete agrees to commit to a school, they can “verbally commit.” This is nonbinding, but it’s a chance for the athlete to announce which school they will likely attend. For the Ivies, I actually verbally committed before junior year ended, but I wasn’t allowed to post on social media that I had verbally committed until I received my likely letter.
“How does it feel to be done?”
In one word: fantastic. I’ve been able to focus on academics and swimming instead of stressing about applications. Despite getting the likely letter, though, I’m still not entirely off the hook. I need to maintain my academic performance, or else (and I quote) my “candidacy to Brown will be placed in jeopardy.” As exciting as it is to think of myself as completely done with the college process, the letter explicitly warns about slacking off. So here I am, valiantly attempting to fend off senioritis!
“You didn’t have to go through the common app, right?”
Wrong! I still had to write my personal essay, plus the writing supplements and the Brown-specific questions. But I didn’t have to do the last two for a bunch of schools. I also jump-started the Brown-specific questions during the summer by looking at older versions of the questions, so by the start of school, all the writing parts were essentially done. However, once I made my Common App profile and got access to the 2019-20 questions, I realized I had to rework two of the questions. Until the start of October, I was juggling fixing my essays, filling out the personal information, doing regular homework and swimming. For my fellow seniors who are doing multiple applications, I truly admire you! I don’t know if I’d be able to balance more than one application!
For athletes and juniors starting to look at schools (looking at Sydney and Athena especially!), make sure to stay true to what you want. Be honest with yourself, and look for a place that makes you happy! No matter where you go, you will get a good education, so make sure you choose a college for you, not for your parents, friends or teachers.
Figure out what you want your athletic experience to be in college — a team contributor or only a member who doesn’t get to participate in travel or big meets. So many of my older swim friends have transferred after a year or quit swimming because they chose a school that didn’t match their athletic or academic goals.
As for underclassmen either freaking out about the prospect of college or not even thinking about it, you will be surprised how quickly four years go by. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that next year I will be a legal adult in school 3,000 miles from home! Explore your interests in freshman and sophomore year, say yes to everything (within reason, of course) and be open to trying new things.
—By Rebecca Waterson