Do Academic Results Matter for College Coaches?

Do Academic Results Matter for College Coaches?

What is academic strength and how can coaches evaluate which one athlete is stronger in school than another? And: Why do coaches care about this in the first place? Aren't they simply supposed to add great athletes to their teams to build a winning team? Well, not exactly. Let's take a look at these two questions:

  1. Academic results - tests, results, and grades
  2. Rationales for recruiting good students - isn't it enough I'm good in sports?

1. Academic results

The five indicators below help coaches and colleges determine athletes' level of strength in the classroom. Some of them you may have heard of, whereas others could be entirely new to you. Depending on your nationality some of them are more relevant for you. Let's go through them step by step to help understand what coaches need to see in a good prospective student-athlete.


The Grade Point Average reflects your cumulative grades in any given year or period of years. According to the most common American grading scale, a perfect score of 4.0 equals the best grades across all classes, exams, and years. International athletes are often required to convert their grades to the American system in order to facilitate the evaluation of academic achievements for admissions offices and sports-governing bodies (for instance the NCAA). The higher your GPA the better, and the more options you have. If you're wondering how so, the answer is straightforward: All colleges define GPA admissions criteria, to-be-accepted applicants have to meet. Hence the higher your GPA, the larger the number of schools which admission criteria you could qualify for.

Class rank

Sometimes, coaches or colleges may ask for your relative performance within your high school class or cohort of students. This is a widely used indicator in U.S. education and helps create an even better image of your academic strength. Let's say you have an average GPA. This GPA could look much better if you're among the top 5% of your year, meaning that the high school level may have been very high and an average score is in fact a really good achievement. In many countries, the class rank is not a commonly used performance indicator. However, if you're strong in school and you feel that you would like to highlight this side of your recruiting profile, it might be worth getting in touch with your high school administration and check whether they are in the position to issue such a document for you.


The Scholastic Assessment Test is one of two college admissions tests the majority of all high school students take prior to going to college. It is of such importance that many students attend classes, specifically tailored for sufficient test preparation. The New SAT test (starting in March 2016) is divided into two sections: reading/writing and mathematics. On a scale of 200-800 points in each section, the test measures your ability in both of them. You can't fail the test, but instead you attempt to get as many of the maximum 1,600 points as possible.
Besides the obvious level of difficulty of the test questions, the SAT can be a major challenge for Internationals, depending on their proficiency in English.


The ACT is similar to the SAT, and accepted by all 4-year colleges in the US. Currently the #1 college admissions test in the US, its structure is slightly different from the SAT with four sections on English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. The final score is an average score on a scale from 0-36. It doesn't matter whether you decide to take the ACT or SAT. Some colleges may have a preference for one of the test formats, but as you'll likely talk to several coaches and apply to more schools you should go for whichever test you prefer. Because SAT and ACT scores are widely used by colleges, it is vital for you to take the test early on in your recruitment process. And don't worry: it's more than common and in fact recommended to take the test a second or third time. Read on to find out below why else you should plan to take one of the two tests early on in your recruiting process...


The Test of English as Foreign Language is particularly relevant to those of you who are international students, seeking to receive an athletic scholarship. While some of the test elements are similar to what's being tested through the other two tests above, the TOEFL is somewhat easier and contains a speaking and a listening section, as well as one on writing and reading. On a scale of 0-30 in all four sections, the test offers a maximum of 120 points and as for the other tests, you can't fail the TOEFL either.
A piece of advice to those of you who are worried about their GPA: high scores on SAT or ACT and the TOEFL can add an important puzzle piece to your profile as attractive recruit (like a free recruiting profile with us on Smarthlete).

2. Rationales for recruiting good students

There are four reasons coaches aim at allocating their scholarship money to good students. Let's go through them step by step below.

NCAA & NAIA Eligibility

Firstly, as prospective student-athlete you need to be "cleared" (read: approved) by the sports-governing bodies: NCAA and NAIA. One dimension of this process is that these two institutions assess your academic results in high school to evaluate your eligibility of becoming a student-athlete at college. If your GPA and test scores are not sufficiently good, you have a problem - and thus, good students are much easier recruits for coaches.
Once you are accepted and enrolled at college and eligible to compete, you will have to make sure to maintain a certain grade point average in your classes in order to remain eligible. If you fail to deliver this GPA, you risk become ineligible and a "redshirt". This implies that coaches might lose you as a team member for a period of time, often an entire year, which can be quite a disaster for the coach and the success of the team.

Colleges' admissions process

Secondly, colleges' sports coaches can't decide whether the college will accept your application in the end. The staff at the admissions office does so instead and you as an athlete will go through the same procedure as all the other students (though strongly supported by the coaches who want you on the team...). All colleges have admission criteria, which typically include GPA levels, scholastic tests, and TOEFL scores. Coaches thus need to get an idea first whether it's worth trying to recruit you in the first place. If you have a terrible grade record (and your level of English is poor - Internationals), it might be difficult to get you into colleges with strict academic criteria.

Academic scholarships

The third reason is, coaches can only give away athletic scholarship money, but not academic scholarship money or other kind of financial aid. Depending on the college, the financial aid office might award academic scholarships to talented applicants. If you're not only a good athlete, but also a bright student, it might be possible for you to even qualify for academic scholarship money. A fantastic opportunity for coaches, as they can save money on you and spend their athletic budget on other, academically weaker recruits.

Academic merits

Finally, performance matters not only on but also off the sports field, and athletes just like other students may receive nominations for outstanding academic achievements in the classroom. Coaches have a reason to build strong and smart teams, which is a great tool for their recruitment efforts of attracting new athletes.

Your takeaways

Today's takeaway for you is that it's definitely worth focusing on your grades in high school and for Internationals making sure you have a good level of spoken and written English. It's not necessary to take both major tests - SAT and ACT. You can of course if you like, but it won't matter that much in the end. Get your GPA in place, and you Internationals out there make sure you take the TOEFL on time. Paired with a strong athletic profile, you should be on the safe side and in a great position to get the attention of interested coaches. Don't forget that success in school says a lot about your personality as well. And if you're still in doubt, think about it in this way: Would you like to limit interest in you to coaches of colleges with the least strict admission criteria - not to say the least selective colleges? Or would you like to be able to get attention of as many schools as possible in the country, including the best institutions? Well, then get your grades and scores in place and you'll certainly have a much larger pool of coaches look at you, compete for you, and try to convince you to pick their school.
A larger range of interesting universities and increased chances of receiving a high scholarship...

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