Recruits lured by academics, ambience

In light of Yale’s stringent academic demands and the absence of athletic scholarships, the Athletic Department must convince recruits that a world-class education and vibrant campus life will make their time at the University worth their while.

Administrators and coaches said they seek to emphasize the same aspects of Yale — from the residential college system to the accessibility of professors to the abundance of pizza joints — that would attract any student, regardless of his or her athletic interests. While the University does try to promote itself to prospective recruits, the school’s reputation may be the most important factor in convincing high school athletes to become Bulldogs.

Volleyball head coach Erin Appleman, shown here in a team huddle during a match, said that when she recruits, she stresses the significance of a Yale diploma.
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Volleyball head coach Erin Appleman, shown here in a team huddle during a match, said that when she recruits, she stresses the significance of a Yale diploma.

“In many respects, Yale ‘sells’ itself. Being one of the preeminent academic institutions in the world is a tremendous attraction for a lot of students,” men’s soccer head coach Brian Tompkins said. “I prefer to think of it as an invitation to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity rather than something we need to ‘sell.’”

But the University does have drawbacks for some prospective students, which must be overcome in the recruiting process.

Tompkins said that the very quality many people consider to be Yale’s strength — its commitment to academic excellence — can occasionally be a deterrent.

“I have … had people turn me down because they don’t want to work that hard,” he said.

In addition, it is difficult for some high school students to understand the long-term implications of a Yale education.

“It is hard to tell a 17-year-old girl that going to Yale will afford her many opportunities for graduate and post-graduate work,” volleyball head coach Erin Appleman said.

But perhaps the biggest challenge is compensating for the fact that the institution, like all Ancient Eight programs, cannot provide the merit-based scholarships that universities of similar academic caliber, such as Stanford and Duke, can offer, Tompkins said.

Yale also loses recruits due to the admissions process itself, because the time frame in which students find out they have been recruited takes longer than at other universities, Appleman said. Volleyball players are often committed to other universities in their junior years of high school, but Yale cannot give any indication of acceptance until Oct. 1 of the recruits’ senior years.

To acquaint recruits with the advantages provided by a Yale education, coaches and administrators said they arrange for their recruits to get to know the current team in a social setting and meet with residential college masters, deans and the heads of the academic departments that interest the students.

Yale officials stress the importance of sitting in on classes and going on tours of both the campus and New Haven, men’s basketball head coach James Jones said.

“We’re not just talking about athletics,” said Director of Athletics Tom Beckett. “We need representatives from all aspects of the community.”

Silliman Master Judith Krauss said she meets with recruits from a number of the Yale varsity teams, including the football, basketball and field hockey programs.

“I emphasize that athletes are integrated into the colleges and, like all other students in the first year, have a diverse array of suitemates whose interests are very wide-ranging,” she said. “[I emphasize] that graduates make life-long friends and connections here, that we have world-class faculty who are actually accessible to undergraduates and that there are multiple safety nets in place for students.”

Appleman said Yale’s status as an internationally acclaimed university is an asset when trying to tap the most qualified student-athletes. In addition to considering their athletic careers, prospective recruits think about the high-quality education they will receive in New Haven, she said.

Appleman said volleyball players in particular have to think seriously about what Yale will do for them in the future because playing volleyball professionally is rare, unless a graduate moves to Europe — or to the beach.

“Where you get your degree from matters,” she said. “You are given a chance for post-graduate work if your diploma says Yale.”

Many current varsity athletes cited the same academic and social factors mentioned by Krauss and Appleman as the reasons they eventually chose to attend Yale.

Swimmer Kent Garber ’07 said he looked for a college that would provide him with a quality education. Garber also said he knew he wanted to get out of his hometown, Atlanta. After making official visits to Princeton, Garber said, he was turned off by the social scene. He liked Harvard and the city of Cambridge during his visit there, but he ultimately followed his gut feeling, which told him to go to Yale. Garber said he was particularly excited about swimming with his prospective teammates, the architecture of the campus and the strong academic offerings.

James Bloch, director of athletics at New Trier High School, located just outside of Chicago, said his students, many of whom have gone to Yale, place a high priority on receiving a quality education. They want an environment where they will be challenged, he said, and athletics is often secondary.

“The vast majority of people who play in high school do not play in college,” he said. “And many who play in college do not go on to play professionally, so the kids must be prepared for life after sports.”

Although Yale has a long-standing reputation for academic prestige, several departments are active in promoting that image to prospective Bulldogs.

Director of Sports Publicity Steve Conn said that everything his department does can affect recruiting, even if the effect is not direct. Coaches frequently use the materials produced by the sports publicity office to provide information to prospective athletes.

“All [that we do] impacts recruiting because it is about the perception of the University and its athletics department,” Conn said.

The admissions office markets Yale to all prospective applicants, though Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said the admissions officers are not directly involved in making presentations uniquely tailored for athletes.

“All sessions on campus are for general audiences,” he said. “We sometimes will host a large group of students who are touring together, for example from a particular school or from a foreign country, but they receive the same presentation.”

But tour guide Meghan Murphy ’09 said admissions tours that specifically include Payne Whitney can be arranged for recruits in order to give them a sense of where they will be spending much of their time.

Ultimately, it is the overall campus environment that attracts all students — athletes or not. Appleman said she thinks the most common reason recruits choose Yale is that they fall in love with the campus during their official or unofficial visits.

“I think [recruits] see this as a place where they can mature and grow as part of something bigger than themselves and be pushed hard, but also be cared for,” Tompkins said. “We try to encourage students to recognize that they can have the ‘best of both worlds’ with a high-level Division 1 athletic experience in addition to a peerless education.”

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