As a Division-III competitor, a member of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference, and one of the most elite liberal arts schools in the country, Pomona seems to stake most of its pride in the student aspect of student-athlete. You’re accepted into Pomona because of what you can contribute as a student, not an athlete, and while at Pomona, you’re held to the same standards as all students—there’s no subcategory for athletes.
Yet, in the year since Bruce Poch left the Pomona College Office of Admissions, there seems to have been some change in the admission policy regarding varsity athletes. While it’s not necessarily a lowering of standards, there is definitely a developing trend of increased acceptance of more athletes in each class. This change should be both lauded and taken further for both the benefit of the student-athletes and the college as a whole.
Last week I read a profile on women’s soccer player Jordan Bryant PO ’13 posted on the Pomona-Pitzer athletics website. Jordan quit her club soccer team during high school so she could focus more on her academics, although it meant eliminating her then-strong chances of playing D-I college soccer. In the long run, she’ll probably be happy she made this decision; furthering her education will likely take her further in life than four years of D-I soccer would have. Regardless, the fact that she had to make that decision pays testament to the difficulties of life as a student-athlete, a lifestyle severely undervalued in the college admissions process.
With practice and games every day of the week, a varsity sport is automatically more demanding than any other extracurricular activity. In that amount of time, a non-athlete might be able to participate heavily in several other clubs and activities, a lifestyle severely overvalued in the college admissions process. With all respect to those that put National Honor Society on their resume, almost anybody can be in NHS. Achieving the level of success in a sport to compete in the NCAA puts that athlete in the top two percent of all kids their age that ever tried that sport. Most students will never be in the 98th percentile of anything they try, whether that be an honor society, a debate team, or DECA. As an admissions office, we should recognize the time commitment any sport necessitates, and how that commitment may limit participation in the other clubs and activities non-athletes use to fill out their college applications.
Furthermore, participating on an athletic team requires insane amounts of dedication, motivation, perseverance, teamwork, and communication, the exact qualities we value in an achieving college student. As Malcolm Gladwell explains in Outliers, there is a level of intelligence above which increased intelligence does not necessarily correlate with increased probability of success. He dubs this level the “threshold of intelligence.” Any student applying to Pomona has likely cleared this threshold, and success after that point is almost entirely dependent on the exact qualities outlined above. With this logic, colleges should actually prefer student-athletes in the admissions process, as they have already demonstrated a commitment to the qualities necessary for success. Most data holds to this assumption as well; tour guides love to throw out facts like “our D-III athletes have higher G.P.A. averages than the college as a whole.”
While the school will benefit from increased achievement due to larger numbers of student-athletes in class, it will also benefit from a better athletics program. More athletic success will lead to more applicants: most students like to be at a “winning” school, even if they themselves are not involved in athletics. Given a fixed number of slots at the school, an increase of applicants will decrease the acceptance rate, leading to a rise in national rankings. Furthermore, high rates of alumni donations have often been linked to athletics. The more successful the sports teams, the higher the school spirit, tying alumni back to campus and increasing donations, also positive for the school.
Pomona-Pitzer Athletics has already benefitted from the perceived changes to the admissions policy. Men’s soccer has started at least five freshmen every game, leading to a much better season than last year. Likewise, women’s soccer has used first-years in starting and supporting roles leading to a SCIAC playoff berth. Filling out the ranks of the football team, the freshmen have helped lead the team to a better, albeit winless, season. A few more recruiting classes like that and the Sagecocks will have enough players to avoid second-half collapses. Both cross country teams have seen success and increased members this year, and the women’s volleyball team has seen promise for the future through the strong play of first-years Ellen Yamasaki PZ ’15, Dani Kritter PO ’15, Hannah Wayment-Steele PO ’15, and Kirea Mazzolini PO ’15.
Looking forward to the future of Pomona College, the admissions office should continue accepting student-athletes at a rate equal to or greater than that of this past year. Increased acceptance of student-athletes will not only benefit the school but represent a fairer admissions policy, creating an environment of achievement and perseverance.