Posted On October 13, 2010 by PUSC
By Ramona Barber
Ramona Barber is the Iowa State Youth Soccer Association Education Director and a contributor to Sports Communication Publications
Fall is the time for the serious high school student-athlete to plan for taking college entrance exams. Entrance exams are used as one of the admissions criteria by most college admissions offices. Many students put off thinking about these exams until May of their junior year or fall of the senior year. But, a student-athlete who wants to participate in college varsity sports programs can not afford to wait that long to begin to think about the testing process.
Student-athletes need to be aware of four tests: the SAT, the ACT, the PSAT and the PLAN. Traditionally, the ACT has been a Midwestern test accepted by most Midwestern schools while the SAT was required by the rest, especially by ivy league or other highly selective academic schools. In recent years, this distinction between the SAT and ACT has blurred. A majority of the schools now accept either SAT or ACT scores. This can work to a student’s advantage because some students consistently get better results on one test or the other. To prepare for the SAT and ACT, preliminary tests called PSAT and the PLAN should be taken during the sophomore to give students a predictive score for the actual ACT or SAT. These predictive tests are especially helpful because they give families an idea of what college academic level a student should be considering.
Its is a fact that college athletes can not play unless they are academically eligible. Most college athletic programs are governed by organizations like the NCAA of the NAIA that have established academic eligibility rules for athletes at member schools. In addition to these minimum standards, some colleges have their own, more rigorous academic requirements. Taking the PSAT or PLAN or both is a MUST for would-be college players. When the test results come back, a student will know if he/she might have a problem. It is extremely helpful to identify any testing problems early. Of all the criteria for college admissions, the college entrance exam scores are the easiest to improve. High school counselors, independent academic advisors or programs like KAPLAN Testing or the Sylvan Learning Center can help students better their test taking skills. If you have a problem, sign up to work with a local program that has shown results in helping students improve their SAT and ACT scores.
Take the PSAT or PLAN again early in your junior year to see if you have shown any improvement. Some colleges pay generous academic scholarships based on nothing more than a student’s SAT or ACT scores, so even students with relatively high scores may want to try to raise them in order to fall into the academic scholarship range. Athletic scholarships are great. But, most are given for only one year at a time and must be renewed annually. In contrast, most academic scholarships are given for four years providing a student maintains a certain grade point during college. Keep in mind that the PSAT is given twice in October and this is all. If you miss it, there will be no other chance to take it during the year. Juniors planning to try for the National Merit Scholarship should be aware that scholarship winners are selected from junior students on the basis of October PSAT results. Juniors who miss the October PSAT will not be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship program. It is not unusual for high school counselors who are unfamiliar with the athletic recruiting process to suggest that students really don’t need to take the PSAT if they aren’t on a National Merit academic level. Since many students dread the thought of taking these tests, they cheerfully accept the counselor’s advice and decide not to take the tests. This is not a good idea. Be firm and polite with schools officials but sign up for one of the test. If the tests are not being given at your school, check around and arrange to take them at another high school. Before approaching college coaches, you need to have a good idea of BOTH your academic and soccer-playing levels.
By spring of your junior year, you should be ready to begin the final steps in the testing process. Don’t wait to sing up for your exams. Get an application from your school counselor in the fall, choose your date and send in the paperwork. This should assure that you will get your choice of testing locations. THE BEST TIME FOR AN ATHLETE TO TAKE THE ACT or SAT FOR THE FIRST TIME IS IN MARCH OR APRIL OF THE JUNIOR YEAR. If you take them earlier in the year, you may not have been exposed to some of the math concepts that will be on the tests. If you wait to take the until June, you will not have your scores back in time to notify coaches before you go to summer competitions, recruiting camps, or other athletic events. It will take three to six weeks to get the scores back. Student-athletes should be contacting coaches at potential colleges during late spring and early summer before their senior year. Expect the coaches to ask for your scores. Recently, there has been a strong backlash against athletes who are at risk academically. Coaches want to recruit players with solid academic credentials. The better your grade point and college entrance exam scores are, the more likely a coach will be serious about you. If you expect problems with your scores, do everything you can to raise your grade point.
The biggest mistake student/athletes make is to wait until their senior year to take the college tests for the first time. DON’T WAIT. You can take these tests as many times as you want. Most colleges will consider all your scores. For example, if your math score was higher on the April test but your English score was higher on your October test, many colleges will combine the highest math and English scores. Unless you are positive that you will be satisfied with your score, DO NOT have your scores sent to any colleges the first time you take the test. For a fee, both the SAT and ACT testing services will send you a copy of the test you took along with the answers you marked plus the correct answers. You may find this helpful in identifying areas of weakness to work on before you take the test again. Keep in mind that the mathematics on the tests covers the first three years of school. If math is not your best subject, DO NOT wait until October of your senior year to take the SAT or Act.
After you have identified colleges that interest you, call and talk with those college coaches about your academic background. Be truthful about your abilities. Most will try to help in any way they can if they feel you are sincerely interested in their program. Some coaches can smooth the path with the college admissions office. Be blunt and ask if the coach thinks you will have any problem with the admissions process. You do not need to waste your time if there is no chance of admission. Remember, the more personal effort you put out, the greater your chance of success. Good luck!