I recently read a post on Quora where a student (it wasn’t clear whether or not he/she was an athlete but it’s still relevant) got accepted to Stanford and Dartmouth, but was afraid of not being able to keep up with classmates since both places are known to be some of the best academic institutions in the country. This insightful response got the most upvotes.
Let’s explore this thought process through different perspectives.
This may not be standard practice, but certain college advisors or recruiting consultants try to get a good reputation by saying that a large percentage of their students get into their top choice school. However, it’s important to remember that there are two main ways to get into your top choice school as a student.
The first way would be to raise your level academically and athletically in order to get accepted by these selective schools. Of course, this takes years. You can’t go into senior year realizing that you’ve been lazy for three years and hope to reach your potential top choice school if it’s a very selective school. Intuitively, this makes sense. Are you really going to win an NCAA title by going through the motions for three years and then deciding to work hard in the last year? Absolutely not. It may be a different story if you’re a truly gifted athlete, but why would you want to roll the genetic dice like that? Assuming you’re on a college wrestling team, you already care more about wrestling than a majority of the population. If you care that much, why would you leave it to chance? As you can see, this is the proper way to get into your top choice school. Set high standards and work your tail off to reach your goals. However, college advisors or recruiting consultants don’t have control over this, so they may look at the second option. So, what’s the other option to get into a top choice school?
You may have guessed it- lower your expectations. “What’s that, Jonny Wrestling? You wanna wrestle at this school? Ha! In your dreams. Let’s go through this list of schools you actually have a chance of getting in.” The issue here is that Jonny Wrestling actually had a shot of getting in that school, but the college advisor or recruiting consultant wanted to look good for his or her business by lowering Jonny’s expectations. This is absurd. It’s the equivalent of a wrestling club telling their wrestlers not to go for state championships so that the club owner can tell parents that 90% of their wrestlers meet their high school wrestling goals. If a kid wants to go for a state title, let them. If a kid wants to apply to a really selective school, then let them at least try.
If you’re reading this as a college advisor or recruiting consultant, then let me give it to you straight- cut the crap. You’re a scum bag for even considering this option, and you need to stop this right now. Are you seriously lowering that kid’s potential and talking them out of a high quality education just so you can look good for your business? Screw that. Getting a college education and a degree from a great academic institution will open many doors and lead to tons of opportunities for students, and lowering their expectations just so you can look good is basically taking advantage of a teenager’s future for the benefit of your business. Find a better indicator of success for your advising or consulting business or get out. Parents, be wary of this. If you so much as get the impression that they see your son or daughter as a dollar sign or statistic on their brochure or annual report, then proceed with caution or find someone else altogether.
The hardest part of a tough academic institution like an Ivy League school is getting admitted. You may certainly face your own challenges after that, but you can expect the college to be much more helpful in your endeavors after you get accepted. Why is this the case? Let’s take a look at it from their point of view. In particular, we’re going to be looking at acceptance rates and retention rates to gain a better understanding.
The lower a school’s acceptance rates, the better and more selective they look. It’s a way or saying, “A lot of people want to come to our school, but we only take in the best of the best.” Fair enough. That’s one way to build a school’s reputation, and this makes sense. The better quality a school is, the more people will know about it, and the more people will apply to it. Colleges can only let so many people in every year, which leads to a lower acceptance rate. It follows that lower acceptance rates are correlated to high quality schools. Of course, that’s not the only indicator of a college’s success.
High retention rates show a college’s ability to keep students at school (as opposed to transferring schools or dropping out). If retention rates are low, that could mean that the college is doing a poor job supporting their students or failing to create an environment in which students can succeed and be happy. Since students aren’t doing well enough or simply aren’t happy (and it can happen for various reasons), they’ll likely transfer. In some cases, students will even drop out, thinking that college isn’t for them.
In short, you want to see low acceptance rates and high retention rates in a top choice school. Of course, you also want to see standardized testing scores and a GPA within your range. There are also some intangibles that go into the decision (how do you quantify a spectacular essay and/or recommendation letter?), so you might as well try.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Any good wrestler will go to competitive tournaments to get exposed to the best competition. They’ll go to practices at the better clubs in the area where they know they’ll be pushed. You aren’t doing yourself any favors by ducking the competition. You know what you need to do to be the best that you can be.
Look at academics the same way, and remember the original purpose of going to college in the first place: a degree and an education along with the opportunity to wrestle for four years. Even if you’re on a full scholarship, someone else (a parent, an institution, etc.) is paying for your four or five years of college. Would you ever pay $50,000+ per year just to wrestle? You may as well get your money’s worth and get an education while you’re there too.
Apply to those places. Challenge yourself so that you can push yourself to be the best that you can be. Assuming that those colleges or universities are a good fit for you, enroll in those places. Academics matter.
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You might be considering whether you should wrestle in college, but the D1 wrestling life doesn’t quite sound like what you’re looking for.
D3 wrestling programs are overshadowed by their D1 wrestling counterparts and don’t get nearly as much attention. Of course, it’s unquestionable that more world class wrestlers ultimately emerge from D1 wrestling championship programs. If multiple D1 NCAA titles and Olympic aspirations are on the table for discussion, you’re better off looking at D1.
Statistically speaking, however, many of us aren’t successful enough in high school to get recruited for D1 (myself included), even though walking onto a D1 program is certainly possible in some cases. For those of us who aren’t getting looked at by D1 programs (don’t lie to me! You know who you are), you may be wondering two things in particular:
“Am I good enough to wrestle D3?”
“What’s D3 wrestling like?”
We’ll start with whether or not you’re good enough. Then, we’ll cover what you can expect from the D3 wrestling lifestyle. Finally, we’ll give you a case study based on someone who made the most of his D3 wrestling experience while winning numerous awards along the way.
How Good Do You Have To Be To Wrestle D3?
Let’s start by tackling the athletic scholarship issue. NCAA D3 programs are not allowed to give athletic scholarships, but you can get plenty of financial aid for D3 wrestling schools through other means outside of the athletic scholarship.
You may be really conflicted at the moment. Maybe you were a good wrestler in high school. You might have passed the 100-win mark while placing at a number of tough tournaments (including the state championships), but aren’t quite feeling the D1 wrestling vibe. Maybe you haven’t even passed the 100 win mark in wrestling, but consider yourself a decently tough wrestler. You might have started wrestling as late as freshman year of high school and have fallen in love with it ever since. Is it worth giving D3 wrestling a try? Absolutely.
The skill levels potentially vary more in D3 than any other division, and it really depends on the program. The best D3 wrestlers will be able to keep up and compete with anyone in the country regardless of division, while tough and technically sound high school wrestlers will be able to beat some of the D3 competition right away. Some D3 wrestling schools struggle to fill a lineup, and you’re welcome regardless of skill level just to fill a weight class and pick up forfeits. That works too.
So, how hard is D3 wrestling? We can take my high school senior year record as an example (I started wrestling as a freshman in high school so we’ll leave my prior year records out of this). I won a small tournament and placed at a few competitive tournaments consisting mostly of New England prep schools. At 32 wins and 8 losses, I was one win away from tying the school record at the time for wins in one season, and qualified for every postseason tournament possible up to Prep Nationals. I placed 3rd at the prep school equivalent for the Connecticut state championships, 6th in New England preps, and didn’t place at Prep Nationals.
Putting that into perspective, my college freshman year wrestle off for the 141 weight class was harder than my third place match at states the previous season. However, I certainly won my fair share of matches in college that year, but I lost a lot of matches too. Matches were certainly winnable, but tough.
Long story short, you’re probably good enough to win D3 matches eventually. Of course, with a D3 program, you most likely won’t be factoring in just wrestling, which takes us to the next question.
How Hard Is D3 Wrestling? What's It Like To Wrestle D3?
In many cases, D3 wrestling is about balancing everything in a way that’s consistent to your goals. Here, we’ll cover the academic, athletic, and social side of things. Since D3 wrestling doesn’t have have the athletic scholarship, you’re there because you want to be there. It’s not about money to go to school anymore. With this flexibility, you’ll also find that many D3 wrestlers are more engaged on campus than just being on the wrestling team (but of course, this also depends on the culture of the specific program). College wrestling is still a huge time commitment wherever you go, but you ultimately learn how to make it work because you want to.
Ultimately, you’re in college for the education and degree (along with your four years of NCAA eligibility, of course). Expect strong academic programs to challenge you if you attend a school with a good reputation. Of course, this can certainly apply to other divisions as well. Pre-med programs will be difficult anywhere you go (watch out for Organic Chemistry, also known as “Orgo.” That’s supposedly the pre-med killer).
Successful D3 wrestlers keep their grades in check, especially if they’re on an academic scholarship. If you’ve earned yourself an academic scholarship, make sure you do the necessary work to maintain your grades so that you don’t lose your academic scholarship. Communicate with your coach about this if necessary. Obviously, if your grades sink and you lose your academic scholarship and can’t afford to attend the college, you won’t be wrestling for that college anyway. Coaches tend to be understanding of this, especially if you’ve shown initiative in trying to manage your time and work hard in practice.
Personally, I chose to wrestle in higher weight classes because I found that my brain got too sluggish (I also wrestled very poorly) when I cut too much weight. My grades would suffer along with my wrestling performance, so I would often wrestle at a weight class where my mind would still be functioning properly.
Along with your in-season practices starting sometime in October, be ready for preseason and off season workouts. This may include team runs or morning lifts. In season, expect morning lifts or runs along with wrestling practices in the afternoon. D3 wrestling is still wrestling, and the time commitment will still be noticeable. You most likely won’t be living the same lifestyle as a typical college student.
Ultimately, you get out what you put into wrestling. It’s not uncommon to see wrestlers at extra lifting or drilling sessions. D3 wrestlers aren’t necessarily less committed. In some cases, they’re wrestlers who just had a late start to the sport (like myself) but are still extremely passionate about it.
This certainly varies by college, but many of my teammates (and athletes from other sports) had jobs lined up for them after graduation. Some of them (myself included) had a job offer going into senior year of college, which is a great feeling. It’s the job equivalent to committing to a college or being accepted early decision for your college application.
In my particular case, former wrestlers who had graduated were more than willing to help me out by giving me academic advice or professional advice, and this went a long way. I still had to be proactive about searching for opportunities, but I certainly considered myself fortunate to have two very prestigious internships on my resume by the time I graduated college.
You can also leverage your wrestling experiences during job interviews too, and I certainly did. When possible, I actually tried to transition the conversation into how wrestling gave me plenty of opportunities to prove myself as a leader and as a professional (although I also had to be careful not to overdo it). For what it’s worth, I met more former D3 athletes at my job than any other division.
You can certainly expect to have friends outside of wrestling (including friends who don’t even do sports to begin with). You also have the opportunity to get involved on campus. For example, I was part of the Interfaith Leadership Council, gave tours, and was one of the student leaders for the International Student Orientation program which was new at the time.
Now here’s where things get controversial, but we’ll talk about them anyway. If you end up hating wrestling and feeling like you want a regular college life, you always have the option of quitting. Wrestling might have helped you get accepted into college financially, but there’s no athletic scholarship money dangling over your head. Some people quit to focus on school or tend to other personal challenges. It all depends on the specific circumstances.
Depending on your reasoning for quitting wrestling, however, you’ll need to look at a few other points. Parties will be there after you graduate and so will a very active social life if you choose. Food and relationships will also be there after you graduate, so there’s no need to feel a sense of urgency there either. Thanksgiving and Christmas meals? Don’t worry. There’s plenty of that after college, too. You only get four years to wrestle in college, so it’s worth making the most of it since you probably won’t get it back after college.
Case Study: Jake Gordon, D3 Standout and CEO of DressedGPS
Jake Gordon, a native of Los Angeles CA, ventured all the way to the Lehigh Valley in PA to wrestle D3 at Muhlenberg College while majoring in business and minoring in political science. He served as captain of the varsity wrestling team for two years and finished with the all-time record in tech falls at Muhlenberg. He also was elected the Philanthropy chair of Alpha Tau Omega.
Gordon is also the recipient of the 2018 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship, which was given to only 26 male athletes across all divisions for excellence in athletics and academics. He has won numerous awards specific to Muhlenberg College as well. A few examples outside of the awards he won in wrestling include the 2017 Paul M. White ’27 Business Award, the 2018 Muhlenberg Goodwill Prize, and the Muhlenberg Future Alumni Leader Award awarded to one male and one female student of each graduating class.
If that wasn’t enough, Gordon is also co-founder and CEO of DressedGPS, an online platform that allows students to rent or sell outfits to other students.
Long story short, this man’s achievements are legendary and he certainly made the most of his college experience. You can listen to his incredible speech about his college experience here.
Follow Jake Gordon
What sort of college experience are you looking for? Do you want to make the most of it the same way Jake Gordon did? If so, D3 wrestling is worth considering.
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Should I Wrestle In College?
Am I Good Enough To Wrestle In College?
How Hard Is It To Get A Wrestling Scholarship?
Can I Join A Wrestling Team Without Being Recruited?
Is It Worth The Time Commitment?
For this section, we’re gonna approach this as a cost-benefit analysis. If the benefit exceeds the cost, then it’s worth it. If the cost exceeds the benefit, then you’re better off saying no. Your economics professor can thank me later.
Which College Lifestyle Is For You?
What Kind Of Person Wrestles In College And Does Well?
It seems difficult, but it’s certainly possible. Check out these three examples of highly successful NCAA wrestlers who balanced wrestling and academics extremely well.
Click on each image or name to learn more about each of these great role models. Plenty of student athletes also make it work on the DIII level, but as you can imagine, competing in college wrestling doesn’t come at a small cost in terms of your time. This is where you figure out whether the benefits are worth it.
What are the benefits?
Are the sacrifices worth it, then? Before you make your decision, you also need to consider all the benefits that come along with wrestling. It’s no secret that wrestling in college comes with sacrifices (in fact, some people will glorify the sacrifices because it makes them seem tough). Aside from getting the opportunity to do something you love for four more years while building some of the closest relationships in your life, college wrestling comes with a few other perks.