My understanding is that colleges with sports programs will admit students with "low end" but not "off the charts low" grades if the respective sports teams want them. By this, I mean grades just above the "cut-off" for admissions, without having to make a special case or allowance for the athlete.

Suppose a certified athlete tried to get into a graduate program with similarly minimum grades. To take an example, suppose the Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter retired, went to college, and got something like a 3.3 GPA which is the cut-off for certain graduate school programs.

What constituencies (if any) might such a graduate applicant have (e.g. celebrity value)? Or are "athlete" slots open only to undergraduates?

  • Do you row to a world-class standard? If so, Oxford or Cambridge would seem to be a good bet.
    – 410 gone
    Sep 10 '14 at 11:19
  • @aeismail why not grades tag?
    – enthu
    Sep 10 '14 at 11:32
  • 1
    @EnthusiasticStudent: Because the question isn't asking about what to do about the grades. It's asking about how being an athlete can help with master's admissions (to compensate for a weak academic record). You could ask the same question with someone who has a strong academic record, and therefore the grades aren't the dominant factor.
    – aeismail
    Sep 10 '14 at 14:46
  • @EnergyNumbers: Are you referring to a Rhodes Scholarship? I hadn't thought about it from that angle but that seems like a valid answer.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 10 '14 at 16:08

I'll answer based on the U.S. (which is where these issues are most relevant, I believe).

There is no special consideration for athletes in graduate admissions. Undergraduate admissions are handled by admissions officers who often use all sorts of non-academic criteria, and recruiting athletes to play for the university is a specific goal at many universities. However, graduate admissions is done by departmental committees made up of faculty, and the non-academic criteria that play an important role for undergraduates (well roundedness, extracurricular activities, athletics, etc.) are irrelevant. If anything, a continued desire to participate extensively in high-level athletics could be considered a disadvantage, since it would take time away from academics.

If Derek Jeter wanted to go to graduate school, I'm sure some faculty would be impressed by his fame, but they would also be careful and skeptical in evaluating his qualifications. In any case, there certainly wouldn't be a special admissions slot designated for an athlete.

  • +1. You might find a special scholarship in some places after being admitted, but getting admitted is a matter of convincing them you can hack it academically. You might consider trying again after you can point to some years of real-world professional experience in that field, so you can argue that those grades are no longer an accurate representation of your skills and focus.
    – keshlam
    Sep 9 '14 at 3:06

To add to Anonymous Mathematician's answer (i.e. no special treatment), I would add that the major reason to recruit athletes at the undergraduate level is you want them to play for you, in intercollegiate sports. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the governing body for US college sports, and their rules would normally exclude graduate students from playing.

The NCAA eligibility rules are complex, but a general principle (as I understand it) is that each athlete may only play intercollegiate sports for at most four years in their life. Moreover, all four of those years must normally come within 5 years of first enrolling in college (as an undergraduate). A college athlete applying to graduate school would almost certainly have used up their eligibility and would not be able to play for the graduate institution; perhaps for a year at most. Thus the institution would have no real interest in recruiting them for athletic reasons, since they wouldn't be able to play on the intercollegiate teams.

For Derek Jeter, there's another reason he couldn't play: there is an amateurism requirement, and anyone who has played a sport professionally would likely be ineligible under that clause. Indeed, athletic programs have suffered severe penalties merely for letting their athletes talk to agents.

  • In the case of Derek Jeter, I wasn't thinking of his playing. But I thought that there might be some "celebrity" value in admitting him. Apparently not.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 9 '14 at 13:39
  • @TomAu: My point is that such an admission could be based only on celebrity value, not on any potential athletic contributions. You could ask the more general question as to whether celebrity is an asset in graduate admissions. But I think that most departments are very sensitive about their academic reputations and don't want to be perceived as compromising them, which might be the case if they admitted a less-than-qualified student for non-academic reasons. Sep 10 '14 at 15:56
  • I would imagine a powerhouse school would make all sorts of accommodations for a star althele who was still eligible. That said, I would think they would try and recruit them into an undergraduate program, but if it took offering someone a PhD, even without them having any undergrad education, I bet they would do it.
    – StrongBad
    Sep 10 '14 at 18:14
  • @StrongBad: I'm skeptical. There are lots of powerhouse schools and lots of star athletes every year, and I've never heard of one being admitted into a graduate program without an undergrad degree. Sep 10 '14 at 18:18
  • @NateEldredge but those really desirable star athletes don't even bother graduating since they turn pro after 2 or 3 years. If it is not men's football or basketball it is not powerhouse since the team is not making millions for your school.
    – StrongBad
    Sep 10 '14 at 18:23

As a partially parallel case, Imperial College readmitted Brian May to complete his PhD in astrophysics after a 30 year gap. They might not have done that for someone less famous.

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