Should I Walk-On or Do a Post-Graduate Year?

In some way, walking-on inspires a sense of security. It allows athletes put their belief in the connection they have with a particular school, even in the absence of a scholarship. I spoke on the phone with a father not long ago about the possibility of his child doing a post-graduate (PG) year instead of walking-on. The father had no awareness or understanding of prep schools and the child had all the earmarks of an excellent PG candidate. The child’s senior season was over and so was the majority of the recruiting for the sport. They had not received any scholarship offers and were planning on walking-on at a local D1 school.

Confidence is a huge part of walking-on. The athlete has to believe in himself/herself even though no scholarship schools believed in the athlete’s talent enough to offer a scholarship. Confidence and optimism are essential, but there’s no need to substitute them for a lack of logic. Many athletes make the confident statement that they’re sure they’ll earn a scholarship as walk-ons. All they need, they insist, is the chance to prove themselves. In fact, those who make that statement aren’t as confident as they think. They are putting too much value in that sense of security inspired by the walk-on situation. Athletes who truly believe in themselves and their talent don’t settle for walking-on. They believe that given the chance at prep school they will earn more and better offers and aren’t willing to restrict themselves to one scholarship chance. Furthermore, if you assume the statement of confidence is true, that the athlete will earn a scholarship after walking-on, it’s all the more reason to go to prep school and not walk-on. Think about it. If the player really is a scholarship level talent, a PG year would have been virtually risk-free and would have yielded many and better options.

Here’s a comparison of the two options.


Walking-On = One Chance

  • Only one chance at a scholarship. If you choose to walk-on, all your eggs are in one basket. There’s only one school looking at you, so you have only one chance at a scholarship. Some say “There’s no risk. I’m sure I’ll earn a scholarship”. The statistics say otherwise.
  • You may not get a scholarship. Then there are three options and none is particularly good. One, keep playing, but pay for all four years. Two, transfer. Three, stop playing the sport you love.
  • May use up a year of eligibility. You only get four. When was the last time you heard an athlete say I wish my career hadn’t been so long or so successful.
  • Cost. Usually about the same as a PG year at prep school


PG Year = Multiple Options

  • Chance at multiple scholarship offers. You will have many schools looking at you. Your odds increase dramatically, so does the chance of finding the right fit. The more choices, the better fit and chance of success.
  • No loss of eligibility. You still have four years of college eligibility after a PG year.
  • An extra year of education. In today’s world, you can’t have too much education. By doing a PG year you get another year in addition to the four college years. That means improved learning skills and probable college level credits. If you do earn a scholarship, the fourth year of it will likely pay for the first year of graduate school.
  • Greater chance of earning playing time early and throughout college career. This is true for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the average age of college freshman is a lot higher than most people realize.
  • Get to a higher level of play. PGs get recruited at a higher level than high school seniors. If, in fact, you were capable of earning a scholarship as a walk-on that same level of talent would earn you a scholarship at a higher level school after a PG year.
  • No need to transfer. It’s one thing to move on after a PG year. It’s entirely different to transfer after your freshman year of college if you don’t get a scholarship. Yes, a PG year is still a change, but you knew it was going to happen and it’s much less traumatic than transferring from a four year college.
  • Better chance of finding a school that’s the right fit. The more developed you are as a player and person, the better the chances of finding the right fit. In addition, the more school choices you have the better the chance of finding the right fit.
  • Cost. Roughly the same as what a walk-on year of college would cost. Some people will say that if you don’t get a scholarship you’ve added the cost of an extra year to your overall college cost. Not necessarily. First, non-scholarship athletes often end up getting a better financial aid package than they would have before the PG year. That increased financial aid can offset the cost of the PG year. Second, you can take college level courses as a PG, making it effectively the same thing as being a college freshman.


There’s simply no question that a PG year makes more sense than walking-on. In the example above, part of the problem was the family refused to even listen to what prep school has to offer. Be willing to listen before making a decision. You can always say no. Smart people get the facts first.




Quote of the Day

I’m looking for a life-changing opportunity, a place where my son will  meet the right folks who will become lifetime friends. The basketball part will work itself out.


This from the father of a D1 recruit who can have his choice of almost any prep school in the country. His son, a very good student, is being pulled in all the wrong directions by the basketball machine.



We’re Already at a Good School Playing Good Ball. Why Switch to Prep School?

I had the prep school conversation recently with a mother who told me they were not interested in prep school because “my child is already getting a very good education, playing good basketball, and it doesn’t cost us anything”. On the surface, who would argue? Here’s what she missed:

  1. A much better education is still available.(even though this mom was right when she said her child is currently getting a very good one. Most parents are not)
    1. Most students near the top of their high school class will be below average students at the right prep school
      1. Those at the top of their class locally, but significantly below that nationally, need a greater challenge
  2. Prep school is a much higher level of sport for her child
    1. The chances of getting the scholarship they seek improves dramatically
    2. The parents are relieved of the pressure of having to mange their child’s recruiting
  3. Room and board is the cost of living at home
    1. That’s about $5,000 this mother didn’t account for.
      1. In this case, it means saving $5,000 per year by sending her child to prep school. That never occurred to her.
        1. That’s $15,000 over three years, while getting a better education and better chance at a scholarship.

There’s no question that this family’s current situation is better than many, if not most. The real question is what are the family’s goals, how serious are they about reaching them and what are they willing to sacrifice to do it? For those in today’s competitive world who understand that not maximizing a child’s potential means missing an opportunity while falling behind the competition, the choice is prep school.



When to Attend Prep School? The Sooner, the Better

Many families think that because prep schools accept students in grades 8-13 they can decide to attend prep school whenever they want. While that’s technically accurate, it’s not that simple. The reality is that the competition for athletic spots at the best schools is tremendous. Schools are not just taking whoever applies, especially if the family wants financial aid (FA). Consequently, the sooner you attend, the better. Here’s an outline explaining why.

  1. It’s easier for younger student-athletes to get admitted
    1. The schools know the longer the student attends the school, the better the chances of success for all.
    2. Younger students improve the overall stability of the schools
    3. Post-graduate (PG) spots are the most competitive and hardest to get financial aid for.
      1. More students want to attend as PGs and almost all the leagues have limits on the number of PGs allowed.
        1. More kids fighting for fewer spots
          1. The same student who could have been accepted as a junior often cannot get a spot as a PG at the very same school.
  2.  It’s easier to get more financial aid for younger student-athletes
    1. Underclassmen are at a premium for all the prep schools
    2. PGs spots are the hardest to get financial aid for
  3. You don’t have to be as talented or successful athletically or academically
    1. Schools will take a chance on weaker students and those exhibiting athletic potential, if they are younger.
      1. Schools know the longer they have them, the better the chances of success
      2. This is particularly true for students coming from very weak academic and socio-economic backgrounds. Statistics and studies show the optimum time for this type of student to get to prep school is the beginning of the freshman year.
  4. The more time at prep school, the higher the rate of success
    1. Student potential is maximized due to more time spent in a better academic and athletic environment
    2. The transition to prep school is a big one
      1. It takes most kids a year to make the academic and athletic adjustment
        1.  Once the transition is made, the next level of  growth can take place
        2. Repeating junior year is more than twice as beneficial as doing a PG year. Both are a total of two years, one is more than twice as good a choice.
  5. A PG year can no longer make up for four years of poor high school performance
    1. NCAA rule changes in response to system abuse now allow credit for only one class in a PG year.
      1. For weak students the transition to prep school must be made sooner


Of course, each family situation is different. Students and parents develop at different rates. Consequently some are ready to leave home, or have their child leave home, before others. The facts, however, are clear. Sooner is better.



What are IMG, Spire and Similar Sports Academies?

I’m asked on a regular basis about schools like IMG Academy and Spire Academy as options for student-athletes.

These are fairly unique organizations and they have their place. IMG has been around for about 30 years. Spire opened within the last few years.

These are not prep schools. Both are for-profit sports academies that offer academics as a supplement to athletics, unlike most prep or boarding schools which offer sports as a part of the whole educational experience. IMG is working on improving their academic offering as evidenced by the plans for new academic buildings shown on their website.

I have never ended up sending one of my clients to places like IMG or Spire, but I have worked with a handful of families who have left there.

In many ways IMG invented the for-profit sports academy business model in the US when it was just a tennis academy. They have since expanded to many more sports, most recently football. They are obviously very successful. Spire Academy, outside of Cleveland, seems to be copying that model.

At about $70,000, their prices make most prep schools look like a bargain, which is saying something when the others are charging $50,000 to educate kids as young as 14. They will discount the price based on the athletes ability and national recognition.

Their business model is to bring in Internationally recognized superstars on full scholarship which, in turn, draws families of “regular” athletes who can/are willing to pay $70,000 to chase their dream. I haven’t proven it yet, but I believe their coaches work on a commission basis. In other words, they get a financial percentage of what the recruit/bring in.

Based on the experiences of the families I’ve worked with, the education they offer is the minimum necessary, although they are making efforts to improve that. Some/many courses are online. They are not educators first, they are sports people first. That’s a concern for some/many when we’re talking about being responsible for kids 14-18 years old who are living away from home.

The living quarters and overall organization have come under scrutiny by the families I’ve talked to. They are unacceptable to some. Again, they are working on improving that. IMG, in particular, shows plans on their website for new dorms.

A couple months ago I was asked by the director of admission and financial aid at a prominent northeastern prep school to contact the mother of one of his existing students and discuss IMG. The young man is a basketball star and IMG had seen him at a major summer camp and was trying to get him to leave his prep school and attend IMG. The mother has very little money and the prospect of saving thousands of dollars was very appealing to her. They promised her a full scholarship, but when it came time to get the deal done, that was not the case.

Bottom line: Organizations like these clearly have their place. Given their cost and the alternatives available, parents who are serious about their child’s education should proceed cautiously when exploring them. In my opinion, the risk factor is higher. These are the right place for some, and if families make the decision to attend with their eyes open, that’s their choice and I can live with that.