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.

 

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Emmitt Holt: The Indiana University Offer Dilemma

Emmitt Holt (Webster Schroeder HS, Rochester, NY) has very recently been offered by Indiana University for the fall of 2014. That’s right, classes would start for him in just a few weeks. Up ‘till now he’s been committed to attending Vermont Academy for a post-graduate year. Whether he should accept the Indiana offer has been a popular topic of debate among players, high school coaches and college coaches.

On the surface, the IU offer changes everything. Indiana is historically big-time, as big as it gets. And Emmitt has no other offers close to this level. (Low to mid A-10 offers were his highest). It’s hard to overstate the power of the feeling that comes with an offer like this. Even adult observers, after discussing the situation objectively, shake their heads and admit they could not think straight if it happened to them. And they’re not 18 years old.

The initial reaction of many is he has to take it. It’s IU. How do you say no? It’s not as obvious as it might seem.

 

Reasons to take the offer:

  • It’s Indiana. It’s Emmitt’s chance to reach his dream. He may never get another offer like this. Most players, and a lot of parents, would give almost anything to have this opportunity.
  • Chance to play right away. They need bigs. No obvious star big men on the roster in front of him.
  • Possible redshirt his first year. It’s a year to learn the system and adjust to school. It’s also an additional free year of college education.

 

Reasons to turn down the offer:

  • Indiana is just filling a roster spot. They recruit a better player next year and Emmitt never ends up getting playing time. That’s a process risk anytime you take an offer this late. One D1 coach said to me “putting Emmitt on your (IU) team doesn’t scare away any top 100 prospects next year”. He added: “this is why there were over 600 transfers this year”.
  • Act like you’ve been there before. There’s a certain panic or pressure in the logic of taking the offer because you might never get another one. In this case, I call it the Rochester mentality. If a player really thinks he’s that good, he doesn’t feel compelled to jump at the first great offer. The goal isn’t just to get the offer, it’s to succeed in college and after graduation.
  • If Emmitt’s got one offer like this now, he’s going to have multiple offers like this six months from now. This means less pressure, more time to make the decision, more chances for a better match and improved overall chances for a successful outcome
  • If he’s not that good, he’ll find out before making a big mistake. No need to transfer.
  • The official visit to IU will be at best incomplete, at worst misleading. School is not in session, so the students aren’t there. Professional educators say visiting when a school is in session is critical. The students are perhaps the most important component of a visit.
  • Not losing a redshirt year. By prepping he keeps that redshirt year option. He also removes the risk of not surviving the emotional difficulty of a redshirt year.
  • The head coach might not be there for long. He has had limited success at a place where expectations are extremely high, and there are rumblings that he might not last there unless he wins right away. (Some say taking a player of Emmitt’s caliber is consistent with this lack of success). If he is fired, it’s common for new coaches to make some significant changes, including telling some players they will not be asked back. On the surface, Emmitt could be a likely candidate for that.

 

What are the risks of saying no to the offer? Some say injury is one. That concern gets overvalued for several reasons. First, it was addressed and accepted when prep school was chosen over scholarships. Second, statistically that risk is much smaller than some others, such as not surviving college academically and socially. Finally, the power of good prep schools and medical science these days is such that even a significant injury can have little to no effect on recruitment.

Let’s remember for a minute, this is only a debate because Emmitt made what to many was a surprising decision to choose prep school over college scholarships in the first place.  Any good thought process would review his original reasons in light of the recent offer. They were:

  • To play at a higher level
  • To have more schools to choose from
  • To improve his overall maturity. (There’s some irony here considering he was mature enough to choose prep school. Others, who are less mature, have gone straight to college). By all accounts he is at risk for not surviving away from home.
  • To improve his chances for academic success in college and his career options after college
  • To improve his chances for athletic success, and at an earlier point in his career

Contrary to initial reactions, it’s clear the IU offer changes almost nothing.

With all the excitement and discussion, it might be easy to forget this isn’t just about Emmitt Holt. Vermont Academy made an educational, athletic and financial commitment to him and is counting on him. He was awarded a spot that other kids and parents would have given a great deal to have. Leaving now would be unfair to the school and those other athletes he was chosen over, and he knew that when he made the commitment.

There’s no question this is a tough decision. Logic is great, but emotion will, and should, play a part. The idea is to make sure the thinking is as logical as possible and no significant facts are missed. This is all about minimizing risk and putting the athlete in a position to succeed, not a position to fail. Although it happens regularly, playing for the exception is a trap.

 

 

 

 

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