Can fencing help me get into college?
Everything you ever wanted to know about fencing athlete recruitment
While there are many advantages to participation in the sport of fencing, the most tangible advantage is the potential priority it affords fencers in the college admissions process through athlete recruitment. So the answer to the question, “Can fencing help get me into college? ” is a resounding YES!
Athlete recruitment to NCAA sanctioned college fencing programs is an opportunity available to both top ranked fencers, and dedicated fencers not even on the Junior National Points List. It all depends on which college you want admission to. Fencing can certainly help you bypass the brutally competitive college admissions process.
Many colleges with fencing programs in Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3 of the NCAA actively recruit fencers to their programs. There are a total of 46 colleges with NCAA sanctioned fencing programs.
The term athlete recruitment in this blog includes both the hard recruitment by college fencing coaches that result in “Likely Letters” (LL), National Letters of Intent (NLI), and “pink letters”, as well as situations where the college fencing coach strongly supports your college application with the admissions committee, whether at the Early Decision/Early Action stage, or during the regular application cycle.
Check out the List of US Colleges with Fencing Teams (NCAA Sanctioned and Club Level) HERE
Before we go further, let’s make sure you and your fencer understand what everyone is getting into when you chase to become a fencing athlete recruit.
Regardless of the prestige that comes with being an athlete recruit, a fencer should make sure that the college in question is a fit in terms of academic pursuits, personality, culture, location and social life. Fencing should not be the only criteria. That said, fencers who thrive in a collaborative team environment will have great fun as part of a NCAA sanctioned fencing program.
Fencers in NCAA sanctioned Division 1 fencing programs generally commit to a schedule of rigorous training five to six days a week during the season. The fencing program’s rigor depends on the college, and there are variations between them. At the elite fencing programs, fencing takes precedence over any other form of college life. So a fencer should make sure that this is what he/she wants to do while in college before making a commitment as an athlete recruit.
The Division 2 and Division 3 fencing programs tend to run less demanding training schedules, but they still afford a fencer an opportunity to train and compete regularly.
NCAA fencing competitions ares quite different from US Fencing competitions. It is team based. In NCAA fencing, the emphasis is on 5 point bouts, and the team’s overall performance is dependent on your performance. You can’t have bad pools, and still end up with a medal.
While the potential to be recruited into a fencing program sounds great, please remember that there are still limited spots available to college fencing coaches for recruitment to their team. A fencer must be pro-active in seeking out the fencing coaches at the colleges they are interested in, and they must stand out to win a berth.
However, be careful about listening to hearsay about coaches, colleges or whose going where. Stay focused on your goal to get into the college of your choice, and do all the right things to make this happen. There are many moving parts in the fencing athlete recruitment process, and there is no set formula. One person’s athlete recruitment experience, whilst very informative, is not necessarily going to be your experience. So don’t assume an outcome based on someone else’s.
Make sure that you are an academic fit with the college of your choice. The academically elite colleges have very little leeway to accommodate a good fencer with average grades. These academically elite colleges will look further down the Junior Points List for a fencer with outstanding grades rather than admit a top ranked fencer with average grades. There have been instances of top ranked fencers who failed to make the academic cut after letting it be known that they had been recruited to that elite college.
It is also helpful to review the current fencing team roster at the colleges you’re interested in, so you have a good idea how many slots will come open on that team the year you are a freshman. You can download the free FP Handbook of Vital Statistics on NCAA Fencing Teams HERE to get an in-depth view of NCAA fencing rosters.
In other words, do your homework on the colleges and on their fencing programs. This way, you may identify opportunities early and go after them.
Becoming a fencing athlete recruit at a division 1 NCAA sanctioned college fencing program
Athlete recruitment onto a NCAA Division 1 fencing team at an academically elite college or a college with an elite Division 1 fencing program is the dream of many high school fencers. It is, however, a privilege accorded to very few fencers every year. Only thirteen colleges fall into this elite group in Division 1, and two of them only have women’s fencing programs. Collectively, they probably recruit about 80 to 100 fencers across all 3 weapons every year.
The 13 colleges include Columbia University (and Barnard College), Princeton University, Harvard University, Yale University, Brown University, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, Duke University, Cornell University (women only), Northwestern University (women only), University of Notre Dame, Pennsylvania State University and Ohio State University.
You can review the complete list of NCAA Fencing Teams HERE.
Those who rank in the top 32, and possibly the top 50 of the Junior Points List during their Junior year in high school stand an excellent chance of being recruited to one of these thirteen colleges. For the academically elite colleges on the list, fencers must meet the academically demanding criteria set by the admissions offices at these colleges. Fencers should expect to meet the average GPA and test scores of incoming students at these elite colleges to gain admission as an athlete recruit.
For purposes of athlete recruitment to one of the thirteen elite programs, the ranking on the Junior National Points List is all that matters for fencers based in the United States. Only fencers in your recruitment year matter for purposes of evaluating who your real competition is. You may be ranked 29, but are really 6th in your recruitment year. That makes a big difference to your odds of recruitment.
Ranking on the Cadet National Points List is not material in the fencing athlete recruitment process for the elite college fencing programs. For all those parents spending thousands of dollars sending their fencer to designated international cadet events, keep this in mind when deciding how many tournaments to send your fencer to. Unless your fencer medals at a Cadet and Junior World Championship, but for some reason doesn’t rank well on the Junior Points List, the recruiting coach at an elite fencing program won’t be paying attention to a fencer’s cadet points.
The elite colleges do recruit foreign fencers, and the performance of these foreign fencers in major international tournaments like the Cadet and Junior World Championships are critical in their recruitment evaluation.
Take note that while college fencing coaches may have some very elite fencers on their radar for several years, they are not always aware of the full universe of fencers they can recruit from in any given year.
For fencers who are late bloomers, it is very important to keep the coach informed of your fencing advances. If you have been off the radar, but are quickly progressing up the Junior Points List, it is important to highlight this progress to the coaches at the colleges you are interested in.
While there are very strict NCAA rules governing contact (face-to-face and electronic) between college fencing coaches and potential recruits, there is nothing to stop the fencer from initiating electronic or phone contact in the fencer’s Junior year in high school. A fencer can email the coach at a college they are interested in, express their interest in joining the fencing team and forward regular updates on his/her fencing and academic performance. The coach may respond and maintain a dialog so long as it is initiated by the fencer.
The fencing athlete recruitment process generally starts during a fencer’s Junior year in high school. NCAA rules allow electronic and phone contact between coaches and fencers in a fencer’s Junior year in high school (effective September 1 of Junior year), though all contact must be initiated by the fencer. Face-to-face recruitment discussions (at national tournaments) are against NCAA rules and not allowed. The one exception is the unofficial college visit where a fencer can talk to the coach about the program, but may not talk specifically about recruitment. Face-to-face contact is allowed beginning at Summer Nationals between a fencer’s Junior and Senior year in high school.
Despite all these restrictions, the top ranked fencers mostly have indications of strong interest for recruitment by the time Summer Nationals between Junior and Senior year rolls around. Their academic pre-reads with admissions have by and large been done too.
Fencers not amongst the privileged few, but are still within striking distance of being an athlete recruit, should work hard to set up meetings with coaches at Summer Nationals between Junior and Senior year in high school. You want to put yourself in front of the coach so you can best explain why you would be a great fit for the team, and share your fencing and academic achievements. Sometimes, earlier “commitments” fall through because a fencer chose to go to another college or did not meet the academic bar. You want to be in the right place to pick up that vacant spot. So, it’s not over till its over.
For fencers who don’t meet the admission criteria to these thirteen elite colleges, there are thirteen more colleges with Division 1 NCAA sanctioned fencing programs as well 20 more colleges in Division 2 and Division 3 where a fencer can pursue athlete recruitment. The recruitment programs at these colleges are not as aggressive or as well known.
Fencers ranked lower on the Junior Points List or not ranked at all (but are rated) have a shot at being recruited. Demonstrating your fencing chops and meeting the academic requirements at these colleges is still very important. Your rating classification matters, as well as your finishes at NACs and national championship events, and your performances as regional events of note (events with an A2 classification). If you have a good record of 5-4 pool bouts, you may want to share this data with the coach.
becoming an athlete recruit at a division 2 or Division 3 NCAA sanctioned college fencing program
There are five colleges in Division 2. Take note that the University of California, San Diego moves to Division 1 in the academic year 2020/2021.
There are currently fifteen colleges with Division 3 fencing programs, with one more joining the group in academic year 2019/2020.
Most of these 20 colleges recruit fencers to their fencing programs. And you do not need to be on the Junior National Points List to be a viable recruit.
There are several academically elite colleges within Division 2 and Division 3, including Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University, Haverford College, California Institute of Technology, Vassar College (women only), Wellesley College (women only), Brandeis University and University of California, San Diego.
You can preview the Complete of NCAA Fencing Teams HERE.
As with the thirteen elite fencing programs, it is important for fencers to approach the fencing coaches to express their interest in joining the team, and keep the coach informed of fencing and academic performance over time.
While you do not need to be on highly ranked on the Junior Points List to be a viable recruit to a Division 2 or Division 3 program, you still must demonstrate your fencing chops. Your rating classification matters, as well as your finishes at NACs and national championship events, and your performances as regional events of note (events with an A2 classification). If you have a good record of 5-4 pool bouts, you may want to share this data with the coach.
The timetable for recruitment to a Division 2 or Division 3 fencing program may be different than the Division 1 recruitment timetable. Fencers may have to wait till Summer Nationals between Junior and Senior year for coaches to really pay attention to them, and move the recruitment process forward through supported Early Decision/Early Action applications.
walking-on to a NCAA fencing team
These actions don’t help with admission to college, but they do enable you to keep fencing while in college if that’s your desire.
For fencers able to gain admission to college on their academic merits alone, it is still open for them to ‘walk-on”, with the coach’s permission, to an NCAA sanctioned fencing team at their college. To get an early read on this possibility, fencers can always approach the coach in advance, and indicate their interest in joining the fencing team should they gain admission to the college. The training commitments still apply if they join a team that works very hard throughout the year.
joining a college fencing club
College fencing clubs are not NCAA sanctioned, and are instead formed under the umbrella of the United States Associate of Collegiate Fencing Clubs (USACFC).
There are currently 52 collegiate fencing clubs that are members of USACFC. including many academically elite colleges. USACFC hosts its own championship competitions and anoints its own champions. USACFC boasts that it hosts the largest collegiate fencing competition in the world.
USACFC fencing clubs have no bearing or influence whatsover on college athlete recruitment or college admissions. You join the club after you gain admission on your academic merits.
For fencers not so keen to revolve their college experience around fencing, going to a college with a USACFC collegiate fencing club may really give them the best of both worlds!
You can preview the full list of College Fencing Clubs HERE.
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