How important can athletics be as a hook for college admissions?
Athletics as a "hook" depends on a number of factors. One factor, of course, is your own level of competence in your sport of choice. There are a lot of good athletes, so this can be a very competitive area. Another factor is the importance of your sport at the institutions to which you want to apply and the extent to which those schools are looking for someone involved in your sport. (This can vary from year to year within any given institution.)
- As an exceptional athlete, you could be interesting to a school as a potential member of one of their varsity teams. The competition and levels of expectation for places on the varsity teams will vary among institutions. If varsity participation is your goal, you should also make contact with staff of the relevant athletic departments of the schools in which you are interested. Depending on the schools and the NCAA division of your sport at those institutions, you might also be eligible for athletic scholarships.
- Schools are typically looking for well-rounded students who will not only be academically successful, but who will also become involved in the extracurricular programs of their institutions in various areas, including club and intramural sports (non-varsity), so even if you're not considering varsity sport involvement, highlighting your athletic background will undoubtedly add to your application. It will give the institution a better picture of you as a total person and will be one more piece of the puzzle which could make you a "person of interest" to them.