Athletes make the call on college

Student-athletes can face difficult choices in picking a school to play for

Erianna Jiles, article author, headshot
Erianna Jiles, St. Paul Como Park High School
Kristy Ornelas, article author, headshot
Kristy Ornelas, Coon Rapids High School

RECENT COLLEGE GRADUATE Marvin Singleton would tell any high school athlete not to let anyone, even friends or family, choose a college for them.

“Picking a college as an athlete is almost the second-biggest decision you’ll make in your life besides getting married,” said Singleton, a Minneapolis native who graduated in 2015 from the University of Northern Iowa. Singleton received a full-ride four-year basketball scholarship to play at UNI after graduating from Hopkins High School.

Student athletes face difficult choices when choosing a college – whether it’s because of scholarships, influence from family and friends, location or personal taste. These decisions more than likely will affect the rest of their lives.

For Singleton, a scholarship wasn’t the primary focus. Rather, he was looking for a school that fit his personal taste and met his academic needs.

“I chose a school based off of academics,” he said.

Marvin Singleton spinning a basketball on his finger
Marvin Singleton, a former Hopkins basketball star, chose to play basketball at the University of Northern Iowa, where he graduated in 2015. Singleton says high school athletes shouldn’t let others heavily influence their college decision.

Bob Madison, the activities director at Mounds View High School in Arden Hills, echoes Singleton, saying that college decision-making shouldn’t solely be based on scholarship money.

Bob Madison headshot“I would tell students, don’t make your decision based on scholarships,” Madison said, adding that students should also consider geography, their preferred profession and areas of interest.

About 2 percent of high school athletes receive college scholarships or some type of financial aid, according to the NCAA’s website.

Over the years, Madison has worked with many athletes and has witnessed these decisions firsthand. He has found that even though a student might be offered a scholarship, down the road the scholarship may not be the ultimate reason for choosing a school.

“(Former Mounds View baseball player) Sam Hentges was drafted a year ago,” Madison said. “The day after we won the state baseball championship, I sat down with him, and we talked with him and his dad. His senior year is when he blew up, commits to the University of Arkansas, (but he) never went there.”

Hentges was drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft by the Cleveland Indians, according to In his first two seasons, Hentges has played for the Indians in the Arizona League.

Alexis Nelson, an incoming senior at St. Paul Harding High School, is a standout girls tennis player who has verbally committed to the University of California, Berkeley. She emphasizes that scholarships were only one factor in the process.

“I spent so much time on tennis, where it just kind of became, ‘This is how I’m going to go to college; this

is how I’m going to pay for my education,’” she said.

Scholarship opportunities

But who gets these scholarships? Mounds View’s scholarship athletes in the last two years have been predominantly females, Madison said.

“But you have to be really careful when you just say scholarship to athletes, because if you’re a girl soccer player, a scholarship might be $2,000 a year, but if it costs $50,000 to go there, a scholarship is this big,” Madison said, making a pinching motion with his fingers.

About 53 percent of student-athletes at the Division I level receive some athletic aid, according to the NCAA. At Division II, it’s about 56 percent. At Division III schools, which don’t give out athletic scholarships, about 75 percent of student-athletes receive grant or need-based scholarship assistance. However, the average aid is $13,500, according to NCAA figures, which is often less than a third of the full cost to attend the school.

All scholarships are not equal, Madison said. Athletes should do the math.

“I would say, right now there are more opportunities for female athletes to earn scholarships,” he said.

However, he added: “If you’re a male athlete, and you’re going to play football or basketball, odds are you’re going to have a larger scholarship than the female athlete who’s going to be a soccer player or a swimmer, etc.”

While recruitment opens doors, it also contributes to the difficulty in choosing the right college. Often, more than one college makes an offer to an athlete, creating a stressful situation.

“You do feel pressure as the recruit, especially when schools contact you that you might not want to go to. You have to be able to say no,” Nelson said. “Eventually weed out what schools you want and what schools have attractive qualities.”

Role of family, others

Family can play a key role when choosing a college. In Nelson’s case, her family wanted her to choose what she considered to be the best fit for her. Nelson also was reportedly interested in North Carolina, Stanford and LSU.

“They were really supportive in that they just wanted me to take my time and make sure that I was visiting the schools that I was looking at, making sure that everything felt right with the other girls that were going to be on the team, and the coach,” she said.

Singleton encourages students to make an independent decision instead of being influenced by the people around them.

“Take your time, make sure you make the right decision that’s for you and your family,” he said.

“Don’t make the decision based off of what other people want you to do or what they think is best for you,” Singleton said. “But don’t take too long. You don’t want to take too long and miss out on [an] opportunity.”

Other influences

Social media also can have an effect on the future of an aspiring high school athlete. Madison said students can be great athletes and not be recruited because of what colleges see on their social media posts.

“When you post something on social media … would you want your grandparents to see it?” Singleton asked. “That’s a filter to put through your mind, because if you don’t want your grandparents to see it, you probably don’t want your future college coach to see that as well.”

Talent is a major consideration for student athletes, but being conscious about other factors, such as social media, academic priorities and personal preference, are also important.

“The process, it has a lot of factors, so it can be pretty difficult,” Nelson said. “But if you know what you are looking for in college, then that helps a lot.”