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“Will I be able to get a job?”

What factors are driving your recruit’s decisions?



STUDY 2021


While the top three most important variables to student-athletes when selecting a college held steady for the fourth year in row…two other variables entered the picture and tied for third place: Access to Faculty and Quality of Faculty.

NEW variables related to “cultural fit” and face-to-face interactions also made a strong showing as incoming freshmen emerged from a year of social distancing and cultural unrest.

Degree helps them get a good job
Majors of interest
Academic reputation + Access to Faculty and Quality of Faculty



Advent, in partnership with the Samford University Center for Sports Analytics, commissioned an annual independent nationwide study of NCAA Division I, II and III student-athletes to determine what influences their decision in college choice. These are some of the findings from 2021.

The 2021 Study. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


It is clear from the rankings that student-athletes want to attend a university that is committed to face-to-face relationships. Variables such as access to faculty and social life scored high while hybrid/e-learning scored near the bottom. Access to faculty saw a huge jump in 2021 and is now ranked 3rd overall which is its highest ranking ever.

Commitment to in-person teaching ranked 4th for male student-athletes putting it ahead of academic reputation, quality of social life and other typical top 5 variables.
Access to faculty and personal attention climbed all the way to the number 1 spot in 2021 for basketball players—in previous years it had ranked as low as number 18.
For football players, specifically, hands-on learning opportunities related to their major ranked in the top 5.

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More student-athletes are majoring in business than ever before with 44% entering the field of study; this is a change of +19% points over the last two years. Healthcare related majors also saw a significant increase.

of student athletes are planning to major in either business or healthcare in 2021.


For the fourth year in a row, the top three most important college choice determinants for student athletes have held strong:

Degree helps them get a good job
Majors of interest
Academic reputation + Access to Faculty and Quality of Faculty

The academic success recruitment theme remains effective because student-athletes aim to align to their own brand with a university that is known for it’s academic success. Generation Z is drawn to schools they perceive to have an excellent academic reputation and a successful track record of helping former student-athletes land a good job.

For the first time in five years, researchers measured 11 new additional potential drivers* that related to cultural and social “hot topics,” such as diversity and inclusion, the pandemic and making a social impact. These are some key findings from the study:

“Cultural Fit” scored surprisingly high and was the top-ranking new variable. The variable was defined as an environment that helps a student feel like they belong—such as a hometown or urban feel; or welcoming to first generation students; or aligning with a student’s faith-based values. This indicates that a feeling of home is important to student-athletes. Story-telling is key to building this kind of narrative.

Assistance using influence for positive social impact was the 5th most important athletic-specific variable for football players, ranking it ahead of pro sports opportunities and athletic facility quality. Basketball players ranked it #6 ahead of win/loss record and pro sports opportunities. This aligns with this generation’s desire to leave the world a better place than they found it.

Quality of social life moved all the way to #7 from the bottom quartile in previous years for female student athletes pointing to the impact of COVID.

GEN Z AND SOCIAL ISSUES. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The 10th annual Deloitte Global Millennial and Gen Z Survey revealed that the world has reached a tipping point on issues such as racial justice, inequality and the environment.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, these are the top seven issues that currently command the attention of Generation Z:

health care
mental health
higher education
economic security
civic engagement
race equity
the environment

“Millennials and Gen Zs are taking action to drive the change they want to see in the world. They are becoming more politically involved, making a conscious effort to ensure they spend their money and time on things that reflect their values and pushing for change on societal issues. They believe in their individual power to make a difference, but they are also demanding that businesses and governments do their part to help build a better future.”

*Cultural Fit, Campus Cleanliness/Sanitation, Hands-On Learning Opportunities Related to Major; Commitment to In-Person Teaching; Alumni Network; Environmentally Friendly Campus; Inclusive and Diverse Culture That Stresses Equality; Mental-Emotional Health Support; Pandemic/Disaster Readiness; Hybrid/E-Learning Opportunities; Virtual Tour of Campus


The 2021 study examined differences between Division I and NCAA Division II and III student-athletes for the first time. The biggest difference between the groups is related to the importance of a quality social life. Division II & III student-athletes rated this variable significantly higher than D I student-athletes.

Other variables that stood out among D II & III student athletes as significant were:

Extracurricular Opportunities
Academic Facilities
Cost of Attendance
Majors of Interest

Now What?

Prospective student-athletes need reassurance from coaches and administrators that they have the tools they need to succeed—academically, socially and in their future careers.

Post pandemic, they have made the statement loud and clear that they need face to face interaction with their peers and with faculty. They also want to know that they have been heard and that their leaders empathize with matters that are important to them.

About This Year’s Study:

Dr. Darin White, the executive director of the Samford University Center for Sports Analytics and Chair of the Entrepreneurship, Management & Marketing Department, has conducted the College Choice Study and Student-Athlete

College Choice Study annually since 2016. During the summer of 2021, an electronic survey was developed and sent via email to NCAA Division I, II and II student athletes in all parts of the United States. The survey generated 533 responses. The average age of the sample was 19 years, 11 months indicating that student-athletes are older as entering freshmen for 2021, probably due to COVID. More than 16 sports were represented and 62.7% of the sample was male.

Still wanting more?

Let us know how to get in touch and we’ll send you a copy of the 2021 College Choice Study to share with your team.