Running Times and SAT Scores at Division 3 Colleges

Exploring the relationship between academic standards and recruiting standards for aspiring collegiate runners.

My college search began, like many, with comparing my grades and test scores with the published averages of the schools that interested me, and then categorizing each as a “reach”, “match”, or “safety” depending on how my stats fared. Once I decided I also wanted to run in college and started looking at what times I’d need make the team, a curious correlation emerged: the colleges in my “reach” category also tended to have Cross Country and Track & Field teams with the fastest runners, making them both academically tough for admissions and athletically tough for recruiting, it seemed.

With Runcruit’s database of 60,000 college runners completed, I now have the means to test this hunch more rigorously. Limiting my dataset to Division 3 schools, where there are no athletic scholarships and a recruited athlete’s academic qualifications must generally match those of non-athletes, I created scattergrams comparing median SAT scores and the school’s estimated recruiting standards for both a long-distance event, the 5000 meters, and a sprint event, the 100 meters.

Tip: Hover over data points for more details.

Indeed, for the 5000, the trendline quite clearly shows that for distance runners like myself, being recruited at a top academic college requires you to post faster times than for less selective schools. In fact, for D3 colleges with an average SAT of 1400 (97th percentile) and above, men will need to run better than 17 minutes (5:28/mile) to be potentially recruitable. (And to add an exclamation point, for MIT — the orange dot at the bottom right with an average SAT of 1540 — men will need to run 15:45!)

For the sprinters running 100 meters, however, the story seems to be that there’s no story — no clear correlation between SAT scores and running times at the D3 level. This potential contradiction between distance specialists and sprinters would be interesting to explore, but outside my expertise. If you have theories, please let me know in the comments.

In upcoming posts I will continue my deep dive into college running data. Topics I’m working on include burnout rates (what percentage of freshman runners stay on through senior year) and program success rates (colleges that improve runners’ times the most and least), plus many others.

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A high school runner interested in data