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Credit: Emmi Wu

For most juniors in high school, the biggest of their worries is joining clubs and studying for their next math test. But for international student-athletes — especially those with aspirations of competing at an Ivy League school — the period between early junior year to the end of senior year becomes a race for recruitment.

Penn has the highest percentage of international students in the conference, at around 13%. Beyond that, 13 of 19 athletic programs have international students on either their men's or women's rosters, including basketball, rowing, soccer, squash, tennis, and track and field. With talented athletes from all over the world, international recruiting is a whole different beast that recruiting coordinators have to tackle. For student-athletes themselves, a plethora of barriers are experienced before they can begin forging their own path to Philadelphia.

To find student-athletes from other countries, coaches often utilize youth international championships over the summer to meet with and gauge the skills of prospective recruits. Stefano Solano — a freshman men's heavyweight rower from Como, Italy — recounted his international recruitment experience. 

“Usually, coaches from the U.S. go to the U19 World Championships, and that usually is in the beginning of August or at the end of July," he said. "After the races, they go to the strongest guy, the guy that got medals and stuff, and ask them if they are interested in studying abroad.”

International student-athletes, like all Ivy League recruits, must take and score well on the SAT or other standardized tests, whether it is easily accessible in their home country or not. Along with this requirement, they must also prove their English proficiency and capability to study well in an English-language classroom environment.

International athletes can also have the chance to try out living on campus with a prospective teammate for a few days during official visits and decide if the team culture and academics are a good fit for them. 

“Consider the school and your experiences on the official visit if you have one,” sophomore Kampton Kam, a high jumper from Singapore, said. “Can you see yourself fitting in this context, whether it be academics or athletics? You should get into the uncomfortable details and just decide for yourself what you want for life in college. You don't want to rush into anything.”

Penn’s pull is influential even across the globe. Many international recruits hear about Penn from parents, friends, and teachers as a strong place to both study and compete athletically. 

“Penn is a famous name around universities,” Solano said. “So I knew [about] Penn even before getting in touch with coaches from here.”

But in the end, what draws international athletes to the Red and Blue is the chance to study at an Ivy League while competing as the Quakers in a close-knit team. Omar Hafez, a sophomore men's squash player from Egypt, fondly remembers his reasons for choosing Penn. 

“What motivated me is the team chemistry and the team culture here," he said. "Actually, I like everything. I like the facilities, and one of the main reasons is that some of my friends are here and I've grown up with them in Egypt. So for me to be with them again in the U.S., at the same school, studying together, and playing in the same team, it's great.”