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The Collegiate Athlete Recruiting Process: What you Need to Know Now

Aspiring to be a collegiate athlete is only one small part of the equation and realizing that dream takes more than hard work on the field. Here’s what you need to know to build the best opportunity for success for your student.

When our son announced he wanted to pursue playing soccer in college my husband and I were excited… and a bit overwhelmed. We had no idea how to help him realize his dream, and he didn’t either.

Now that he has stepped into that dream (he plays soccer for Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, NC) we look back and realize just how much work and effort it took for him to secure a spot as a collegiate athlete.

Every year thousands of kids compete to secure a spot for themselves as an athlete at their chosen college (check out this chart for the NCAA breakdown by sport in 2020) Some are determined to only play if they can get into a D1 college, others are open to whatever school offers them the most money or an opportunity to play. Rarely is the student’s academic future a major part of the discussion. And yet, paying to play a sport in college (only 1%-2% of student athletes receive scholarships according to this US News Article ), without actually earning a degree that will help them should the athletic route not work for them, seems like a financial waste.

Most would-be collegiate athletes want to pursue their chosen sport in order to be eligible to “go pro.” The reality, depending on the sport according to this article from the NCAA, is that between 9.9% (baseball) and 0.8% (football) of all NCAA collegiate athletes make it to the professional level. This is a sobering reality for high school student athletes and should be a reminder to pause and decide if they really have what it takes to "go all the way" before determining their collegiate future on a sport.

Should your student really be interested in playing at the collegiate level, it's important to note that the recruiting process is not for everyone. Today’s college athlete hopeful has a huge task in front of them. In addition to playing well and making a name for themselves on the field, these students must participate in a myriad of activities in order to get college coaches to notice them and want to add them to their rosters.

If your student is considering a future after high school as a collegiate athlete, here are some things to consider:

D1, D2, D3, NAIA and NJCAA: One of the first things to understand is the difference between levels of collegiate play. D1 typically presents itself as sport before school, D2 is usually balanced between the two but leans more towards sport, and D3, NAIA and NJCAA schools typically focus on sport and school equally. However, all collegiate athletes should plan to spend between 33-40+ hours per week, training, practicing, participating in team meetings, traveling, and competing. This is in addition to attending class, studying for exams, and writing essays/completing projects.

Scholarships: Most collegiate athlete hopefuls are aiming for that coveted full-ride scholarship. The reality is that unless your student plays football or basketball and is ranked in the top 5 in the nation in their position, they will most likely only receive partial scholarships. Sports like soccer, lacrosse, tennis, cross country, etc. usually do not have any financial money to offer, though coaches can be influential in garnering school-based scholarships for their athletes, depending on the student’s need and how badly they want that student to play for them. D1 programs have the most money to spread around, with much less available at D2 programs and usually none at D3, NAIA and NJCAA.

Athletic Performance: Obviously a student’s athletic performance matters. D1 schools are interested in recruiting the best nationwide. Making sure your student is ranked, and promoting that rank to coaches, is important. However, if your student is interested in playing more than the level of school they play for, their options open up considerably. Ranking is still important, though not the main factor for coaches. Regardless if division level, all coaches are looking for the best talent they can field.

Highlight Reels: A highlight reel is a video compilation of a student athletes’ performance over several seasons combined with their physical attributes (relational to their sport) and academic performance and awards received. These should be compiled and created before the start of a student’s senior year, and ideally ready to go in the off season immediately after their Junior season. Depending on the level of play your student is interested in will dictate the professional level of the reel: the higher the level, the more professional it should be.

Social Media/Communication. The college recruiting process usually starts via social media and email. Since college coaches, per NCAA rules, are not allowed to contact students before Sept 1 of their Junior year of high school, students must reach out to the coaches on their own to build relationships beforehand. An email introduction is a great way to start, and should be followed up with new announcements regularly. Social media has also become an effective way to communicate with coaches, especially via Twitter (though each coach/school may have various social media platforms). It’s important to note this communication must be driven by the student, not the parents. Students should create social media accounts for self-promotion of their athletic achievements, showcasing video highlights of their performance, personal stats, and awards and accomplishments on the field and in the classroom. They should post only character-promoting content and realize that coaches are evaluating their whole persona, not just their athletic performance. Students should also research college programs they are interested in playing for and follow those coaches and programs, commenting on the team’s performance and tagging the coach in their own posts.

High School Academic Performance: Many high school student athletes mistakenly believe that their athletic performance is all coaches care about. The best recruits however are “triple threats”: High performers in the field, in the classroom, and in their communities. An aspiring collegiate athlete would do well to start, as a freshman, working towards maintaining a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA as well as practice regularly for any standardized testing in order to achieve minimum scores (though higher scores/GPA's tend to produce higher scholarship opportunities). It's important to note that cumulative GPA's for applications are comprised of 9th-11th grades only. Participation in community service should also be completed during that time as most colleges want applications to be completed during a seniors senior summer or first semester. A senior year however does matter. Students must still pass all classes (C or better is passing for college) and can add additional test scores if needed.

Application Eligibility: A student athlete can be amazing on the field, but if they cannot earn minimum scores on standardized testing, provide a well-written application essay (where required), meet the minimum GPA requirements, and complete all other application requirements (including completing the necessary high school classes) they will not be admitted to the program, even if a coach has given them an offer. Collegiate admissions programs have the ultimate say in whether or not a student is admitted to their institution and they are not going to allow a student who cannot meet their minimum standards onto their campus.

Combines and Collegiate Camps: In addition to connecting with coaches via Social Media, student athletes often must also attend recruiting programs. While D1 football and basketball programs typically have budgets that allow coaches to travel to high schools of students they are interested in, the vast majority of athletic programs are not able to do so. Hosting or participating in combines and other recruiting camps gives these programs a chance to see multiple athletes at once while also earning funds to support their programs. These can be held all over the country. Depending on a student athlete’s collegiate preference the costs for attending these programs (from registration fees to travel expenses) can be substantial.

As you can see, the recruiting process take up a significant amount of time, effort and expense. Before students commit to this particular pathway after high school, they would do well to consider whether or not they have the determination to develop their skills on the field, are willing to make the time to participate in the recruiting process, and are willing to pursue the best grades for themselves academically. This process isn't for every athlete.

Join the Conversation: What is your student athlete doing to get recruited?


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