Adapted from an article by Prep Scholar
Making Contact With Coaches: Generally, for most student-athletes, the process really begins when you have your first conversation with a college coach about possibly playing for him or her.
Campus Visits: One of the many benefits of being a recruited athlete is having the opportunity to visit multiple college campuses and have all your questions about athletics and academics answered. There are two types of visits: official and unofficial. On official campus visits, your transportation to the college, meals, and entertainment are paid for by the university.
Visits From Coaches: College coaches can visit you at school, practice, a game, or in your home when they’re recruiting you. Coaches use these visits to evaluate you and to try to sell their program to you.
Scholarship Offers: For most student-athletes, the scholarship offer comes near the end of the recruiting process. Typically, a coach will call you to extend an offer of athletic aid. Depending on the sport you play and the college that is recruiting you, you can be offered a full or partial athletic scholarship.
Signing the National Letter of Intent: Signing a letter of intent marks the end of the college athletic recruiting process. The letter is an agreement that you will enroll in a certain school in exchange for athletic aid. At this point, coaches have to stop recruiting you, and if any coaches contact you, you have to let them know you’ve signed a letter of intent.
Now that you have a basic understanding of these steps, I’m going to walk you through the entire college athletic recruiting process. Keep in mind that the process and timeline will be somewhat different for each individual athlete.
For example, some recruited student-athletes don’t apply to a college until after they have taken an official campus visit. Others have already applied, been accepted, and have received a scholarship offer by the time they go on their official visit.
Parts of the Process Can Vary Widely
Depending on your sport and how heavily you’re being recruited, the college athletic recruiting process can vary widely. Top level recruits, especially in the high profile sports of football and men’s basketball, will be sent tons of letters, receive tons of phone calls, and may be offered athletic scholarships before they even enter high school. They won’t have to take much initiative in their recruiting process.
For recruits who are not as well-known nationally, they will have to be more proactive in the recruiting process, and they’ll often have to sell themselves to college coaches to get a scholarship or a guaranteed spot on a team.
Additionally, the sport you play also has a huge influence on the process. In some sports, there are literally over a thousand colleges with a team in that sport. If you’re being recruited in one of those sports, you want to know what you’re looking for in a school and narrow down your college list early in the process to avoid being overwhelmed.
For other sports, your options are already limited based on the number of colleges with that sport. I was a gymnast in college, and currently, there are only 16 NCAA men’s gymnastics programs. When I was looking at colleges, there were a few more than that, but I had a much easier time narrowing down my college options than most simply because I knew I wanted to compete for an NCAA gymnastics team.
Honestly Assessing Your Abilities and Aspirations
By your junior year, if you’re interested in participating in varsity intercollegiate sports, you should start figuring out what type of school you want to attend. What division would best suit your interests and abilities? What are your athletic priorities? Getting a scholarship? Getting playing time? Competing against the best competition? Playing for a certain coach? Fitting in with the other personalities on the team? Having access to the best resources? What are you looking for in a college outside of sports?
Once you know what you want, the recruiting process will become much easier. Then, as you start looking at each school individually, you can determine if it matches what you’re looking for. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to coaches, current team members, academic advisers, and admissions representatives to get the information you need to make your college decision.
Have Your High School Coach Work For You
Talk with your high school coach during your junior year. Ask for his or her honest assessment of your ability to play college-level sports. See what he or she would be willing to do and could do to help with the recruiting process. Many high school coaches have relationships with college coaches and can help start the recruiting process for you.
Also, if there are specific schools you’re interested in, see if your high school coach can reach out to the coaches at those colleges.