Choosing a college is a major decision for most students and parents. When do I contact a coach? What should I ask about the school/program? Do I have to apply to the school if I’m an athlete? Do schools only look at test scores? Should I hire someone to make a professional video? The list goes on and on.
Understand at the start that the path you choose is never the same as anyone else. School size, setting, coaches, etc. are all different, so you have to pick the best path for you. But, how do you know what that is? While this information cannot provide you a step-by-step guide to committing and applying to a college, it can help you chart the course on how you wish to proceed through.
Most programs will encourage you to find schools that fit comfortably for you, whether your major, the location, networking opportunities, etc. If you enjoy business, and your development charts in high school show you enjoy business, then find a school with a strong business program. After you’ve identified a rather extensive listing of schools (some suggest as many as 50 schools), search for those that have a soccer program where you can develop and enjoy yourself.
Schools will look long and hard not just for good players, but good students as well. With limited scholarships to provide from the athletic department, having a strong academic background will allow you to apply for academic scholarships and grants as well. And the time to start is your freshman year of high school, as your GPA is cumulative and every semester counts! Also, be realistic about your opportunities. Ask your coaches for an honest evaluation of you as a player and person, and this feedback will help guide you to the proper level of competition.
There are more than 380,000 high school soccer players; yet only 5-10% of these players will continue to play in college. The competition is tough…and so is the financial assistance in each program. Having a strong GPA and ACT/SAT score will hopefully provide additional assistance. Being a collegiate student-athlete is hard work, both academically and athletically. Becoming better at time management and organization will help you focus on your collegiate opportunity.
The information here is to inform you of rules, guidelines and general experiences as you begin to prepare for college. With various levels of competition (NCAA Divisions I, II & III, NAIA, NCCA & NJCAA), understanding the various rules and timelines will help you be proactive in your search for the right school and program.
Don’t be afraid to ask! Questions to faculty, alumni, current students and players, etc. are a great resource to find out about a school/program. Having done your homework and understanding the process of the programs you’re interested in will help you on your collegiate journey!
Tips for Parents & Players
1. Understand who is responsible.
Many families falsely assume that their high school coach or club soccer coach are responsible for their child’s recruiting process. However, the recruiting process is ultimately your responsibility. You are responsible for:
– Researching and evaluating schools
– Contacting college coaches
– Visiting schools and making decisions along the way
Your coaches may help with the process by determining where your skills fit in with different college levels and programs, writing recommendations, and even placing phone calls on your behalf to college coaches after you have initiated contact.
2. Be Proactive
Now that you know the process is your responsibility, it’s important to be proactive and research as many schools as possible. The recruiting and college selection process is not something that should sneak up on you senior year. Success in recruiting is about matching up your academic talents, athletic talents, and desires with a given college program. The families that come the closest to finding an athletic, academic, and social match are the one’s who usually have the best success in the recruiting process. They have already done much of the work for the college coach, and the coach has confidence in recruiting a smart and talented athlete who wants to attend their school. There are over 1,100 NCAA colleges at the D1, D2, and D3 level, and 500+ Junior College and NAIA schools.
3. Don’t Follow The Group
Many students put themselves in a position to fail by only applying to popular schools. The problem is that everyone is applying to these schools and competition for admission is extremely difficult. Harvard annually receives over 20,000 applications and admits roughly 10% of applicants each year. Despite your academic record, Harvard is going to turn down over 18,000 students each year, some of them being incredibly smart and gifted students. Make sure to do your research on all different types of schools as there are many quality ones out there.
4. Be Realistic
The love, time, money, and passion you have poured into your son or athletic career can often cloud your judgment of their potential for a college scholarship. Most parents’ are not realistic about the chances of receiving athletic scholarship money. While your talents may garner some athletic scholarship money, after D1 football and basketball, there is very little scholarship money to go around. Most coaches, even at the D1 level, have a limited amount of money for their team that they divide up amongst 10-20 players.
There is far more money in the form of grants, merit aid, outside scholarships, institutional aid, and federal financial aid, than there is athletic scholarship money. You need to explore your options at all programs at all levels, and not focus your search solely on an athletic scholarship. You also need to seek out people that can give you a realistic evaluation of your son or daughters ability and how it applies to different levels. Ultimately, only a college coach can determine whether or not you can play for them.
5. Be Educated
There are a lot of confusing topics and terms that you will come across in the recruiting process: official visits, red shirts, scholarships, head- count sports, NLI, Clearinghouse, Dead period, and so on. Your job is to learn the basics, understand your role in the recruiting process, understand how coaches recruit and what they look for, and understand what admission departments and schools look for. It’s not about rules; it’s about understanding and working with the process.
Finding the Right Fit
At the end of the day, finding the right fit is about answering YES to the following questions:
1. Can I be accepted to this school based on my academic record? – If you cannot get accepted, your recruiting process is over. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how much the coach wants you. Most coaches won’t even talk about athletics until they have qualified you academically!
2. Do I have the athletic skill to play for this school? – If you don’t have the skills to play for a certain program, it doesn’t matter how badly you want to go there, no one wants to get cut or sit on the bench. It’s important to find programs that fit your level of athletic play.
3. Does the coach have the ability to evaluate my skill somehow? – If a coach cannot physically see you play through an actual game or through a video, they may have a difficult time feeling confident in your ability and might lean towards other recruits who they have seen perform.
4. Is this coach truly interested in having me play for their program? – Some coaches encourage kids to “try out” or “walk on.” You need to know if a coach is interested in you as a person and as an athlete.
5. Can I afford to go to this school? – The national tuition average for private college is over $19,000 a year and some are approaching $40,000 per year. College is not cheap and despite your desires and the availability of financial aid, there will be some colleges you cannot afford to attend. This is a reality that needs to be accepted, and you need to apply your energy to other schools that are more affordable. It’s important to note that you should never dismiss any school because of cost until you have explored all your financial options with the coach and with the institution.
6. Does this school offer academic programs I am interested in? – If you want to be an architect or an engineer, it’s important to find schools that offer those programs. If you have no idea what you want to do, it’s important to find schools that have a wide variety of programs that you can explore. You are going to school for an education & to enter the working world after college, so it’s important to find school that offer academic programs you are truly interested in. Don’t settle for less!
7. Will I be happy and successful at this school? – This is a difficult question to answer until you actually arrive at school. Schools may look great on paper or in person and then after a semester you might not like the players on the team or some other aspect of the school. When visiting and evaluating colleges, we try to encourage families to ask as many questions as possible from coaches, players, other parents, students, teachers, and anyone else you can find. Only then will you get a sense of the school before you actually enroll and arrive. The national graduation rate for students who enroll in 4-year institutions is 60% from the institution they first enrolled in, so at some point, 40% of all college students transfer or drop out of the school they enrolled in. Much of that can be traced back to their decision-making before they enrolled. Wanting to participate in college athletics makes finding a match that much more difficult.
TheCollegeProgram.com: If you’re looking for assistance sorting through different colleges and are having trouble narrowing down your choices, check out The College Program. This program will help identify 50+ schools that match all of your needs, and best of all, does all the research and work for you.
Timeline of Events
A. Differences in Collegiate Associations
B. NCAA Rules
C. Writing An Email to College Coaches- Sample Email (See above)
D. Video Footage
E. Recruiting Questions for College Coaches
F. Recruiting Terms