What factors do we need to consider in the college athletic recruiting process?
There are many things to consider in the college athletic recruiting process for high school athletes and their parents. What works for one family will not work for another. Where one family succeeds, another might fail. While there are some best practices, there is no set path to success and no road map to follow that will guarantee the outcome you desire. There is a lot of luck too! With that being said, I believe there are 5 non-negotiable factors in the recruiting process that you must check off in order to succeed as a college athlete and graduate with a degree.
This one is pretty simple. Your grades will ultimately determine what colleges you can get accepted to. The first question a college coach will usually ask you is “how are your grades?” For them, if they aren’t up to par, it’s not worth their energy to pursue you because no amount of athletic skill is going to get you accepted at most institutions if your grades and test scores are too low. We aren’t even discussing NCAA eligibility, because the criteria for that is far lower than what most colleges require academically for acceptance. Do coaches have some sway on the acceptance process? They sure do. College coaches can submit lists of high school recruits they are actively recruiting and would like to see attend their institution for consideration to their admissions department. This practice and the strength of this practice varies at every school. Regardless of how prevalent this practice is, the most important factor needs to be that your grades and test scores need to be extremely close to what the school considers in every student that applies each year. Want to go to Vanderbilt? Fantastic, 94% of their admitted applicants in 2016 were in the top 10% of their graduating class. The next important piece of this puzzle is that while schools may bend, they will only bend in a few instances, meaning they might let one fringe student-athlete in for the soccer team and one for the baseball team and one for the field hockey team and so forth. Since you cannot control who the coach is recruiting and who the other 20 coaches at that school are recruiting, you might be on the low end of the low end of recruits who are on the bubble academically. At the end of the day, if you cannot get into the school with your academic record, your recruiting process is over and no amount of skill or ability is going to change that for many schools!
ATHLETIC SKILL AND SUCCESS
Once you have cracked the academic challenge, the next biggest factor is your athletic skill. There are 3 NCAA divisions and roughly 1,200 colleges that compete and several hundred NAIA and NJCAA schools. No two schools or programs are alike. What one college coach values, another may not. Where one college team succeeds, another in their conference may not! While Rudy was a great movie, Rudy would have been better served attending a small D3 college if his goal was to play college football. While your desire may be to play basketball at Kentucky or Baseball at LSU, or football at Notre Dame, only a few elite high school athletes have the skills to play at those levels. While we encourage high school athletes to aim high, you need to aim where your skills and abilities will be a good fit! At the end of the day, if you cannot play at a given school given your athletic abilities, your recruiting process for that school is over. Matching your athletic skills with a given program is challenging. You need to do some self-reflection, seek out opinions of other skilled coaches who have seen you play and you may need to get out of your town or league and compete against other high school athletes to get a better sense of where your skills lie. Once you have done that, you need to research different college programs in detail. Who do they play against? What is their success rate? What types of players does the coach recruit and from where? The very best programs recruit players from the entire world. The smaller programs might recruit players within 50 miles of their school but it’s different for EVERY school!
College is expensive, even the public colleges are creeping up in price. Finances plays a role in every family’s college choice and no one wants to leave school with massive student loan debt that will hound you for years after graduation. We always tell families to never dismiss any college until you have explored the financial aid process for that college to see what aid you might qualify for but past that, finances must be considered. With the exception of football and basketball at the D1 level, there is very little athletic scholarship money to go around. Other sports simply do not generate revenue at the college level and less resources are given to those programs in the form of athletic scholarships. I know many D1 programs that have one or two scholarships for the entire team. The other factor to consider is that even if a team is fully funded with the max level of athletic scholarships, the coach usually divides those to many players. A D1 baseball team is allowed 11.78 scholarships per team, but most rosters will contain 30+ players. If you are an elite player, you might get some full scholarship offers in baseball, but in most cases, the coach will divide those scholarships up into percentages like 33%. If you want to attend private school and receive a 33% athletic scholarship, you may need to find an additional $40,000 to cover tuition. You must explore all your options financially. Grants, loans, merit aid, financial aid and academic scholarships. At the end of the day, you must be able to pay for college and/or decide how much student loan debt you can tolerate after graduation.
YOUR SOCIAL DESIRES
Let’s stick with the theme here, every college is different. Some colleges have 40,000 students and some have 2,000. Some are in big cities and others are in the middle of cornfields. Some are sprawled across 20 city blocks where you take buses to classes or dorms and others can be walked end to end in 10 minutes. Some will have students from all over the world and others will have students that all live within 50 miles from your hometown. Some colleges might be too liberal for you, while others might be too conservative. The social aspect of a college and how that will affect you might be harder to figure out, but you need some understanding of who you are and what you are looking for. If you dislike cities or crowds, then I wouldn’t suggest going to a big school in a city. If you think you will be bored at a small school with 1,500 students’, you very well might be. You need to spend some time on college tours to try and understand the school and understand whether you will be happy there for four or five years. And if your athletic scholarship is tied to you being happy, then you really need to pick the right school socially for you.
The geography of a school can play a dual role in your success as a college athlete. One, geography can determine how good a given athletic program is. Colleges that play in warmer climates often attract better players who want the ability to play more games in better weather. The State of Florida is a great example of this, not only does the State produce many talented high school baseball players, but top players from throughout other parts of the country gravitate to colleges there from colder climates because playing baseball in April in Michigan or New England in 40 degree weather simply isn’t that enjoyable. The second factor that geography can play is how far you want your safety net of home and how involved you want your parents in your athletic career. My parents drove down from Massachusetts to Connecticut every weekend to see me play. Had I been somewhere else, they might not have gotten to experience my college athletic career. I was also afforded the ability to travel home more easily given the shorter distance when I needed to. But geography can play opposite role as well. Several years ago we met an extremely talented golfer who was being recruited nationally. One would think he would have chose a school where it is warm year-round so he could play year-round. The opposite happened. He chose a school in a colder climate that had a real winter. When we asked why, his answer made sense. He said, “I needed to go to a place where it snowed in the winter so I would get a mental and physical break from golf, and I knew if I went down south, I would be at the range or the course every day for 9 months and that is simply something I didn’t want to do!” It’s really important to understand how geography plays a role in the skill of a given college program and how the coach recruits. Geography can play a huge role in your success or happiness. There are fewer elite players in warm climates beating down the doors to go play at colleges where it snows in the winter, but there are thousands of elite players beating down the doors of other colleges where the weather is better. It’s also important to understand how being 20 miles from home or 2,000 miles from home is going to affect your psyche. Some high school athletes cannot wait to get far away from home, and others struggle with distance.
So how do these five concepts affect my recruiting process? Excellent question! The first two will greatly impact your recruiting process. If you cannot gain acceptance to schools you are potentially interested in, or schools where coaches want to recruit you, your process is over! If you do not have the skills to play at certain programs (or any program), your recruiting process is over. The financial, social and geographical concepts are tricky. You might not be thrilled with any of the three but you might be able to function and succeed as a college athlete depending on how tolerant you can be with any and all of them. Perhaps your parents are happy flying out once a year to see you play. Perhaps playing baseball or soccer in colder weather isn’t terrible because you are at a great school and getting a great education which will have value down the road in your professional career. Perhaps you don’t have time to interact with the students that are too liberal or too conservative at your school because you are so busy with your studies and your athletic career! Perhaps you absorb some student loan debt at a better college because it will offer you the chance at a better job upon graduation and will be easier to pay off.