If you are a high school athlete applying to college, knowing the in’s and out’s of the athletic recruitment process is important because it is relevant to the rest of your college application process. Because colleges need athletes to play on their sports teams and want to recruit the best players, this process is important to be aware of when applying because it can affect your application process – and it is a great tool to have in your college application toolbox.

What is Athletic Recruitment?

Athletic recruitment is the process by which colleges seek out high school athletes for sports teams. Colleges’ athletic teams and their need for skilled athletes influence the admissions process. If you are a star athlete in a particular sport, you may be a more desirable candidate for a college because you can improve their school’s performance and records in that sport.

The influence of athletics reflects two truths about both college admissions and colleges in general. First of all, admissions committees recognize that athletic achievement likely represents dedication and hard work, which are two important qualities for college applicants to have, no matter what their extracurricular activities are. Secondly, the presence of athletics in admissions demonstrates  that colleges are communities that embrace skills beyond academics alone. Sports are an important part of culture and revenue at many colleges, so having strong athletic teams is often important to them. Colleges may recruit top athletes because they want students who contribute to student life, in addition to high-performing sports teams.

How Does Someone Become an Athletic Recruit?

As with your performance in school, becoming an athletic recruit depends on your performance on the field long before you even start the college application process. Colleges are interested in recruiting athletes who have been working at their sport for a long time, both so they can track your progress, but also so that they can see that you are committed to your sport – coaches are looking for athletes with long-term dedication.

To get attention from colleges and to demonstrate your athletic abilities in different ways, participate in a variety of sporting events. These may include, but are not limited to, winning major awards, tournaments, and championships; attending showcases where college coaches scout for college athletes; playing on summer, club, or travel teams; and attending college-hosted camps. As with most opportunities for advancement, networking and making strong connections are highly important. Getting your name and face into coaches’ minds will make you a more memorable candidate – someone they want to consider for their teams.

If you are a nationally competitive high school athlete, you may be actively sought out by recruiters. But this is only if you are really well known. Otherwise, you will likely need to be proactive and approach schools and coaches by yourself, often by email, and self-promote your skills. For tips on how to communicate effectively with and market your skills to coaches, check out our CollegeVine guide How to Get Noticed by College Sports Recruiters.

How is the Admissions Process Different for an Athletic Recruit?

The process of athletic recruitment is usually handled primarily by college coaches. Sometimes it starts earlier than the standard college application process (see below for more information). The recruitment process may vary slightly from school to school, but overall the general procedures are standardized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to ensure fair recruitment practices.

What is Recruiting?

According to the NCAA, which governs the process, the procedure of recruiting is as follows:

“Recruiting happens when a college employee or representative invites a high school student-athlete to play sports for their college. Recruiting can occur in many ways, such as face-to-face contact, phone calls or text messaging, through mailed or emailed material or through social media.”

During this process, you may be invited to make a visit to the school and meet with the coaches. If the college pays for the visit, it is considered an official visit. If you or your parents cover the costs of the trip, it is considered unofficial. This is important to pay attention to because NCAA rules limit the number of official visits you are allowed to make to a single school.

Regardless of your interactions with the coaches and the athletic department of the school, you will still need to be qualified for that college in other ways, such as academics and extracurricular activities. This is especially true at competitive schools with low acceptance rates. In particular, Ivy League schools require that the average of athletic recruits’ scores on the Academic Index must fall within one standard deviation of the mean score of all other admitted students. So you can’t count on getting in on athletics alone; you will still need to have a high GPA, though perhaps not as high as some other candidates, to be admitted to a competitive school. Even if you are an amazing athlete, you should still be working to get high grades and test scores, and taking a challenging course load to show that your dedication continues off the field.

Keep in mind that you may find out about your admissions decisions earlier than other applicants if you are recruited as an athlete. Often, colleges send “likely” letters that let you know ahead of time if they will accept you to encourage you to make your decision sooner rather than later, so that they can finalize their team rosters. Additionally, if you are recruited as an athlete, you may have access to additional sources of financial aid (namely athletic scholarships) at certain colleges (though this does not include the Ivy League).

The Takeaway

When trying to determine whether or not you may be an athletic recruit, be realistic about your athletic abilities and where you stand among the full pool of applicants. How have you made your sports skills known? Be sure to read our guide on [How to Get Noticed by College Sports Recruiters] for more tips and tricks on promoting your athletic abilities. If you have not been approached by coaches, do extensive research before contacting coaches to determine which schools would be the best fit for you in terms of athletics as well as academics. Not all schools offer the kinds of facilities, training, or even types of sports in which you might wish to participate.

Finally, remember that being a recruited athlete is not a guarantee of admission. Even if you are being recruited or have already signed to the team, it is still important to work hard in school and maintain your participation in any extracurricular activities. Being a college athlete is just one tool to have in your college application toolbox and a way to make your application stand out among the crowd.

Trying to understand the way college admissions works? Check out our CollegeVine guide “What is the College Application Process Like? What Goes on Behind Closed Doors.” Looking for more way to help make your application stand out? Read our CollegeVine guides “What Counts as an Extracurricular?” and “What Can I Send as Supplementary Materials?” And not even sure where to send your application? Look at our guide “How to Make the Most of a College Fair.” Best of luck!

Julia Mearsheimer

Julia Mearsheimer

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Julia Mearsheimer attends the University of Chicago. She is considering majoring in Philosophy, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, or Political Science, but remains undecided. In addition to writing, she enjoys listening to Nina Simone and baking bread.
Julia Mearsheimer