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High School Athletes: 4 Things To Consider When Making a Verbal Commitment

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Being a successful and dedicated athlete in high school is a major asset when it comes to your college applications. Athletic participation shows off your hard work, commitment, and leadership skills, and helps admissions officers get to know you as a well-rounded applicant.


More formally, top athletes may be able to access improved admissions and scholarship opportunities through the athletic recruitment process. However, athletic recruiting is governed by a set of specific rules and procedures established by the NCAA and other collegiate athletic organizations. If you’re hoping to be a recruited athlete, you’ll have to understand and follow these rules throughout the process.


Some recruited athletes make a verbal commitment—a non-binding but serious statement of your intent to attend a particular college as a recruited athlete. Verbal commitments aren’t part of the process for everyone, but they’ve become popular in recent years, and if you participate in the athletic recruiting process, you may have to decide whether to make one.


Before you make that decision, here’s what you need to know.


What Is (and Isn’t) a Verbal Commitment?

A verbal commitment is your informal statement of intent to attend a particular college that has recruited you as an athlete. Since it’s not a formal agreement, the shape a verbal commitment takes can vary; it can happen at any time, including in your early years of high school, before you’re old enough to be eligible to make a more formal commitment under NCAA rules.


Perhaps the most important thing you’ll need to understand about a verbal commitment is that it’s not binding for either party. It’s a good-faith statement of intent, not a guarantee of admission or financial aid consideration. Since it’s not set in stone, making a verbal commitment doesn’t mean that you can stop looking into other options and making backup plans.


The only agreement that’s binding in the athletic recruitment process is a formal letter of intent, often signed through the National Letter of Intent program, and even that isn’t mandatory. You can change your mind if a verbal commitment is in place, and so can the college you plan to attend. Changes can also be made to your scholarship arrangements.


However, a verbal commitment is still considered to be a meaningful statement, and colleges will expect you to take it fairly seriously. For instance, while you’re not formally barred from making official recruiting visits to other colleges after you’ve made a verbal commitment, it’s considered bad form to do so, and you should avoid it. You’re expected to continue working with that college to come up with an appropriate final agreement.


Given the seriousness of a verbal commitment, it’s not something you should make without a great deal of research, discussion with your parents and coaches, and consideration of how this decision will affect your college experience both on and off the field.


Figuring Out Whether You’re Ready for a Verbal Commitment

Making a verbal commitment is a major step toward making your final college decision, and it can significantly impact your future, both in athletics and in the academic and career portions of your college life. Here are the main questions you need to ask yourself before you commit.


Are You Done Making Official College Visits?

Within the terminology of the athletic recruitment process, official college visits are those which are paid for by the college and specifically intended for athletic recruitment purposes. As we’ve said, it’s considered bad form in the athletic community to make an official visit to one college when you’ve already made a verbal commitment to another college.


Making official visits can be a great opportunity for prospective students; not only is the cost covered for you, but you’ll be able to get unique insight into your intended athletic program while you’re visiting. You’ll talk to current student athletes, meet with coaches, and generally get a feel for whether the program and the college as a whole are the right match for you. At the same time, you’ll get to see what college life is like in general.


Since making a verbal commitment marks the end of your official visits, you shouldn’t commit until you’re sure that you’ve made all the official visits you want or need to make. After making a verbal commitment, you can still visit colleges on your own, but you’ll have to pay your own way, and those visits likely won’t be tailored to your needs as a prospective student athlete.


Does This College Meet Your Academic Needs?

The NCAA’s rules about formal college commitments exist in part to protect you as a young person making a life-changing decision. The reality is that very few people are able to be full-time athletes throughout their working life, and there’s always the chance that an injury could force a sudden change in your plans. You’re still young, so you need to keep your options open, take your education seriously, and plan to develop career skills that will be useful no matter what path you take.

Remember, attending college is, at heart, about getting an education, so make sure that the school you verbally commit to will provide you with a strong program in a field that you’re interested in. You don’t necessarily have to choose your major just yet, but you should put some thought toward what you’d like to study and what resources a particular college offers in that area.


One major benefit of the athletic recruiting process is that it can help you access and pay for a bachelor’s degree at a school you might not be able to attend otherwise. If you have the “hook” of being a recruited athlete, you can take advantage of it to get a truly excellent education—don’t miss this chance!


Is This College a Good Fit for You Personally?

Aside from the playing field and the classroom, your college campus will be your home for the next four years. It’s where you’ll sleep, eat, relax, and make friends. Sure, as a serious athlete, you’ll be spending a lot of time on your sport, but it’s still worthwhile to think about whether a college will be a good place for you as a student and a person. That’s what admissions professionals call a good fit.


Some elements of fit are easily definable—for instance, the choice of whether to attend an urban or a rural college. Others are less tangible. Does the college feel like the right place for you? Do you like the campus culture and the approach the college takes toward educating students? How about the attitudes that students there take toward their studies and each other? Can you see yourself being one of those students?


Neglecting overall fit when making a verbal commitment may mean that you end up enjoying your athletic pursuits, but also feeling uncomfortable or frustrated with the rest of your college life. That’s no way to live, and it can impede your performance, both athletically and academically. Before you make a verbal commitment, make sure the college is one where you’ll feel at home in all areas of your life.


Have You Considered All Your Recruiting Options?

As verbal commitments become more popular, they’re also being extended to younger students, offering an alternative to age-restricted binding letters of intent. While a verbal commitment isn’t binding, you should keep in mind that it’s still a serious decision, and you may still end up feeling locked into that commitment even if, like many young people, you change your mind about your future plans.


Most students are 17 or 18 when they make major college decisions, and even that is quite young; at that age, you have a lot of change ahead of you. It’s normal and common for students to change majors or career paths once they actually start college, and some even decide to transfer to a different college altogether.


People don’t always know what they want as 18-year-olds. Now push that decision-making age back to 15 or 16, when you’re even less experienced and informed, and you can see that if you make a verbal commitment early on, you’re inviting a certain degree of risk. Making a verbal commitment isn’t a good idea until you’re sure that you’ve explored all your options in the recruitment process and carefully considered each one.


Breaking your verbal commitment is possible—after all, it’s not binding—but it’s frowned upon. It’s better to wait until you’re certain that you’ve found the right opportunity and are not likely to find a better one.


What Comes Next?

If you’re reading this post from a perspective early in the athletic recruitment process, you still have a lot of work ahead of you to become a recruited athlete at a school you’re excited about. Even if you do decide that you’re ready to make a verbal commitment, the process is not over; nothing is finalized until your Letter of Intent is signed.


In this post, we’ve talked about one small part of the athletic recruitment process, but there are many other steps you’ll need to keep on top of. You can find more detailed coverage of the whole athletic recruitment process, with additional information and links, in these CollegeVine blog posts:


A Brief Guide to Athletic Recruitment

Navigating the Rules of Athletic Recruitment

How to Get Noticed by College Sports Recruiters


As you go through the various stages of recruitment, make sure that you understand and follow the rules set by the NCAA and other collegiate athletic organizations. These rules help to keep the process fair for everyone, and also protect your interests as a younger and less experienced person planning out your future.


Finally, even if you expect to become a recruited athlete, don’t let academic considerations fall to the wayside! Athletic recruits at top colleges still have to meet the school’s high academic standards to attend, and it’s still important to develop other career options for yourself.


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Monikah Schuschu
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.