How Does College Athletic Recruiting Work?

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Of the nearly eight million students who play a sport in high school, less than 10% go on to play at a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) member institution, and just a third of them receive an athletic scholarship. Whether you’re getting recruited to play big-time football at a Power Five Conference, or Division III golf, there’s a lot to know about college athletic recruiting. 

 

This post will guide you through the steps of the recruitment process and offer tips for success. 

 

What is Athletic Recruitment?

 

The NCAA defines recruiting as “when a college employee or representative invites a high school student-athlete to play sports for their college.” More generally, athletic recruiting is simply when a college works to attract athletes to play for their sports teams. Athletics can play a significant role in college admissions, no matter what college you’re looking at (or that’s looking at you).

 

Participation and achievement in high school athletics demonstrate commitment, dedication, and hard work, all of which are qualities that transcend athletics and are sought after by admissions officers when looking at an applicant’s extracurricular activities. At many colleges, sports play an important part in campus culture and in revenue generation—which means that high-profile and super-skilled athletes who can improve a college’s athletic performance may have an advantage in the admissions process. 

When Does the Recruiting Process Start?

 

The NCAA publishes recruiting calendars that limit the recruiting efforts of its member schools to a particular time of the year. However, it’s never too early for a student to start the recruiting process and build their profile. Maintaining a strong GPA, researching schools, and preparing/updating a recruiting video are all steps prospective college athletes can take before active recruiting begins. Starting early can give you a leg up on the competition. 

 

7 Steps to Get Recruited

 

While there’s no step-by-step guide for getting recruited to play for your dream school, below are several tried-and-true steps to improve your chances of being recruited to play college sports.  

 

1. Create a List of Schools

 

Not all that different from other high school students, student-athletes with an interest in playing sports in college will want to make a list of target, reach, and safety schools—albeit they should base their list on athletic ability. It’s extremely important that student-athletes honestly assess both their ability and aspirations, and understanding the different divisions of collegiate sports is helpful. For example, would you rather ride the bench for a D1 school or play regularly for a D2 team? 

 

2. Know the Academic Requirements to be Eligible

 

Both the NCAA and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) require students to register for eligibility and confirm their status as amateur athletes. This is done through the NCAA’s Eligibility Center and the NAIA’s Eligibility Center

 

3. Create a Video and Resume Highlighting Athletic and Academic Accomplishments

 

With nearly eight million students playing high school sports, it’s both impossible for college coaches to see every athlete and challenging for student-athletes to stand out. One way to grab attention and showcase your ability is with a well-polished recruiting film. Keep your video about five minutes long, avoid using anything that will take attention away from you (like special effects or over-the-top music) and make sure to include a slide at the beginning with your name, school, and contact information.  

 

Quality is important and many recruits have hired a videographer, but putting together a recruitment reel is well within the ability of most amateur auteurs. Use a tripod to ensure stable, easy-to-watch footage and capture way more action than you think you’ll need. There are numerous free tutorials and video editing software available online when it comes time to cut your footage together.   

 

In addition to your sizzle reel, create a professional-style resume that provides details like your height, weight, and position, along with your statistics and accomplishments—both athletic and academic. Be sure to highlight any leadership positions as well. 

 

4. Research Programs and Collect Contact Information for the Coaches

 

Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to research college programs and find contact information for coaches. Knowing a little something about an athletic program’s history, such as the last time they won their conference or how they performed the prior year, is an awesome way to demonstrate your interest in a school. Researching a program can also uncover opportunities; for example, a team graduating a player at your position could potentially be recruiting to fill that spot. You’ll also want to collect the contact information for the coach, or the best person to reach out to about athletic opportunities at the schools you’re interested in attending.

 

5. Reach Out to Coaches

 

With the coaches’ contact information in hand, send them an email expressing your interest in playing for their school and a brief introduction about yourself along with your recruitment film and resume. While there are a host of rules dictating how and when a coach can contact an athlete, there are no rules for when a student-athlete can reach out to a coach. 

 

If you don’t hear back from a coach, it’s okay to follow up with a phone call—but if a coach isn’t responding, it’s time to move on and focus on more interested schools. Respond to every school that shows interest to keep all of your options open and make sure to research any program that reaches out to you to ensure you’re prepared for further communication. 

 

6. Attend Summer Camps and Showcases

 

Summer camps and showcases provide a variety of benefits to high school athletes—they’re great for developing skills, assessing how you stack up against your peers, networking, and increasing your exposure. 

 

The fact is, most college athletes aren’t “discovered” at camps or showcases; rather, coaches attend to watch student-athletes that they’re already interested in or targeting. This is why it’s so important to contact coaches in advance and develop a rapport with them. 

 

While attending showcases and camps, remember to act professionally, meet as many people as possible, and follow up with them after. Just because you’re not the right fit for a coach you met at camp, doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be great on the team for a coach that they know. As the saying goes, it’s not what you know, but who you know

 

7. Make Your Decision

 

Put all the work you’ve done to good use when making your decision. Reflect on past conversations with schools and what you learned about their teams, coaches, and opportunities available to you when making decisions about where to attend. Also, consider how the schools on your list fit your ideal vision of the college experience. For example, if two schools on your list are equal in what they’re offering but one is in a big city and the other has a more rural campus, ask yourself where you want to spend the next four years. 

 

Lastly, look at the financial packages that schools are offering. Will one school provide a significantly better financial award than another? Similarly, does one school have a superior ROI than another? Financial decisions made in college can affect your future for years to come and should not be made lightly.   

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5 Tips For Getting Recruited 

 

Want to increase your odds of being recruited to play college sports? These five tips can put you ahead of the pack.

 

1. Have a Game Plan

 

Make a schedule to complete milestone steps like creating a list of schools, researching colleges, and contacting coaches. Keep a calendar of when and who you contact so you can follow up in a timely manner. If you did connect with someone, take notes of what you discussed to reference later. 

 

2. Communication 

 

Show off your communication skills and gain a competitive edge over other recruits. Respond to coaches timely and respectfully and stay in contact with coaches and admissions officers. When visiting campuses and touring athletic facilities, take note of anyone you meet and follow up with them to build a network of contacts at colleges that interest you.

 

3. Show Initiative 

 

Take an active role in your recruitment—reach out to coaches, speak with former players, visit campuses, and ask questions. Colleges want players who are excited to attend their school, so make sure they know you want to play for them. Also remember, most recruitment happens through initiative from the players not coaches. Unless you are one of the top athletes, chances are you’ll have to make the first step. 

 

4. Academics are Important 

 

Don’t forget that colleges are looking to recruit student-athletes. A student-athlete with a strong GPA, high standardized test scores, and who has taken challenging coursework is appealing to college coaches. Why? Coaches don’t want to have to worry about their athletes struggling academically. Also, if a school has to choose between two similar athletes, they’ll likely go with the one who has the better academic profile. 

 

5. Keep Your Head Up 

 

College recruiting is often frustrating and filled with rejection, but just because one school says “no” doesn’t mean your odds of playing a sport in college are over. Keep working hard, talking to coaches, and finding ways to show off your athletic ability and passion for your sport. Try to demonstrate to prospective coaches, both your interest in their team and your love of the game. Even if you’re ultimately not recruited, plenty of students have had success walking on to teams. 

 

How Does Being Recruited Impact Your Chances of Admission?

 

The effect recruitment has on your chances of admission at a particular school varies from student to student, school to school, and from division to division. 

 

Top athletes getting recruited by well-funded Division I schools will find their prospects of admission are greatly improved. Sports play a large role at these colleges and the student-athletes they recruit are among the top in the nation and often play on club, regional select, and Olympic development teams. While athletics is a large determining factor in admissions at many of these schools, students still need to meet academic standards, which at schools like those of the Ivy League are exceptionally high. However, if those standards are met, top athletes have very good chances of being admitted to colleges they are interested in. 

 

Sports can also play a significant role in the admission odds of athletes a tier down from the best of the best. This is particularly true if the institution is looking to build a particular athletic program and they think you can help. In these cases, students are expected to meet the admissions standards of a school. While they might not need to fall in the middle 50 in GPA or SAT/ACT score, they need to be in the ballpark. 

 

Sports are still advantageous to everyday athletes who are passionate about their sports but aren’t competing at an elite level. Athletics is an extracurricular activity that demonstrates in-demand qualities such as leadership, commitment, and drive. Athletics can also act as a hook to separate you from other candidates—you never know what a college is looking for or what needs their athletic department has. In particular, if you demonstrate leadership skills on and off the field, for example,  as a team captain, you will stand out in admissions. That being said, sports is just one of many factors considered in college admissions. 

 

What Are Your Chances?

 

Wondering what your odds of admission are at a certain school? CollegeVine can help. Our free chancing engine uses a variety of metrics like GPA and standardized test scores, along with other factors like athletics (and other extracurricular activities), to estimate your odds at over 600 colleges and universities. You can even use the results to bolster your profile and improve your odds of acceptance.

 

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Timothy Peck
Blogger at CollegeVine
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A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.