Thursday, March 27, 2014

College Athletic Recruiting 101

Questions about the college athletic recruiting process come up every year. Each year we have a few athletes graduate from HRHS who have gone through the recruiting process and signed with a college. And each year we have athletes embark on the recruiting process for the very first time. Everyone starts out at about zero, knowing very little about the process unless their family has been through it before. This is our first shot at getting some basic information and resources into one place for athletes and families who are just beginning the process. (Thanks to the Kreutz and Turnage families for sharing their experiences, as Macy and Connor finish their last high school season before moving on to competition in college).

We're opening up comments on this post to encourage ongoing conversation and to hear your questions and comments about what other kinds of information and resources would be helpful. Click here to join the conversation on our website.

Understand your options and be realistic about the level of school that will be the best fit for you, both athletically and academically. 

College athletic programs are typically part of either the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Schools that fall under the NCAA are categorized as Division I (D1), Division II (D2) and Division III (D3). Generally, larger schools compete in D1and smaller schools in D2, D3, and NAIA (which also has divisions).
  • D1 and D2 schools can offer athletic scholarships. D1 and D2 schools have 18 full scholarship equivalencies available for women's Track and Cross Country combined and 12.6 equivalencies for men. These numbers are for the entire team, not just for each incoming freshman class, so scholarships are typically spread pretty thin. It is exceedingly rare for a track athlete to be offered a full athletic scholarship. Click here for a great explanation of how the scholarship process works. Also, note that D2 track programs are often not fully funded so while the rules say they can offer a certain number of equivalencies, financial reality says they cannot.
  • Ivy League schools are NCAA D1, but do not offer athletic scholarships.
  • NCAA D3 schools cannot offer athletic scholarships.
  • NAIA schools tend to be smaller in size like D3 schools, but they can offer athletic scholarships.

Recruiting standards vary across the type of school and vary widely even within the same classification. Here are some basic performance guidelines by event for women and for men. Some programs list their own recruiting standards on their websites.

Academic requirements are also important. There are standards set by the NCAA and the NAIA (generally less demanding than the NCAA), but some schools will have stricter standards than those defined by their athletic association.

Be realistic about the amount of athletic financial aid you need. Keep in mind that full athletic scholarships are very rare in track and field, and plan accordingly, considering other sources of funding like academic scholarships, etc.

Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center 

If you're interested in D1 or D2 schools, register with the NCAA Eligibility Center (you can register for more than one sport). A good time to do this is spring of your sophomore year. When you begin contacting coaches, one of the first things they will ask is your eligibility number.

Also, as early as your freshman year at HRHS, register for Core Course GPA to track your HRHS classes and make sure you're meeting NCAA eligibility requirements. Click here for more information.

Research schools and programs

  • Committing to a college will be one of the biggest decisions of your life. Make the academic part of your decision a priority. This may be the step that takes the most time and effort, but it's worth it! Use College Prowler, Naviance, and other tools to learn about the match between your academic interests and the degree programs schools offer. 
  • What is the graduation rate for track athletes at the schools that interest you? Can you see evidence that the program places a strong emphasis on academic success? What kinds of academic, life skills and other support are offered to athletes?
  • Check out track program websites for schools to see what you can learn about their teams and get a feel for how you might fit in. Are they a distance school or a sprint school? A jumps school or a throws school? Or are they more balanced across the events? Do they want to be competitive as a team at the national level or do they focus more on competing at the conference level? How many coaches are there? Does the team include both men and women or are men's and women's programs run by separate coaching staffs? What kinds of facilities do they have for indoor and outdoor track?
  • Many college athletes do not complete their full collegiate eligibility due to injury, loss of passion for the sport or other factors. Choose a school you will want to attend and a place you will enjoy living, even if you're not competing in your sport. 
  • Cast the net wide and use the criteria that matter most to you to narrow your choices.

Proactively Promote Yourself Positively

  • Make sure your NCAA Eligibility Center application is complete.
  • For the schools you want to pursue, find their recruiting questionnaire on their athletic website. Each sport has their own questionnaire. You will get lots of practice filling out forms!
  • Once you have filled out the questionnaire, email your event coach and/or the team's recruiting coordinator to introduce yourself and let them know that you have filled out their online questionnaire. Coaches' emails can usually be found under the roster for the team.
  • Make your email concise, friendly and respectful. Use bulletpoints to highlight your accomplishments for easier reading for the coaches and include a link to your stats on MileSplit or MaxPreps. Personalize the letter to tell the coach about some of your research and why you are specifically interested in that school or program. 
  • If you compete in sprints or field events, consider making a highlights video, sharing it on youtube and linking to that in your email as well. Here are examples of highlight videos Connor Turnage made on his home computer for his sophomore and junior seasons. 
  • Cultivate a strong, positive relationship with your high school coach. College coaches will contact your high school coaches to ask about your work ethic and the quality of their interactions with you as a student athlete. Don't expect your coaches to be anything but completely honest, and give them great things to say about you.
  • Think carefully about what you're posting on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. Don't think for a second that college coaches won't check in to see what you're doing out there. Put your best foot forward, even in the places you think nobody is looking.

Know the Rules of the Recruiting Process

  • Each association (NCAA and NAIA) and each division (D1, D2, D3) have their own set of rules regarding when and how coaches can contact athletes; however, athletes may contact coaches at any time by phone, email, social media, etc. Click here for details on recruiting rules and calendars.
  • If a coach invites you to their school and plans on paying for any part of your visit, this is considered an "official" visit. You are allowed 5 official visits to D1 and D2 schools combined (only 1 per school, beginning no sooner than the first day of your senior year). Smaller schools have smaller recruiting budgets so you may need to invest in taking a visit at your own expense.
  • You are allowed an unlimited number of "unofficial" visits to D1 and D2 schools. You are also allowed an unlimited number of D3 and NAIA school visits. If you plan on visiting a college without being invited by the coach, contact the coach ahead of time to try to set up a time to meet him/her while you are on campus. 

A Word About Recruiting Services 

You don't have to run many Google searches on athletic recruiting before you run into sites like NCSA, Be Recruited and others that offer to help you find a college athletic scholarship. These companies provide great information and resources, some for free, and some for a price. In pursuit of track scholarships, you can do the same promotion these recruiting services offer on your own very successfully and in a way that is targeted to your interests and criteria using the information outlined above. In our experience, college coaches prefer to interact directly with student athletes.

Final Thoughts for Parents

Read that last sentence again, parents. College coaches prefer to interact directly with student athletes. Support your student athlete in researching schools and programs, completing questionnaires, drafting emails, following up to return emails or phone calls, practicing conversations with coaches, and figuring out what questions they need to ask. But let them fill out the forms and write the emails, make the phone calls, and keep the conversation flowing. Help them think about finances. Coach them on how and when to talk about scholarships and how to engage in negotiations or clarify offers. Let them own as much of the process as they can. This may be the biggest decision of their young lives, and it means a lot to them and to prospective coaches to know that you trust them to make it wisely.

Disclaimer: This represents our best effort to provide accurate information based on our own understanding and experience. Recruiting rules are multifaceted, change over time, and differ depending on the athletic association and/or division. If you have a question about specific NCAA rules, your best sources are college coaches/recruiting coordinators and the NCAA website. 


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