USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Joe is a former college-athlete and coach at the NAIA level, where he earned an NAIA National Championship. Joe is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
When you talk to some student-athletes, it sounds like they already have their five-year plan nailed down. They know exactly what they want to major in, which universities they’re interested in, and how they’ll get there. Then there’s the rest of us—we’re not even sure what’s happening this weekend, let alone years from now.
And that’s okay. You’re not supposed to have all the answers in high school, especially when it comes to your recruiting. If you’re on the fence about whether you want to play college sports, you’re not alone. It’s a huge commitment that will shape your entire college experience. So, to help you decide if being a college-athlete is the right choice for you, follow these helpful tips.
Visit local colleges, check out the level of competition
Map out a weekend to visit a local college and watch a game or event. You may even consider checking out a few different divisions. It’s a cheap and an easy way to gauge the level of talent you’ll need to match at the college level. What kind of skill set do the athletes possess? Are there athletes on the team you played against? Can you compete with their size and speed? Seeing the action in person may help you picture yourself in their shoes (or cleats).
Plus, you can use this as an opportunity to look around campus. Note characteristics you like about the school, such as classroom size and dorm life, and what you don’t like, too. Your observations will help you create a better, more informed target list of schools.
Learn more on creating your target list: No Regrets: Picking the Right College
Research college rosters
If you don’t have time to check out a local university, or if you’re interested in a school that’s not easy to visit, head to the athletic program’s website and find the team’s roster. A roster can be pretty telling when you look at certain details. For example, read the athletes’ backgrounds to learn about their key stats and any awards they earned in high school. Based on your accomplishments so far, could you get recruited? Also, note what their majors are to help gauge whether or not your academic goals are compatible with your sport.
Read more on roster research: What You Can Learn from A College Team’s Roster
Network with former or current college athletes
There’s no better source than a college-athlete! Reach out to former classmates you know who committed to college athletics and ask for their opinion. Don’t forget to prepare a list of questions to make the most of your time. You may want to ask about their daily routine, recruiting experience, free time, offseason, and classes.
To get started, you can read this article written by a former Division I college-athlete about the biggest differences between high school and college sports: Five major differences between high school and college sports
Get an honest, third-party evaluation
An unbiased third-party can tell you which division you’d fit into athletically, and from there you can decide if you want to pursue those types of universities. A good place to start would be your high school or club coach. They’ve seen a variety of student-athletes compete and even better, they’re usually in contact with college coaches. Or, you can sign up for a showcase or camp where recruits are being evaluated.
Before you embark on your recruiting journey, you want to be sure that college athletics is the right experience for you. Doing a little research, visiting colleges and learning about an athlete’s firsthand experience are great ways to determine whether or not you want to pursue playing at the next level.
Lastly, keep in mind that it’s possible to compete and enjoy your sport without making it the focus of your entire college experience.
Read more: What NCAA division is right for you?