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. Garland Cooper, was a three-time NFCA All-American (two-time first team) and Big Ten Player of the Year at Northwestern University. In 2012, Garland was inducted into the NU Hall of Fame having helped the Wildcats to a pair of Women’s College World Series appearances. She was also a first-round pick of the New England Riptide in the 2007 National Pro Fastpitch College Draft. Garland 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.
Current and former students love to talk about their college “aha” moment. “The second I stepped on the campus, I just knew it was the school for me,” they say.
For student-athletes who are still trying to narrow down their list of colleges, this might seem too good to be true. While not every student will have such a profound reaction to a campus, college visits are certainly a great way to get a better feel for a school’s coach, culture and campus. For most student-athletes, unofficial college visits are the best way to get this experience—and possibly, even snag an offer. As early recruiting becomes increasingly more prominent in college sports, unofficial visits are the only way that many athletes get to see a college campus before they accept an offer.
What are unofficial visits?
While there are many rules around official visits (those paid for by the school), recruits can visit a college at any point if they pay for all expenses themselves, including cost of travel, meals and accommodations. You can take an unlimited number of unofficial visits. Some schools do allow recruits to stay on campus with a team member or other student, and the coach can give your family tickets to three sporting events under $100. Everything else must be covered by your family.
Unofficial visits have become increasingly important in early recruitment. Because college coaches are recruiting 8th graders, freshmen and sophomores, the only way they can meet in person is through unofficial visits. Coaches even extend offers to young recruits during these visits (think: 8th graders and freshmen in high school). Be prepared for these conversations should they come up during your visit.
How to set up your unofficial visit
Before you head out to your list of top colleges, you need to lay the groundwork for your visit. We’ve detailed the series of steps you should take before your next visit:
- Review the roster and program. This is the time to be very honest about what you want in a school and the level where you’re best suited to compete. Before you commit to visiting a school, ensure that the roster, program and division level are a good fit for you.
- Investigate the school’s academic requirements. It’s important to ensure that you are qualified academically to play at the school. The best way to determine academic qualification is to check with the coach. Send them your transcripts, test scores and other key academic information to them. You can also usually find average test scores and the average GPA of accepted students online.
- Determine the best time for your visit. Some student-athletes choose to do their unofficial visits in the summer, because coaches may have more time while they aren’t in the middle of their sport’s season. Others prefer to see the campus bustling with students to get a better sense of what life at that school is really like. Avoid taking unofficial visits during the NCAA recruiting Dead Period, as you will not be able to communicate with coaches during that time.
- Coordinate your calendar of unofficial visits and college meetings. To be more efficient with your time, try to visit a few different schools in one trip, rather than making multiple one-off visits.
- Ensure the coach has reviewed your athletic information and is interested in recruiting you. Send them your highlight video, academic information, resume and key stats. Depending on your age and the NCAA recruiting calendar, the coach may not be able to reach out to you, but you can always reach out to them. Call the coach, and if you don’t get an answer, try again.
- Schedule your visit with the coach. The last thing you want is to take the time to visit a school and find out the coach can’t meet with you. If your club or high school coach is highly involved in your recruiting, they can also contact the college coach for you and help set up a meeting.
- Prepare your questions for the coach. If you know a coach has seen you compete, you can ask them where you stand on their recruiting list. Or, you can ask where they will be recruiting during the season so you can hopefully coordinate a time for them to watch you. Questions about the team, academics, campus, time commitments, etc. are all fair game during your unofficial visit.
- Plan what you’ll wear. While it may seem insignificant, what you wear can make a big impact on the coach. Leave your athletic clothes in your gym bag, and instead pack your nicest jeans or khaki pants, a sweater, casual dress or skirt, a button-down shirt or polo.
- Determine what else you need to get done during your visit. The coach may request that you sit down and have a meeting with the admissions office. You may want to set aside time to check out the dorms and get an official campus tour. Don’t forget to factor all of this in as you’re planning your weekend.
Unofficial visits are gaining popularity and importance due to the rise in early recruitment—and they may lead to a college scholarship. The best advice: Do your homework before you visit a school. Take notes of what you do and don’t like about each school you visit. These notes can help you narrow down your remaining list of schools. For many recruits, campus visits are the most exciting part of the recruiting process—outside of receiving an offer—so enjoy each one.