USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from Fred Bastie, the owner and founder of Playced.com. Playced.com identifies appropriate colleges for potential recruits and delivers an online DIY college planning experience for student athletes of all talent levels and ages.
There are nearly 2,000 colleges that offer athletic scholarships in the United States. That’s right, 2,000! And you need to decide which ONE will be the best fit for you.
Identifying and deciding on the right school is a time consuming and stressful process for all high school students. If you add playing a sport at the collegiate level into the mix, the process becomes even more difficult. There are so many things to consider for a student-athlete. In addition to tuition cost and admission requirements, a student-athlete needs to consider things like coaching philosophy and roster needs in deciding which colleges are the right “fit”.
The easiest way to approach the college recruiting/selection process is to break it down into manageable steps. Here are the three areas I believe you should consider:
Every student-athlete would like to play professionally. Who wouldn’t like to make a living playing a game? But, just in case athletics doesn’t land you a huge contract, I would recommend you have a back-up plan in place that includes a college degree. For that reason, academics are the most important consideration in the college recruiting equation.
First and foremost you must be academically eligible to play and (more importantly) you have to qualify academically to be admitted into any institution you are considering. Research the rules on NCAA/NAIA academic eligibility and be sure you qualify to be admitted into each college in which you have serious interest. If you aren’t eligible, or you can’t meet the admission requirements at a particular school, then you aren’t going to get an athletic scholarship.
Second, for every college on your list, be sure you understand and are comfortable with the average class size and overall academic environment. For example, moving from a small high school to a large university where there might be 150 students in each class could be culture shock.
Finally, if you know the major you want to study, make sure it is offered at the colleges you are pursuing. Not every college offers a degree in petroleum engineering, veterinary medicine or elementary particle physics. Make sure you will be able to pursue your academic goals as well as your athletic goals.
This part of the college recruiting equation is simple. Just ask yourself the following questions:
- What size college do I want to attend?
- Do I want to stay in-state, close to home?
- What is my family’s college budget?
- What other factors are important to me? Tradition? Climate? Boy-girl ratio?
Whether you are a student-athlete or not, finding the right college environment, in the right area of the country, with an acceptable price tag is critical to having a positive college experience. Decide what is important to you and do some research.
Since most athletic scholarships are partial scholarships (ranging from 25% to 60%) cost is generally an important factor. When you are considering cost, make sure you understand the “all-in” cost for each school. That would include tuition, room and board, books, fees and some monthly allowance for personal expenses. Finally, be sure you are comparing apples to apples. The cost of a public university is significantly less than the cost of most private colleges and in-state tuition is significantly less than out-of-state tuition.
Perhaps the most difficult task in an effective college recruiting game plan is being realistic with who you are as an athlete. If your list of colleges is filled with schools like Alabama, Michigan and Texas, but your skill set isn’t quite there yet, then you will be disappointed with your recruiting journey. Once you determine the right level of colleges to pursue, it’s time to evaluate the program at each school.
Evaluating a college athletic program starts with getting to know the coaching staff. You really need to understand their coaching philosophy and how they approach the game. Make sure they are a match for you. If you are really interested in a college, go to some games, talk to current players and talk with the coaches about what is important to you. Take the time to do some research. Are the coaches committed to their players? Are academics a priority?
In addition to evaluating the coaching staff, you should evaluate the team roster. College team rosters are generally available on the school websites and can be sorted by class and/or position. Take a look at the roster to be sure there is a need at the position you play. For example, if you are a point guard and there are four point guards already on the roster (and none are graduating), that college might not be a good fit for you.
Consider all your options
Choosing a college because your friends are going there or picking a college based on where it ranks in a survey is a mistake. Do your homework and identify as many realistic college options as you can. Then, take your time in making a decision. Picking the right college is one of the most important decisions you will ever make, there is absolutely no reason to hurry.