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. Jason Smith is a former NCAA DIII athlete and college coach at all three division levels. Jason 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.
Senior year tends to move quick—next thing you know, they’re off to college with a case of ramen in tow. The sudden realization that college is around the corner makes a lot of families wonder: Is it too late to get recruited?
The short and pleasantly surprising answer is, “No, it’s not!” Your student-athlete might know teammates who’ve verbally committed—maybe as early as freshman year—but that doesn’t mean all roster spots are filled. There’s still time for your senior to find excellent opportunities. They just need to know where—and how—to look for them–and act quickly.
Expand your college search now
When it comes to college athletics, there’s no such thing as one size fits all. Your family can find competitive programs outside of Division I. In fact, there are more than 300 Division II programs, 440 Division III programs and 250 NAIA programs. That’s almost 1,000 schools, not including junior college opportunities. You’ll maximize your options and increase your athlete’s chances of competing in college if you turn your attention to these programs, especially since most Division I coaches have completed their 2018 roster.
Read more on the different divisions: Which NCAA Division Is Right For You?
But first, research
Before your student-athlete begins reaching out to college coaches, you want to make sure they have the athletic ability to play there and—here’s an obvious reason—a roster spot is available. The fastest way to figure this out? Visit the college’s athletic site and check out the current roster of players. Here’s what you should look for:
- Read each athlete’s bio and key stats. Does your child meet the same criteria?
- Find your athlete’s position and note the grad year of the players. Coaches tend to recruit on demand, so if there are underclassmen already playing your athlete’s position, you can assume they’re not recruiting right now.
- Where are the athletes from? Rosters list hometown and state, and this will let you know where the coach focuses their efforts.
Doing a little digging and studying the school’s roster will help your family understand the distribution of underclassmen to upperclassmen, and if your athlete fits the profile.
Know important senior year deadlines
To maximize your student’s recruiting opportunities and chances of connecting with a college coach, you want to be aware of this year’s most important deadlines. Get your calendars out now:
This is the time when Division I and Division II college coaches are actively recruiting athletes and can reach out them, whether it’s email, phone calls, texts or in-person visits. Each sport has a different contact period established by the NCAA. Visit their site to find your student’s sport, and remember: even though a coach is restricted on when they can talk to recruits, your student-athlete can always reach out to college coaches at any time. They should be calling and emailing, including sending newsworthy follow ups that detail recent accomplishments, tournaments they’ll be attending, or even updated test scores.
In 2015, 57 percent of students who retook the ACT improved their scores. A few points can go a long way and open the door to more college opportunities. Be aware of the SAT and ACT registration and test dates, so your athlete can have a chance at boosting their score.
Being recruited by a college coach doesn’t guarantee your student’s acceptance into the school. They should work hard on their college essays and complete all of their applications on time. This is especially important for academically competitive schools where coaches ask their prospects to apply for early admissions to be sure they can get into the college.
For most sports, official visits can begin starting the first day of class. As your student-athlete begins connecting with coaches, they may be offered to take an official visit where the college pays for your family to attend. Not only does this mean the coach is interested in your athlete, but it’s a great time to understand if the school is a good fit for them.
The NCAA establishes an early signing period and a regular signing period for each sport. During this time, student-athletes can sign their National Letter of Intent, which is a binding contract, where they commit to playing at a school. This is the end of the recruiting journey for student-athletes so you want to write down these dates—also found on the recruiting calendar. Visit their site for your athlete’s sport.
What about just walking on?
The scenario where an athlete gets accepted at a school and makes the team through an open tryout is not as common as TV shows and movies would have you believe. Walking on to a college team is tough but it can be done and it could eventually lead to a scholarship.
If your athlete is a senior and they haven’t committed to a program yet, don’t panic. There’s still time to find a program that’s a great fit for them both athletically and academically. Just keep your options open, do the research and be aware of important days in their recruiting.