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. Mike Adler was a 3-sport captain in high school who went onto play running back for DIAA Morehead State University in Kentucky. Mike 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.
As you begin to build your list of prospective schools, it’s important to remember there’s more than one kind of recruiting path. While schools in the SEC, Big 10, Big 12, ACC, and Big East may share a similar recruiting experience, you may be surprised to learn that things are a little different at Ivy League schools, service academies, and other institutions. As a recruit, it’s important to be aware of the differences should you find any of these schools on your short list.
“I had no clue,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo told FOX Sports. “I came here with the normal recruiting things that you learn. I had been at Hawaii for five years.” So, even some coaches were unaware of how service academies differ from other schools. Let’s take a closer look.
What is it – US service academies (or US military academies) are federal academies for the undergraduate education and training of commissioned offers for the US Armed Forces. There are five U.S. service academies; US Military Academy (Army), US Navy Academy (Navy), US Air Force Academy (Air Force), US Coast Guard Academy (Coast Guard) and US Merchant Marine Academy (Merchant Marines). Regarding athletics Navy, Army and Air Force compete at the NCAA Division I FBS (or Division IA) level while Coast Guard and Merchant Marine compete at the NCAA Division III level.
What this means for recruiting – Service academies do not offer athletic scholarships, however all students that attend an academy receive a full academic scholarship. The good news is that service academy athletes can receive a salary. They aren’t paid as a benefit for participating in athletics but are paid because every academy student is paid according to his or her rank.
As you can imagine, the admissions process is very extensive, quite competitive and, like all applicants, you’ll need a letter of recommendation from your congressman. Being physically fit goes beyond your position on the team in that you must be able to meet the physical demands required of an officer in the military. Signing Day is pretty much a non-event. The average acceptance rate is between 8-17% for each of the schools. Upon graduation and the receipt of a Bachelor of Science degree, the former students become second lieutenants or ensigns and must serve a minimum term of duty; usually five years plus another three years in the Reserves. For an athlete who has a true passion for their sport and the desire to serve, it’s an incredible opportunity.
What is it – As you may know the Ivy League is home to eight of the most prestigious universities in the country; Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Cornell, Penn, Brown, Dartmouth, and Columbia. What you may not know is that, unlike other NCAA Division 1 sports, recruits here are not allowed athletic scholarships. Instead, the money given to student-athletes is based off their high school GPA, test scores (ACT and/or SAT) and financial need. It’s up to the individual school’s discretion to offer other/additional grants and forms of scholarships.
What this means for recruiting – Due to the schools’ rigorous academics, these colleges should be looked at by athletes who perform exceptionally well in the classroom. Balancing the demands of being a competitive student and a competitive athlete will be more difficult than at most other colleges but that may be the challenge your athlete wants or needs. The rewards, of course, for all that hard work and effort is they will graduate with a degree from a distinguished university that should lay the groundwork for a promising future.
Personal experience – As a high school football recruit, I drew some initial interest from Princeton. They asked me if I could improve my already pretty good ACT score. At the time, I had taken the test twice and scored well, but I honestly didn’t think I could improve on my results. It was at that point they stopped recruiting me. Looking back, I’m glad they didn’t continue as I recognize now I didn’t have the academic discipline to be successful at a school of that caliber.
Another difference with Ivy League schools is that they do not participate in the National Letter of Intent (NLI) program. Instead, Ivy League schools will issue what is known as a Likely Letter. This comes only after you have verbally committed to the school and only when your application has been reviewed and approved by admissions. Since the Likely Letter is not a legally binding contract like the NLI, you can expect a little more pressure to commit to an Ivy League school. That means you will need to be prepared to give the coach and the school an answer sooner rather than later.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
What is it – By definition, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were established before 1964 with the intention of primarily serving the African-American community. NCAA Division I has two historically black athletic conferences; Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) . These conferences are home to all Division HBCUs except for Tennessee State University. Other HBCUs play at the NCAA Division II level or in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). There are 101 HBCU institutions in the US today and of these, 83 colleges offer bachelor’s degrees and 38 schools offer associate degrees.
What this means for recruiting–When it comes to creating your list of schools, HBCUs really deserve a closer look. There are many misconceptions about HBCUs. Despite the definition, you do not need to be African-American to attend these schools and in fact, the African-American enrollment at some HBCUs is right about 10%. For students of any race or ethnicity, these schools provide a great education, diversity within faculty and student-body, and offer athletic scholarships as well as academic scholarships and grants. Other reasons to consider an HBCU may be if you are looking for a college experience closer to home or looking for a great education at a more affordable price.
One of the great things about recruiting is the chance to explore all of the different opportunities that are available. There’s more than one path to college and for many athletes and their families the one taken is often one they never expected.