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. Kyle Winters was a standout high school pitcher who tossed seven scoreless innings in a major tournament during his senior year. That performance against some heavy-hitting future MLB draft picks helped Kyle earn a full-ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. However, Kyle opted to play professional baseball and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fifth round and played seven seasons for various minor league teams. Kyle 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.
Set foot on any campus this fall and you’ll find a gaggle of high schoolers on a guided tour, soaking up all the details of campus life and hoping to answer that looming question, “Can I picture myself going here?”
For student-athletes, these kinds of visits fall into two categories: Official and unofficial visits.
Official visits vs. unofficial visits
An official visit usually happens during your athlete’s senior year and is completely paid for by the university. The NCAA says athletes are allowed one official visit per school and can’t attend more than five total. An unofficial visit, on the other hand, can happen at any time—and as many times—as long as your family is responsible for all costs. A school can only provide three tickets to a home sporting event.
Unofficial visits have become increasingly important in early recruitment because it’s the only way college coaches can meet with 8th graders, freshmen and sophomores in person. And it gives the athlete a chance to check out the campus before accepting an offer. So, unquestionably, attending an unofficial visit can boost your athlete’s chances of being recruited.
Learn more about unofficial visits here: Nine Things You Need To Consider Before An Unofficial Visit
But here’s the problem: You’re on the hook for all costs. That means travel, meals and accommodations. That budget looks pretty similar to a vacation, does it not? Here are three ways you can make the most of unofficial visits—without breaking the bank.
Start by visiting local colleges
It’s very possible your student-athlete just isn’t quite sure yet what they want from a college experience, and that’s what makes local schools such a great starting point. Your child can fine tune their list of requirements without forcing you to drop some serious dough. Plus, it’s an easy way to get a feel for the different types of schools. Every division has something to offer and the best way to know what works for your athlete is to see it firsthand. Some high schools will even set up a car pool to help families save money on college visits. See if your student’s school offers anything similar, or talk to other parents about planning a trip together.
Insider tip: Go to a local athletic program’s website and take a look at their roster. Typically, you’ll find the athletes’ hometowns listed by their information, and that will give you an idea of where the coach recruits. Knowing which programs recruit in your region will help you successfully plan an unofficial visit.
Use tournament travel as a chance to go on an unofficial visit
Recent research showed us that parents spend a lot of money on club sports and a hefty chunk of it goes toward travel costs. If you’re already hitting the road with your athlete, why not tag on an extra day to the schedule and check out nearby campuses? Sure, this would require some major planning on your part—getting both the coach’s schedule and your athlete’s schedule to align—but you can significantly cut down on gas and airfare costs. Worth it! If you need to fly, have one parent go instead of two.
Visit more than one college at once
Seek out opportunities where your athlete can visit two colleges back-to-back. Heading to Michigan State University? Plan a visit the next day at the University of Michigan. Again, this one requires some planning, but it will save you the burden of having to pay for travel twice. And it might even help your athlete compare schools since they’re fresh in their mind. Create a plan by mapping out schools that your athlete is interested in and where they are—or can—get coach interest. Then target the ones that are closest together and contact coaches there.
Unofficial visits are becoming more and more of a staple in the recruiting process. And recent data shows that students who demonstrate real interest in a university, such as attending a visit, have a greater chance of being admitted. A little planning will maximize your athlete’s opportunities without setting you back financially.