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 athletes, 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.
The one thing I get the most questions about this time of year is college applications. When should I apply? Should I apply to my reach or my safety schools first? What if the coach starts recruiting me after the application deadline? The list goes on.
We all know how tough the college application process can be, and for student-athletes, there are of course additional considerations to keep in mind. Here are a few tips that will help you and your athlete power through your applications.
Know every deadline
First and foremost, you need to track the deadline for every school where you’d like to apply. Some colleges offer rolling admissions, while many have set deadlines. Even more, the college coach may have a separate deadline that they want recruits to meet, so they know you have a good shot at being accepted into the school. For example, coaches at top-tier academic schools usually want their recruits to apply as early as possible. That’s why it’s so important to not only keep an organized list of your application deadlines, but also be openly communicating with the college coach about their internal timeline.
Early decision vs early action
Applying early to a college could give you a leg up in the process. It shows the school and coach at your favorite programs that you’re serious about attending. Plus, colleges look better when a high percentage of early accepted applicants decide to attend, and it takes some pressure off of the coach when their recruits are accepted early.
Early deadlines are usually in the fall and are offered two ways—early decision or early action. Early decision is a binding agreement, meaning if you’re accepted, you’re committed to attending that school and will withdraw any applications you may have submitted for the regular deadlines at other schools. Early action, on the other hand, is non-binding and you don’t have to attend if you’re accepted. You should only apply early decision to the school you’re most confident about. While there are ways you can get out of an early decision agreement, you should never feel pressured to apply early decision, even if the coach is recruiting you, unless you are absolutely sure you want to go there.
Tell the coach when you’ve applied
One of the most common mistakes I see seniors make is not communicating with the coach when they’re applying to the school. Here’s the thing: if you apply and don’t get in, there’s nothing you—or the coach—can do about it. But if you alert them that your application has officially been submitted to the college, they may be able to flag it with the Admissions Office. Of course, your test scores, GPA and application need to stand on their own, but if they strongly want to recruit you, they’ll want to know when you’ve applied to the school. Even if you haven’t been communicating with a college coach or don’t have a relationship established with them, you should still let them know when your application was submitted. It may cause them to take a second glance at your recruiting profile and video. For many coaches, deciphering whether a recruit is seriously interested in their program or not can be a challenge. Seeing you’ve applied may give you a competitive edge over other recruits.
Insider tip: Ask the college coach if they can waive your application fee, especially if they’re encouraging you to apply. So many recruits don’t realize how easy it is for the athletic department to waive the application fee for potential recruits.
Read More: How to maintain communication with a coach
What if a coach recruits me after the application deadline?
Several coaches—especially at the D3 and NAIA levels—recruit student-athletes well into their senior year. You may find yourself in a position where the college coach is actively recruiting you, but the application deadline has passed. Fear not, there’s still a chance the coach may be able to override the deadline if their roster spots aren’t filled.
“Coaches would be calling you in the spring of your senior year knowing that they’ll more than likely be able to still get your application in, if you’re interested in their school,” says Julian Beckwith, Recruiting Coach at Next College Student Athlete.
So, if you haven’t applied to the school yet and the coach is genuinely interested in you as a recruit, be up front and let them know. In general, open communication with the coach is the best route to take.
The college application process can be overwhelming, but you’ve been preparing your entire high school career to reach this point. If you keep your deadlines in check, stay in contact with college coaches during the process and feel confident about the schools you’re applying to, you’ll get through every application with ease. Just take it one at a time.