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.
One of the biggest bracket-busting NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournaments ever gave America a great Cinderella story. For only the second time in the school’s history—and for the first time since winning the title in 1963—the Loyola University Chicago Ramblers were in the Final Four; propelled by its thrilling “hero-every-game” bench and the human-interest story that is 98 year-old school chaplain and superfan Sister Jean Schmidt. Sales of Ramblers merchandise are up a reported 300 percent. A Sister Jean bobblehead broke sales records for the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame (yes, it really exists!)
What does this have to do with recruiting? According to a 2013 Harvard Business School study, a lot. For example, the study found that “when a school goes from being mediocre to being great on the football field, applications increase by 17.7 percent.” Some call this the “Flutie Effect,” named after former Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie, who in 1984, threw a Hail Mary touchdown pass that defeated the University of Miami in the nationally-televised championship game’s final seconds. Two years later, Boston College saw a roughly 30 percent surge in applications.
States the study: “The buzz generated by performance on the field can lead to stories on the evening news and in the sports pages of newspapers that may further increase awareness of these schools” for students going through the college application process.
It is too soon to know if the Ramblers’ Final Four run will translate into a spike in applications, but Acting Executive Director Communications & Content Michelle Michael notes, “Admitted students for fall are very excited and we hope that this current excitement for Loyola will help those still undecided between Loyola and another university. For sure the positive energy helps our overall recruiting efforts!”
If Loyola’s story is intriguing enough that it makes your athlete want to add it to their list of possible schools, know that there are many other “Loyolas” out there. The takeaway:
When choosing a college, look far and wide. Thanks to the internet and social media, your athlete has unprecedented access to information on schools; not just institutions they are considering, but also under-the-radar schools that might be worth a closer look.
Stick to the fundamentals
It is only natural to get caught up in school spirit, especially for an athlete looking to compete at the college level and bring their talents to a particular program. But according to Fastweb.com, choosing a college solely on its athletic programs is considered to be one of the top five mistakes high schoolers make when choosing a college. “Just because they have a great sports team does not mean it’s the right educational fit for you,” the website states.
Education should always be the top priority. What happens if your athlete is injured, finds other players ahead of him or her on the depth chart, or the coach accepts an offer elsewhere? College is all about getting an education that will continue to open doors long after a college athlete’s playing days are over. To quote a former NCAA public service announcement: “There are over 380,000 student-athletes, and most of us go pro in something other than sports.”
Look beyond the hype
Just as coaches look for athletes who have flown under the radar, so should your athlete consider schools that are hidden gems. Not all schools have multi-million dollar marketing budgets. Once your athlete has set some parameters, such as school location, division level, campus size, cost, rural vs. urban, extracurricular activities, go deep on the internet to find schools that offer the same comparables as the better-known schools on their list of target, safety and reach schools. They only difference is they may not get the TV time.
Seek inside information
This is solid advice no matter what school your athlete is considering. No one knows a school better than its students. Once your athlete thinks a school may be a contender, they should ask questions of students—athlete or not—about campus life. Here are some sample questions:
- Would you attend this school if you weren’t playing a sport?
- How does reality match your expectations on what you were told about what they were told during recruiting?
- How do you juggle practice and course load?
- Does the student body support the athletic teams?
- Do you feel you’re getting a quality education?
- If you had a do-over, would you still pick this school?
The Ramblers have enjoyed a fairy tale season. The prospect of a “happy ever after” increases if your athlete keeps an open mind when choosing a college.