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. Jaimie Duffek was one of the top 50 high school softball players in Illinois who went onto play outfield for Drake University. Jaimie 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.
Remember, remember the first of September. Next month, the NCAA rule change to D1 campus visits goes into effect, giving student-athletes the opportunity to take official visits a year early. For every sport except football and men’s and women’s basketball, these visits—during which the school covers some or all expenses—can now begin September 1 of a student-athlete’s junior year in high school.
Under the new rules, D1 recruits no longer have to wait until the first day of senior year classes to officially tour college campuses and connect with coaches. Unofficial visits are still allowed at any time, but there can be no contact with the coaching staff or athletic department before junior year. Even though you can’t meet with the coach, an unofficial visit still has value. Use it to get a feel for campus, check out the dorms, or even take in a game or athletic event.
Why did the NCAA change the official visit rule?
The new rule was put in place to improve the recruiting process by aligning it more closely with the college search of a non-athlete. The change will help curb the trend toward early recruiting, giving student-athletes a little more breathing space to find the right fit. It also means that come September 1, juniors need to be ready for an influx of official visit invites.
Being proactive will be key. There’s no need to throw your entire recruiting plan out the window, but the rule updates make it more important than ever to jumpstart the process during freshman and sophomore year.
The new junior game plan
Make sure you have all your ducks in a row by the start of junior year. While earlier official visits give you more time to check out a few schools before you commit, college coaches will be taking advantage of the rule change to make offers and wrap up their rosters early. Getting an official visit invite means you’re at the top of a coach’s recruiting list—but it doesn’t mean you’ve locked down your spot. So, before you set foot on campus, make sure you’ve done the following:
- Take the ACT/SAT early—this shows your academic criteria fit the school’s standards.
- Create an NCAA Eligibility Center Account–You need this certificate before you take an official visit to a D1 or D2 school.
- Compile a list of questions for the coach—thoughtful questions impress and convey interest in the program.
- Prepare for the possibility of receiving an offer—don’t freeze on the spot!
Talk it over with your parents prior to the visit.
Sophomore game plan
A successful recruiting process ends with official visits and offers from coaches. It begins with a solid framework of highlight videos, summer camps and college research. Sophomore year is a golden opportunity to narrow down your college search and reach out to athletic programs. Here are a few musts for your sophomore game plan:
- Finalize your target list of schools—D1 athletes are only allowed five official visits.
- Create a profile account with the NCAA Eligibility Center—you’ll get an NCAA ID number and you can transition to a Certification Account junior year.
- Schedule a few unofficial visits—experience campus life for yourself.
- Attend a summer camp—standing out at a college, regional or national camp is a great way to get noticed.
- Beef up your highlight video—frontload last year’s video with your most athletic plays.
Freshman game plan
The first year of high school is a chance to test the waters and evaluate the possibility of playing college sports at the D1 level. The top programs recruit early, and freshman year is a great time to gauge interest and start researching athletic and academic programs. Ways to prepare during freshman year include:
- Talk to your high school or club coach—get an objective opinion on your chances of playing D1 and discuss what you’ll need to work on to get there
- Fill out recruiting questionnaires
- Publish your online recruiting profile
- Attend a skill-focused summer camp
- Reach out to college coaches
Keep in mind—these new official visit rules only impact D1 programs. If you have a few D1programs on your target list, being aware of the ramped-up recruiting schedule can position you for success once junior year rolls around. If you’re mainly focused on D2 or D3 schools, your recruiting timeline will stay largely the same.