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 athletes 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.
Looking for the best athletic and academic colleges for your high school basketball player? How about for your softball star? After rolling out the NCSA 2018 Power Rankings for fall sports in November, NCSA is back to introduce the Power Rankings for winter and spring sports. This definitive list ranks the best colleges and universities for student-athletes in Division 1, Division 2, Division 3 and NAIA.
“Whether an athlete is searching for the right school on their own or with the help of one of our talented recruiting coaches, our Power Rankings provide yet another important resource from NCSA to help find the best fit to ensure lifelong success,” says NCSA President Lisa Strasman.
2018 NCSA Power Rankings for winter sports
2018 NCSA Power Rankings for spring sports
How does NCSA calculate the Power Rankings?
The first NCSA Power Rankings were created over a decade ago to help student-athletes and their families find schools where they would most likely achieve academic and athletic success. This year, we took our rankings to the next level by incorporating our proprietary “NCSA Favorites” data. This data features the most popular schools selected by over two million student-athletes in the NCSA network.
In addition to NCSA Favorites, we factored the US News and World Report Best Colleges and the IPEDS graduation rate rankings into the mix. We combined and equally weighted these three rankings to calculate a score for each school. We then broke down our rankings by overall, division level and sport-specific categories.
How to use the 2018 NCSA Power Rankings to find the right college
Even if your child’s college decision is years away, these Power Rankings can help you identify strong athletic and academic schools to add to your list of potential colleges. This list should include at least five dream schools, at least 10 target schools and at least five safety schools.
Dream schools give student-athletes something to aim for. To qualify for these schools, your child might need to significantly improve their grades or athletic abilities. Or maybe tuition would be too expensive without tons of financial aid. Nevertheless, it can be helpful for your child to identify their dream schools and work to make it happen.
Target schools are colleges where your student-athlete has a realistic chance of getting in based on their academic and athletic achievements. During the recruiting process, you should focus the majority of your time and effort on these schools.
Finally, several safety schools should be on your athlete’s list as a backup plan. From injuries to coach departures, the recruiting journey is full of unexpected twists and turns. If anything happens late in the process, you will be prepared.
What should you look for in a college?
The 2018 NCSA Power Rankings can be a tremendously helpful tool for your college search, but there are many other factors to consider. Strong academics and a top-notch athletic program are important, but so is finding an environment that feels like home. After all, your student-athlete will most likely be there for the next four years.
Be sure to go on plenty of unofficial and official college visits to walk around campus, check out the dorms and meet the coaching staff and current team members. Some students like the excitement of a state school, while others feel more comfortable at a smaller liberal arts school. Some students dream of attending college in the middle of a big city, while others prefer a suburban or rural vibe.
In addition to personal preference, cost can be a huge factor. Keep in mind that academic and need-based scholarships can be worth just as much—if not more—than athletic scholarships. Plus, unlike athletic scholarships, other forms of aid are usually good for all four years. As you navigate the recruiting process, we hope the NCSA Power Rankings will help you and your student-athlete find their best college fit.