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.
Checking out campus on an official or unofficial visit? From athletic requirements to academic support, there are many pressing questions your student-athlete should ask the college coach. After all, helping them make the team and qualify for a scholarship is your number one priority. However, it’s often the little things that could make or break their college experience.
To get an accurate snapshot of daily life as a college athlete, here are nine important but overlooked things your child should ask the college coach before it’s too late. Be prepared for what you may uncover. Your child’s dream school may not be able to deliver everything they want or need from a college experience and education standpoint.
Where do athletes live on campus?
Many colleges have dorms or apartments specifically for student-athletes. However, others (often D3 and NAIA schools) prefer to integrate them with the rest of the student body. Both living situations have their advantages. Rooming with other athletes can promote a stronger team bond, while living in a dorm with regular students can help your child make friends outside of sports. This could be huge if they decide to leave the team due to injury or a desire to focus on academics. Ask the coach if most athletes room together and if many live in off-campus housing. Then, try to gauge the distance to academic buildings.
What do athletes major in?
While competing at the college level is a dream come true for student-athletes, your major impacts your life for decades to come. On your campus visit, ask coaches and players which majors and minors tend to be popular with members of the team. If your athlete already knows the degree they want to pursue, see if any other athletes are majoring in a similar field of study.
In general, majors like business, exercise science and communication are popular among student-athletes. On the other hand, engineering and pre-med majors can be difficult for athletes to balance with sports due to demanding coursework, numerous credits and the time-consuming lab requirements. Before you commit to a school, make sure the academic opportunities your child wants are not only available but also realistically manageable.
Read more: How college athletes can manage their majors
How does the team travel?
Road trip! When it comes to traveling to games and events, it’s all about money and distance. Power 5 colleges and other schools with big budgets often take chartered or commercial flights to away games if the drive is over two hours, while other schools typically embark on bus routes as long as 6-8 hours. At all levels, teams typically use buses or vans to transport athletes to and from airports, hotels and stadiums.
Check the distance to the closest major airport and ask how far on average the team travels to away games. Keep in mind—D2, D3 and NAIA teams usually compete against schools in-state or within a smaller region. As a student-athlete, your child will more than likely need to use travel time on the bus to get homework done and study for tests.
Will I travel with the team?
If your athlete doesn’t expect to see much action freshman year, there might not be a lot of travel to worry about. Not all student-athletes get to travel with the team. This is especially true for larger sports like football, where average team rosters include well over 100 players. If your athlete won’t be traveling with the team, it’s much better to find out in advance. Plus, if you know they won’t be there, you don’t have to bother making travel plans.
Where does the coach see the program in five years?
If a college coach doesn’t see themselves at a program long-term, they probably aren’t going to tell high school recruits. However, their vision for the program can be a telltale sign. If the coach enthusiastically outlines their plans for the future and lists specific goals to accomplish, your athlete can feel reassured that they’re committed for the long haul. If the coach doesn’t have much of a plan or provides short, generic answers, they may be leaving the program before long. If the coach is under contract with the university and has been there for quite a few years, you can also feel confident that they aren’t going anywhere.
Are there team study halls?
Many colleges require student-athletes to sign up for study halls on weekends and weekday evenings. While mandatory study halls aren’t the most fun way to spend precious downtime, they are a great way to catch up on homework and prepare for upcoming tests.
Plus, since many student-athletes have the same majors and take classes together, study halls give your athlete a chance to collaborate on group projects and ask for help on tricky assignments. If a college doesn’t have team study halls, it could be more difficult for your athlete to keep up their GPA.
Where do athletes go during break?
Where athletes spend college break largely depends on your sport. Basketball teams often compete in tournaments around Thanksgiving and winter break, while spring sports teams (baseball, softball, track & field, tennis, golf) often embark on spring break trips to warmer climates for practices and non-conference competitions.
On your campus visit, find out how long of a break your athlete gets, if any. Is your athlete looking at an out-of-state school? If the team has break off, they may find themselves alone on campus unless they fly home or make plans to spend break with friends.
Are there work study programs I can sign up for?
Does your child hope to make a little extra cash in the off-season? Some schools give student-athletes the chance to earn a stipend for work study programs. For athletes majoring in communications and business, these programs allow them to work other sporting events and get involved around campus. Plus, these opportunities can beef up their career portfolio.
What is there to do in town outside of life on campus?
When deciding between colleges, the surrounding area can be an important factor to consider. Whether your athlete is looking for big city life or a college town that bleeds school colors, find out things to do in town and do some exploring on your own before or after the visit. Checking out a rural school? Campuses surrounded by farmland and forests often have tightknit communities and vibrant campus life. Without much to do in town, students spend their weekends on campus and make their own fun.
Find more great questions to ask college coaches at ncsasports.org.