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. Joe Lecessi is a former college athlete and coach at the NAIA level, where he earned an NAIA National Championship. Joe 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.
Here’s the blunt truth—the recruiting process is stressful. There’s no way around it. It’s just one of those life journeys that comes with a little added stress, like finding a new job or looking for a new home.
Yet, all that hassle is worth it in the end, isn’t it? Finding the perfect college match for your student-athlete means you need to be thorough and consider all the options. If that comes with some stress, so be it.
In most difficult situations, understanding what lies ahead and knowing when exactly things might get bumpy, can help reduce some stress and better prepare you for the challenge.
Here are some of the phases of the recruiting process that commonly cause parents to stress out—and what you can do to make it better.
Where does your athlete stand with a college coach?
Parents just have no idea what the college coach is thinking and if they’re seriously recruiting their student-athlete. This is probably the most common problem families encounter along the way. Unfortunately, feeling frustrated by coach communication (or lack thereof) is a natural part of this tedious process. For one thing, student-athletes need to be extremely proactive to successfully connect with coaches. They should email coaches their online recruiting resume, introduce themselves and express personalized interest in the program. College coaches are busy, though, so they may accidentally overlook the communication, which is why we always encourage recruits to follow up too. But sometimes, for one reason or another, it’s hard for student-athletes to stay on top of all these communications. On the other hand, you may have trouble deciphering the communication your family is getting from coaches. For example, does a camp invite mean they’re interested in recruiting your child?
What to do: Encourage your child to spend time researching schools so they can personalize their emails to coaches, and then remind them that it’s their responsibility to follow up. You can use this guide to help them create a communication strategy. Also, learn about the different types of emails and letters college coaches send, why they send them, and what they really mean. That way, you’ll know how to respond appropriately.
Which division is right for your athlete?
Let me guess—your child wants to play D1? It’s the dream! But sometimes, it’s not always the right choice. As your student-athlete begins to visit colleges and learn more about each division, they may realize D1 isn’t the right fit for them. What if they want a lot of playing time? Or free time outside of their sport? Parents can feel stressed when they don’t fully understand what options are out there and which one is best for their child.
What to do: Have a third-party like NCSA, or your athlete’s current club or high school coach conduct an evaluation of their skill set and provide objective recommendations on which programs and divisions they should target. They can also help your family gauge your athlete’s potential as they’ll most likely grow and develop throughout their high school career. One of the worst things you can do is go into the recruiting process with tunnel vision and not include a mix of colleges on your child’s target list. Setting realistic expectations and then contacting coaches at a variety of schools will minimize your stress level and maximize your options.
How to get a video together
Oh, the dreaded highlight video. For most sports, video is an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to connecting with coaches, but what a pain it can be. Some sports, like football, have an easier time creating a highlight video because high school coaches already have game footage available. But other sports, like soccer or volleyball, may need to pay for a video service or try and record it themselves.
What to do: Here’s the good news: it’s honestly not as hard as you think to make a highlight video. As long as you have a tripod and know which kinds of plays to include, you can piece together a good reel. Here are a couple of sources that can point you in the right direction:
What to really expect when it comes to financial aid and scholarships
There are plenty of misconceptions about how scholarship offers work and how much aid student-athletes actually receive. Many families hope for full-ride scholarships, but only 1 percent of athletes actually receive a full ride. That doesn’t mean your child can’t receive a competitive scholarship package, though. D2 and NAIA offer athletic scholarships, and while D3 technically doesn’t provide athletic scholarships, coaches tend to work with the admissions office to create packages made up of grants and merit-based scholarships that are extremely attractive for student-athletes. The point is: you have options to make college more affordable.
What to do: First and foremost, you’ll want to understand how much you’ll be expected to pay vs. how much aid your family will qualify for. That’s why filling out the FAFSA as soon as it’s available is an important step in calculating your college costs. Then, you also want to learn about the facts around athletic scholarships so you can better prepare for what to expect.
When you need to make a decision quickly
Your student-athlete did it all—they researched schools, made a highlight video, reached out to coaches, got evaluated and now, they’ve just received an offer. This is such an exciting time in the recruiting process that most families are thrown when they begin to stress out. Specifically, they feel pressured to make a decision quickly. In most cases, the college coach provides a deadline to accept the verbal offer, and suddenly your student-athlete has to decide if that’s the best choice. Or can they leverage this offer to get more scholarship money?
What to do: When a coach gives an offer, make sure your child thanks them for the opportunity, and lets them know they’re interested in the program. It’s perfectly acceptable to tell the coach that your family needs some time to think it over and ask them when they need the response. Then, your child can reach out to their other top schools and let coaches know they’ve received an offer and have to reply by a certain date. The goal here is to understand where they are at on other coaches’ lists. They should never flat out ask for a scholarship—this will turn coaches off to recruiting them.
If your family is hoping to negotiate a better offer, there are three reasons a college coach will provide more scholarship money: to avoid losing the recruit to another school, more money becomes available later in the process, or the recruit improves significantly and increases their value. Having multiple offers is the best chance you have at this point to increase your scholarship package.
Most importantly, you want your child to be able to answer this question with a very confident “yes”—if you weren’t playing your sport at this school, would you still want to go? There are so many factors that go into choosing a college—outside of their sport—and the best way to know your family is making the right decision is to look at the college from every angle. Everything else will fall into place from there.