USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from Fred Bastie, the owner and founder of Playced.com. Playced.com is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology-based recruiting software identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and their recruiting advisers provide a recruiting experience that is trusted by college coaches and backed by a money-back guarantee.
In any situation, if you don’t have all the facts, it’s hard to make the right decision. Since most high school athletes only go through the college recruiting process once, almost every athlete is a “recruiting rookie”. They have no recruiting experience, they don’t have all the facts, and many don’t understand the process. Without the facts, college recruiting can be like taking an organic chemistry final with no time to study. You’ve got a chance (if it’s multiple choice), but the odds are against you.
To have a successful recruiting journey, you really need to understand the rules, know what to expect and be ready to react to any situation. For that reason, here are my top seven recruiting facts every recruit needs to know.
1. The NCAA academic requirements include certain rules related to your Core Courses
To be eligible to compete in any NCAA sport during your first year in college, you must graduate high school and meet certain academic requirements for your core courses, grade-point average (GPA) and test scores. The rules can be a little complicated and they vary a little between Division I and Division II, but here are the highlights:
- The NCAA calculates your grade-point average (GPA) based on the grades you earn in NCAA-approved core courses.
- You must complete 16 core courses.
- Your NCAA GPA is calculated on a 4.0 scale. You must earn a minimum GPA in core courses to compete in your first year of college (2.3 at the DI level).
- You must earn a combined SAT or ACT score that matches your core-course GPA on the NCAA sliding scale.
Here’s the bottom line. You have to pay attention to your grades and test scores starting your freshman year in high school. If you’re unsure about your NCAA academic eligibility, then go to the NCAA website and make sure you don’t have a problem.
2. Most athletic scholarships are not “full-rides”
Full ride athletic scholarships are only offered at the Division I level and only in the “head count” sports. These include FBS Football, Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Women’s Tennis, Women’s Gymnastics and Women’s Volleyball. All other Division I sports are equivalency sports and partial scholarships ranging from 25% to 75% are the norm. NCAA Division II, NAIA and Junior colleges also offer equivalency scholarships. NCAA Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships.
Since the average annual “all-in” cost for an in-state public college is over $27,000 and a moderate budget for a private school is over $45,000, you can see that even if you earn an athletic scholarship, you still have some financial planning to do. This fact is critical in deciding which schools make the most sense to pursue.
3. Unofficial visits can pay big dividends
Most high school athletes don’t realize that unofficial college visits can be used much the same way as attending a camp or showcase event. An unofficial visit is anytime you (or you and your parents) visit a college and your parents foot the bill. You can take as many unofficial visits as you like.
Unofficial visits to colleges in which you have interest are a great idea and you can start as early as you like. For your unofficial visits to be effective, be strategic with the colleges you go to. Be sure the program is a match for your abilities and don’t waste your time and money unless you are seriously interested in the school. Then, alert the college coach that you will be on campus and try to schedule a short meeting.
While you’re on campus, spend some time soaking it all in. Walk around campus, talk to some students, watch the team practice or play a game, meet with the academic adviser. Make sure you feel comfortable. The goal is to determine how serious you are about that school.
4. College coaches want to hear from student-athletes
Believe it or not, college coaches actually hope to hear from good athletes who are interested in their program. At Playced, last year we conducted a nationwide survey of college coaches and 100% of college coaches preferred to hear from a prospective recruit rather than their parents, a coach or a professional recruiter. Not 90% or 95%. 100% would rather hear from the athlete. That is a pretty telling statistic.
I know that sending an email or starting a conversation with a stranger is awkward. And it can be even more stressful to communicate with a college coach because you don’t want to say the wrong thing. That said, if you are a good fit for the program athletically and academically then you are actually doing the coach a favor and they’ll be glad to hear from you.
5. Academics are a big part of the equation
It’s simple math. The more colleges you qualify for academically, the more colleges you can consider athletically. The admissions department at most schools has stopped its fair share of athletic scholarships. If your academic record doesn’t meet the requirements at a given university, don’t waste your time pursuing that school. No matter how fast you run or how hard you throw, if you’re an average student with average test scores, you should scratch Harvard, Vanderbilt, and Stanford off your list.
Additionally, while it is true that elite athletes will be recruited more actively, coaches want to fill their roster with athletes that will represent themselves and their university in a positive light and good grades are a good start. When a coach is trying to decide between two players of similar abilities, they will go with the better student every time.
6. College coaches are people
Contrary to popular belief, college coaches are people, just like you and me. There is no reason to be intimidated by them. You are not perfect and believe it or not, they know that. The stress will become overwhelming if you don’t put everything into perspective. Every single coach was once an athlete and I promise, they made their share of mistakes.
If/when you finally meet with a college coach, be yourself! They just want to get to know you. They are not psychoanalyzing everything you say. Relax! You will enjoy the process more and so will they.
7. Recruiting rejection is the norm
For nearly every athlete, rejection is a part of the college recruiting process. No matter how good you are, not every college coach in the country is going to offer you a scholarship. Overcoming the disappointment of recruiting rejection is a key factor in your recruiting journey. Here are my three steps to overcome recruiting rejection:
- If you’ve contacted a college multiple times (more than once) and haven’t heard back, then it’s time to wake up and smell the Gatorade! They probably aren’t interested. Their recruiting class might be full, they might not have a need at your position, or you might not be a match for their program. Move on.
- Learn from it. You need to figure out why you are being told no, so you can better understand your abilities, without bias.
- Don’t put undue pressure on yourself by trying to be something you are not. Re-evaluate the kinds of colleges you are targeting. Ask your current coach for his or her opinion about the schools on your list.
Here’s the deal
To have a successful recruiting experience, you need to know all the facts. These seven facts are not all the facts you need to know, but they are a good start. You should be better prepared for the college recruiting process now than you were five minutes ago.