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. Jason Smith is a former NCAA DIII athlete and college coach at all three division levels. Jason 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.
One of the benefits of being a student-athlete is you can often get support from the coaches recruiting you to help make it through the challenging admissions process. This is particularly helpful for elite academic institutions or for athletes who may not have good enough grades to get into the school as a non-athlete.
Unfortunately, exactly how much a college coach can help is poorly understood. So, before any athlete just kicks back thinking “the coach can just get me into the school,” let’s take a closer look at some of the commonly misunderstood aspects of how college coaches can help athletes through admissions.
Being NCAA or NAIA eligible doesn’t guarantee admission
Many times, high school athletes fall into the trap of making sure they are going to be eligible based on NCAA standards and assume that will be good enough to get into school. The academic minimums for the NCAA are a 2.3 core course GPA and roughly equal SAT or ACT test scores. That isn’t going to be good enough for most coaches to get you through their admissions process. Based on my experience, if you set your goal on just the minimum academic requirements you will reduce the number of schools you might be eligible for by 50% or more.
Don’t compare yourself to elite DI prospects
Just because you may have seen or heard of an elite DI football or basketball recruit making it into college with a 2.5 GPA, doesn’t mean all athletes get the same treatment. The facts are, sports like football and basketball typically have more influence with admissions than other sports or coaches.
In addition, coaches are willing to pull more strings for athletes they think are elite talent. Even the most powerful college coaches have a limited amount of influence with admissions, and they are going to use that influence only for the recruits they want the most.
Different schools have different policies for their coaches and admissions
The process of getting an athlete through admissions is known as “walking your application through.” This means a coach is going to do all they can to get your application approved. There are a limited number of applications a coach can walk through and unless you are the number one or two recruit for that class, you could be left ineligible.
There is no set rule on how many applications a coach can walk-through or even a guarantee that they can at all. The policies that govern the relationship between athletic departments and admissions are set by each school and they are all different. Don’t assume because you heard one school let’s anyone in, that another school can do the same. You need to hear directly from the coach at the school you are interested in and their policies in regard to admission.
Most times you won’t know academics were the problem
The biggest danger with student-athletes assuming they can get into a school, is that they just won’t find out academics are an issue until it’s too late. Many times, before they even know they are being recruited, coaches will have reviewed your academics and if you aren’t going to be eligible, they won’t bother recruiting you. Having bad grades isn’t just a problem in the last step of the recruiting process (college admissions) it is a problem at the very beginning, before you even know you are being recruited.