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 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.
You have begun the recruiting process. Things are humming along; you’re working your target list of schools and reaching out to coaches. You’ve had some contact, some conversations. Some are promising. It’s time, you think, to take this to the next level. You are anxious to know if an offer is coming. You want to bring up the subject of scholarship. Should you? It depends.
There are several factors to consider before diving into the “scholarship talk” with a coach. I asked NCSA Vice President of Recruiting April Hall and Recruiting Coach Ray Napientek, both former coaches, about scholarship etiquette.
Is it ever okay to ask about scholarship via email, text or DM?
The early going in the recruiting process is the “getting to know you” phase, so it’s not advisable for athletes to ask about scholarships in the first few emails, texts or DMs.
“I’ve actually received introductory emails from student-athletes that read, “Hey coach, I’m looking for a scholarship,” Napientek recalls. “I’m thinking, ‘Do you even know anything about my program, or about me?’ I will look at this recruit, but they’d better be very special (laughs). I do wish I’d saved a name or two who did that and see where they ended up.”
Even an email that manages to broach the subject with a little more finesse (“I’m so-and-so, and I’m looking for a baseball scholarship”) is ill-advised, Napientek adds. “Coaches know athletes want a scholarship. I came from a family that needed as much money as possible to help (pay for college), but that’s just not what you lead with. Even if communications have progressed to include conversations and follow-up emails, texts or DMs, the scholarship talk is best held over the phone or in-person.”
Phone Calls: Keep those questions on hold. Unless…
A phone call is a more personal form of communication than an email and other forms of electronic contact, but here, still, recruits are advised to keep their scholarship queries or demands in check.
“The first couple of phone calls are where you get a feel for the coach and where they’re at (in the recruiting process),” Napientek states. “If the coach indicates they are thinking about making an offer, that’s obviously a great opportunity to talk about scholarships. It’s fine to ask: do you have any roster spots available; do you have scholarship money available? That gives the student-athlete an idea of what the coach has available without asking, ‘Are you going to offer me a scholarship?”
Tournaments: Just let me get to my car
Tournaments and showcases might seem to be a golden opportunity to talk scholarships. After all, here’s the family, there’s the coach. But, honestly, the timing here couldn’t be worse, Napientek maintains. Consider the coach at an AAU baseball tournament, for example.
“They have just spent eight hours in the sun and now they’re trying to get to an air-conditioned car and collect their thoughts, but now they’ve got parents waving them over wanting an answer on scholarships,” he explains. “It’s not the time or place.”
Face-to-Face: Now we’re talking!
If ever there is a time when a scholarship offer might be forthcoming, it is during a face-to-face encounter with the coach. This could occur during an unofficial visit or an official visit.
Hall notes, “If the school is setting up an official visit, that’s a pretty serious indicator of high-level interest. Most coaches would not pay for a student-athlete to visit their campus if they didn’t have the intention of making a scholarship offer.”
What transpires on the official visit regarding a scholarship offer depends in part on the relationship forged in those emails and phone calls.
“If the student-athlete and the coach haven’t talked on the phone much, then coming out and asking if scholarships will be available is completely taboo,” Hall emphasizes. “If they’ve built an awesome rapport, then it would be appropriate to ask the coach questions about where the coach sees the student-athlete fitting into their program, how they measure up to other recruits in that class and what their recruiting timeline is. The student-athlete can justify these questions as an expression of how very interested they are in the program and excited about the opportunity to potentially be offered.”
But hold on, Hall cautions. “The coach could be waiting to make a decision on the recruit to see how the visit goes, so they could be shooting themselves in the foot if they just come out and ask about money. A good rule of thumb is to not just straight up ask. Ask the specific questions (about roster availability and the coach’s timelines) to get a feel where the coach is at. If those questions go well, ask if there would be any financial assistance available for that roster opening.”