NCSA: Tips for your college personal essay

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 and 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.

Admission into college can be an overwhelming process, particularly when it comes to writing your first personal essay. As a student-athlete, in addition to developing your sport skills, you should start thinking about your academic eligibility when you begin freshman year to ensure that you’re eligible for the schools on your target list. No matter your athletic skills, college coaches usually won’t recruit students who they believe aren’t qualified academically for their schools.

Academic Eligibility Requirements for Student-Athletes

Since your courses, grades, and standardized test scores are set factors in your application process, you may want to view your personal essay as an opening to tell your story, display your interests, talents and motivations. The tips below will help you prepare and write an essay that might land you in your dream college.

  • Choose the right essay topic. Since there are no restrictions, take your time to choose a topic you are passionate about—one which you can explore extensively. Ideally, pick a topic that highlights aspects about yourself that make you a great addition to a team’s roster.
  • Be concise. Be sure to follow guidelines provided for the length of the essay.
  • Be honest and use your voice. Genuine work is easily detected. Your essay is an opportunity to differentiate yourself from other applicants with similar tests scores and GPAs, so it’s important to be original and authentic, rather than relying on generic or overused ideas.
  • Avoid grammatical errors and weak sentence structures. An essay filled with misspellings, poorly placed words and irrelevant clauses will stand out for the wrong reasons. The admissions board might perceive you as careless.

Application deadlines and processes

Write an essay that shows your character

NCSA’s 2019 State of Recruiting report examined major themes in college athletic recruiting based on results of a national survey to student-athletes, parents, club coaches, high school coaches, and college coaches.

One of the survey’s key findings was that college coaches value a recruit’s character more than athletic ability. While colleges typically only reach out to student-athletes who meet their athletic standards, coaches want to make sure they clear the character test before making an offer. By using your personal essay to showcase your character (things like leadership, values, work ethic, overcoming adversity, respect, and honesty), you can set yourself apart from other potential recruits.

While college coaches aren’t directly involved in the overall college admissions process, writing your personal essay with the coach perspective in mind can be great practice for thinking about and learning how to express your best qualities, and that can help boost your confidence in conversations with coaches.

2019 NCSA State of Recruiting Report

Keep in mind to work closely with your college counselor. Should you decide to tell a sports story in your college essay, let it be something powerful to grab the attention of the college’s admissions committee. Writing an impressive essay won’t occur overnight. Therefore, you might need to write several college essay drafts until you finally craft the message that best represents you as a potential student-athlete. Closely review the application instructions for schools you’ll apply to – at some schools, you may be able to submit a video instead of a written essay.

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