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. Jaimie Duffek was one of the top 50 high school softball players in Illinois who went onto play outfield for Drake University. Jaimie is just one of many former college athletes 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.
The recruiting landscape has experienced a shakeup over the last several years. From the advent of social media recruiting to junior year official visits to early signing periods, student-athletes are getting discovered sooner and committing to college programs well before high school graduation rolls around. According to Zcruit, an NCSA sister company that specializes in sports analytics, 80 to 85 percent of FBS college football roster spots for the 2019 season were filled after the early signing period in mid-December.
So, when is it too late to get your ducks in a row and throw yourself into the recruiting process? It depends on your goals and aspirations. Is it your dream to play Division I football for a nationally ranked powerhouse? We recommend you get your recruiting process off the ground by freshman or sophomore year. Are you hoping to run track at a top academic Division III school? You could probably start the recruiting journey as a junior without squandering your chance. But as a general rule, the sooner you start the recruiting process, the more opportunities you will have.
Is it too late to get recruited senior year?
Absolutely not. While your opportunities might be limited and you will most likely have to hustle through the process, roster spots for seniors are still available at every college level. Even if a college program does everything it can to lock up its recruiting class early, coaching changes and de-commitments are commonplace. By staying on a coach’s radar via email or social media, you could earn a scholarship offer if they suddenly have a roster spot to fill.
The junior college journey
Besides last-minute offers, many late bloomers go the junior college route for a year or to boost their grades and athletic performance in a low-key, low-pressure environment. Make sure to register for junior college as an NCAA qualifier, which allows you to stay academically eligible for Division I and Division II programs. As an added bonus, junior colleges are often much more affordable than four-year universities.
Read more: Why junior college might make sense for you
The walk-on way
Even if your dream school doesn’t have any scholarship spots left, you still might have an opportunity to carve out a role on the team as a walk-on. Preferred walk-ons are guaranteed roster spots and can earn playing time and scholarships down the line. In addition, coaches often invite recruited and unrecruited walk-ons to campus to try out for a spot on the team.
Which sports recruit the earliest?
In general, team sports tend to recruit earlier than individual sports. Top D1 programs are locked in a race to discover talented kids and persuade them to join the team. Plus, coaches want to leverage commitments from elite prospects to attract other top recruits. Softball, volleyball and lacrosse are especially known for their early recruiting practices, with coaches and scouts often evaluating athletes as young as seventh or eighth grade. That said, these sports are taking a stand against early recruiting. You should expect the recruiting process to slow down for these sports in the future.
Which sports recruit the latest?
Late bloomers exist in every sport, but they are especially prevalent in individual sports like swimming and track and field. Many college coaches wait to offer scholarships until a prospect achieves a certain time or distance. As their bodies grow and develop, it’s common for runners and swimmers to set personal records land scholarships during their senior year.
Keep track of key senior year deadlines
To successfully navigate your recruiting process as a senior, you can’t waste any time or leave room for error. Keep in mind that you don’t have to sign the National Letter of Intent on Early Signing Day—the final signing date for all D1 and D2 sports except football and basketball isn’t until August 1, 2019. And recruiting aside, you still need to turn in your college applications on time and get accepted into the school. At many academically competitive schools, coaches ask recruits to apply for early admissions to make sure they qualify for the college.
Retake the SAT/ACT
Even if you get a late jump on the recruiting process, a strong GPA and impressive standardized test scores can give you an edge over comparable student-athletes. Even if you got decent marks as a junior, scoring a few points higher could attract more coaches and help you secure more scholarship money. 55 percent of students who retake the SAT improve their scores, while 57 percent of students who retake the ACT earn better scores. Need to retake your test? Register for upcoming SAT and ACT dates.
Update your highlight video
Already in touch with college coaches? Updating your highlight film is the perfect reason to reconnect and get back on their radar. And if you’re just starting your recruiting process, cast a wide net by reaching out to coaches at multiple levels. Spark the conversation by letting the coaches know you have new video to share. At NCSA, we recommend that student-athletes refresh their highlight footage every six months at minimum.