The College Search for Athletes

Published by Wendy Nelson on

The college search for athletes is usually different than for non-athletes, but a similar search process can be followed.  I’m going to share tips for how to help a student athlete who wants to play sports in college kick off his or her college search process.

The process I am going to lay out can be followed for any student wanting to play at a school’s competitive sports level, regardless of what division (Div 1, Div 2, Div 3, NAIA).  Students interested in intramural or club sports should follow the standard non-athlete college search process.

I have helped two of my daughters through the standard college search process.  My third daughter, a sophomore in high school, wants to play college volleyball.  We were caught a bit off guard her freshman year during club volleyball season when college coaches started to show interest.  We realized it was time to learn about and kick off the recruiting process.  She’s also a great student so college can’t just be about who wants her to play volleyball.  Her academics will be very important too.  I have been researching and thinking through how to customize her college search to combine the recruiting process with a more standard college search process.

Starting the College Recruiting Process/College Search for Athletes

Step 1:  Understand what division is best suited for your student athlete

Coaches and recruiters who get a chance to see your athlete play will be able to form an impression of what division is a best fit skill-wise.  If Division 1 coaches are showing interest, your student may be a good fit for Division 1 schools.

If your student hasn’t gotten any specific feedback yet on what division may be a fit, attending a showcase or college camp may be a good way to find out how your student’s athletic talent measures up.

Additionally, your student needs to determine how big of a part of college he or she wants athletics to be.  For example, a Division 1 program will require a larger time commitment than a Division 3 program.  I have often heard that in Division 1 it’s athletics first, academics second, but in a Division 3 program, it’s the opposite.  This is something that is hard to generalize though as it will vary by school.  It is definitely a question your student should ask of any program he or she explores.

You probably already know that Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA schools can give athletic scholarships, but Division 3 cannot.  With this in mind, you need to discuss what division you are shooting for and why.

If your student has excellent grades and ACT/SAT scores, he or she might be in line for merit-based scholarships.  These could make a Division 3 school just as appealing, or more appealing, than a school offering athletic scholarships, depending on the size of the respective scholarships.

Step 2: Decide how important academics will be

The college search for athletes should take into account both how good of a student your student athlete is and how important the academic side of college will be to him or her.  Or another way to put it, how “into school” he or she will be.

The more important the level of academics in college will be, the more the athlete’s college search needs to be a mix of a traditional college search process along with the athletic recruiting process.

If the level of academics is not very important, your student athlete can really focus in on the athletic recruiting process and let that take him or her where it will.  If the level of academics is more important, your student athlete should be more selective about what colleges he or she contacts during the recruiting process.

Step 3: Find schools in your student’s preferred division(s) that also meet other criteria

If you and your student athlete have decided to just let the athletic recruiting process take him or her where it will, this step will not be as important. However, I think it is always a good idea to at least consider the majors that are offered and other things about a school that might keep your student wanting to be there besides the athletic program.

What is your student interested in studying?  Perform an initial college search on a site like Big Future that allows you to select both majors and sports (along with divisions) as part of the search criteria.

What type of school size and location would your student prefer?  These are also searchable on a college search site.

Step 4: Start a college search/recruiting spreadsheet

I have modified my College Search Spreadsheet template, found under Resources, to create a new athletic recruiting spreadsheet that will apply to the college search for athletes.  You can download that for free here:  College Search Recruiting Spreadsheet.  I recommend starting with this version and adding/changing any columns you need to.  It is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.  Please contact me if you don’t have Excel and would like a different version.

Once you have a spreadsheet ready, start listing out the schools your student athlete is interested in based on the steps above.

Step 5: Start contacting coaches

Now it’s time to start contacting coaches and updating the information on the spreadsheet.  If you need tips on how to go about this process, one of my upcoming posts will be on the best resources to help you figure out what to do in the athletic recruiting process.  Sign up for my weekly newsletter to get notified when that post is available.

There are more steps in the college recruiting process.  It will be important to work with a coach, recruiting director, or other adviser to help you and your student make the most of this process.  My steps above are just the beginning and are meant to help kick of your college search in the right direction taking athletics and other aspects of college into account.