A guide for athletes moving up to the next level
Sports in college operate on a whole different level: the competition is more intense, the training hours are longer and the pressure is much higher. But getting there can be the hardest part.
For those high school athletes who are thinking about taking their skills to the next level, mixing the recruiting process with the already overly complicated college admissions process can be daunting. But by building a relationship with coaches at prospective schools, athletes can boost their chances of getting into their top choices and snag athletic scholarships.
Every year when March Madness rolls around, the country becomes reacquainted with the top-performing Division I basketball schools. But for someone who isn't ready for that level of competition, there exist choices outside of these 64 schools that have strong sports programs. There are Division I programs that are less rigorous than the big powerhouses, and also many Division III schools to choose from. Very few schools compete in Division II, which is an intermediary between the two main divisions.
The main differences between the divisions are the overall competitiveness of the programs and the hours per week that athletes are allowed to practice. Many smaller and liberal arts colleges are in Division III because they put greater emphasis on academics and draw from a smaller student body. Student athletes must consider the balance they want to strike between studying and practicing. While the division differences are fairly straightforward, be sure to talk to coaches at specific schools about the overall importance of athletics because it can vary within divisions.
Only D I and D II schools are allowed to offer athletic scholarships, which can be an important factor in making the college decision.
In order to engage in the recruiting process or play a sport in college, every athlete must meet the basic requirements laid out by Clearinghouse, an organization that works with the NCAA to verify that all those who participate in college sports are academically eligible by a set of national standards. Luckily for us Marylanders, the graduation requirements in our state are so strict that they satisfy the Clearinghouse requirements.
Beyond that, coaches must look for an academic track record that will fit well into their school's standards. While athletics may be enough to get prospective students accepted despite slightly lower grades or SAT scores, athletics can only compensate so far when it comes to selective schools.
Arguably, the most important part of the process is to get noticed by schools and coaches. Getting a coach's attention can be straightforward in some cases (if you're really good, they'll come looking for you), but in the majority of cases, you have to do all the work.
By junior year, you should have a rough list of schools that you are interested in, and should reach out to the coaches at these schools. Let them know who you are and why they should want you as part of their athletic program. This means sending emails, and making phone calls and visits — don't be afraid to reach out to coaches; they get it all the time.
Most coaches will want some kind of statistics on you, both on the athletic side and on the academic side. Sports that are less number-based require athletes to submit videos of their performance. In addition, many athletic programs have recruiting forms that they ask prospective athletes to fill out — completing these forms is an easy way to get the process moving.
Talk to your current coach about college goals, and see if they have any advice. They will be instrumental throughout the process (i.e. writing recommendations), so the sooner you clue them in, the better.
There are also club and intramural sports at most colleges, which can give athletes who want to balance multiple extracurricular activities more options. And, if the recruiting process isn't for you, there is always the option of trying out and walking on to the team freshman year.
But if you know that athletics are in your future, consider recruiting. The process can help you streamline your college choices, give you an edge on admission at selective schools and provide that last bit of money to make the college of your dreams affordable.
Claire Sleigh. I love crew. Silver Chips should cover it. More »