College Recruiting 101: Everything You Need To Know

Alyssa Blair, Editor-In-Chief

If you’ve been a dedicated athlete all your life, you eat, sleep, and breathe the sport or sports that you love. You never miss a practice, and you live for the constant competitions, victories, team comradery, and all of the other components of playing a sport. As senior year begins, many students start wondering about whether they’ll have what it takes to continue playing that sport beyond high school. That’s when it becomes the time to enter into the college recruiting conversation.

College recruiting is when a student-athlete is invited to play sports for a college or university. While students can join a sports team in a number of different ways at the collegiate level, the typical way to enter onto a college team, especially a Division 1 or Division 2 team, is through recruiting. A large part of recruitment depends on division of sport that an athlete wishes to play in college.

The National Collegiate Athletics Associations (NCAA) breaks down sports into three divisions. Division 1 is the most elite division, and the hardest to play sports in. Only 2% of high school athletes play a Division 1 college sports. Division 2 sports are the middle ground, where collegiate athletes are still elite and competitive, but there is more flexibility and less of a competitive edge than in Division 1. Finally, Division 3, though the least competitive level of college sports, is still substantially but is still nonetheless a huge time commitment. What division an athlete commits to is a complicated decision with many factors to consider, and any college level sport an athlete competes at is still impressive.

“I mainly looked at schools based on education because I want to go into an accelerated program for Physical Therapy for six years and not many schools have those programs. Since I wanted to swim division III, it also made it a lot easier to narrow down my options and I looked to see if schools with the program had swimming,” said senior Lauren Kenney, who is going through the process of college recruiting for swim. The NCAA sanctions specific dates for each division that recruiting may begin. All of these rules apply only for coaches reaching out to athletes. With students reaching out to college coaches, that door can be opened anytime, and many recruiting journeys do start with the athlete making the first move. Exact dates for when certain steps of the process can begin can be different based on what sport you play, but the general time frame is the same for each sport, starting in the fall and ending in the early spring.

Recruiting begins with a contact period. During this period of time, depending on the division, can start as soon as a student athlete completes junior year and becomes a senior. Student athletes may begin receiving emails, letters, or outreaches from social media to alert them that they are on a coach’s radar. However, a single letter or email doesn’t mean a student being actively recruited. In order for a student athlete to be actively recruited, a student must reciprocate interest. “My recruiting process started off with me emailing the coach first. The coach responded the next day saying he was happy to receive the email. We scheduled to meet at the college a few weeks later,” said Maddie Merritt, a senior rower who is looking to commit to a college.

The evaluation period begins once contact is made and both the student and coach are interested in learning more about each other. The evaluation can includes a college coach watching an athlete compete, visiting their high school, and writing or calling recruits to learn more about their athletic abilities and statistics. It is sort of like the equivalence to a try-out in high school varsity sports. What happens during this time can vary from coach to coach, sport, and can differ based on division. During an evaluation period, coaches and athletes may not have face to face contact unless on the college campus of the coach. Also during an evaluation period, a student, if they choose to, can make an official visit to a college. The difference between an official and unofficial visit is whether or not a college covers transportation, lodging, and other costs for the athlete and their family while they are on the trip. During an official visit, the student can meet the team, sit in on a practice, and even stay overnight to get a better feel for school as a whole.

Recruiting also includes quiet periods and dead periods. During quiet periods, coaches cannot seek face-to-face contact with recruits at all, though they can still contact potential athletes through phone and email. Dead periods are different because coaches cannot have any contact with any potential recruits, and essentially keep coaches from scouting potential recruits at all. These periods are different for specific sports and divisions, and some with specific dates include basketball, cross country, and lacrosse. However, dead or quiet periods usually occur in mid November and in March and April. These periods exist during an academic year to give college coaches down time from actively recruiting and visiting athletes in person.

Once an athlete goes through the exploratory process, the time comes to make a decision on where they fill spend the next years of not only their academic but their athletic careers. In order to commit to a Division 1 or Division 2 school, an athlete must sign a National Letter of Intent, which declares to the NCAA where the student will attend and binds them to that institution for one academic year. In Division 3, there is no National Letter of Intent but an athlete still must declare their commitment to a school. Before the National Letter Signing, which student athletes can make a big deal about, a student usually gives a verbal commitment to an college and its team. A verbal commit is non-binding and can be broken at any time, but in most cases, the school an athlete verbally commits to is where they attend.

To jump start the recruiting process or to expand your search, entering into athletic recruiting services, like online websites, is a great way to be noticed by a larger multitude of coaches. All you have to do is plug in your information and statistics to start your page. In addition, doing research into the academic side of the colleges before looking into their respective sports program can be a good way to ensure that you get both a good college education and a good college sports career.

“I would say for anyone who is looking at a school for athletics, don’t be afraid to reach out to coaches because you never know what can happen or where you will end up for school. Keep an open mind and have fun with college searching,” said Kenney.

Regardless of how athletes end up on a college sports team, only 6% of high school athletes end up playing collegiate sports in the US, according to the NCAA. No matter an athlete’s journey to whatever division and program they decide to partake in, all should be proud of the destination and the journey at the end of the day.