College Athletics: How to Stand Out and Get Recruited

Rubin Caco

Like typical college admissions, athletic recruiting is often a complicated and exclusive process. However, unlike the usual avenues, getting recruited into a top-ranking US school has its process and requirements that differ from the typical application. The recruitment process can be overwhelming, which can add to the stress of college admissions. Prospective student-athletes compete against other students and athletes for the limited number of slots available in the student body. Standing out may seem daunting, but it's not impossible. For those seeking athletics scholarships, strategies and processes are available to stand out amongst the other applicants and get recruited into the ideal program. 

College Sports vs. High School Sports

Unlike high school sports, which are often based on local or regional competitions, college athletics is a more competitive and organized institution with governing bodies that separate leagues into different categories. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the leading institution for college sports, categorizing its member institutions into three divisions based on the level of competition and the resources dedicated to athletics: Division I, Division II, and Division III.


Ideally, the recruitment process begins right when students enter high school. For sports organized by the NCAA, there is a timeline associated with a student's eligibility that starts in the 9th grade. Students must register for the NCAA, complete NCAA-approved courses throughout their years in high school, and submit relevant documents to the NCAA to verify their eligibility and amateurism certifications. 

Planning is critical earlier on since a student's high school may not offer the sport they're interested in, or students may need to take specific courses to be eligible for NCAA certifications. Networking with college coaches is also better to do as soon as possible since they can track a student's development and see their accomplishments as they happen. 

Ideally, student-athletes will begin their journey toward college applications in the 9th grade. Students should work with their counselors to ensure they fulfill all obligations and requirements for the best results. Students' high school guidance counselors will be their #1 resource.

The NCAA also has more comprehensive guidelines on their timelines and requirements on their Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete 2023-24.

Determine your Division

Division I is the most exclusive and highly competitive, with only 1 in 22 students getting recruited. However, Div I also provides multi-year scholarships, which can fully fund the student's education and living expenses. Division I also offers the highest level of competition, media attention, fan support, and a greater graduation rate than the average student.

Division I Key Academic Requirements in High School

  • Complete 16 NCAA-approved core-course credits between 9th grade and 12th grade
  • Earn a minimum GPA of 2.3 in those courses 

Division II is the second most accessible, with 1 out of 9 students getting recruited. It provides partial scholarships, which can help cover some of the college costs. Division II also offers a balance of high-level competition and academic rigor and more opportunities for regional and national exposure. However, Division II is also the rarest, with only 27% of schools offering Div II sports. It is the more balanced option between the two extremes.

Division II Key Academic Requirements in High School

  • Complete 16 NCAA-approved core-course credits between 9th grade and 12th grade
  • Earn a minimum GPA of 2.2 in those courses 

Division III is the least competitive and do not offer athletic scholarships. It is the most accessible, with 1 in 6 students getting recruited. However, Div III offers no scholarships, so students have to rely on other sources of financial aid. Division III emphasizes academic excellence and a well-rounded college experience over dedicated athletic performance. For Div III, schools will often have their own academic requirements that students must research and meet. So, for students planning to pursue Division III sports to round out their college experience, they should reach out and learn the requirements for the school they plan to attend.

Reaching Out to Coaches

In sports recruitment, meeting with, networking with, and getting scouted by coaches will be some of the first significant milestones that student-athletes will go through. College coaches are the first step in vetting a student's college application—students who have the coach's approval proceed to the admissions office. 

Coaches are looking for students who show initiative and drive in their sports career, and they will often be searching for new students through sporting events, high school clubs and coaches, outreach from recruits, and sports camps—among other methods. These are the opportunities that student-athletes have to impress college coaches by showcasing their achievements and work in their field. 

In our most recent podcast episode, we interviewed Kevin Dupont, a Former Admissions Officer from Cornell. We delved into his experience recruiting student-athletes, saying, "As a coach, I love to see three things the student was working on in the next six months or in the next three months, to get an idea of what their goals are and how they want to improve. That way, in six months, I could go back and ask him about that. It's a nice talking point for the coach as well."

So, as a student-athlete, having goals and concrete results for those goals that you can bring to college coaches during your correspondence with them is a great way to stand out amongst your peers. 

Kevin goes on to talk about college admissions and the process of student-athletes applying for college. "One pitfall in the application process would be not putting together a strong application just because you're a student-athlete. Sometimes students think, 'Oh, I'm recruited. I'm fine. My application won't be as polished.' Well, there's a reject button there, and Admissions Officers use it. I've seen personal statements that were half-cooked. They were maybe only half the length. They didn't really capture what I wanted. And I rejected them. And that's a respect to the admissions process and a respect to the university and the coach, I think, in the end. So I strongly advise that student-athletes treat the admissions process as seriously as they would if they were not being recruited."

For more information on applying for college as a student-athlete, listen to the full episode Fencing Your Way to College: Strategies for Admissions Success.

Resumes and Letters of Interest

Ideally, students should correspond with college coaches at their earliest opportunity and work with their high school coaches and counselors to craft the best college application early in their highschool careers. But for those seeking to network more with college coaches or who may not have had the opportunity to meet with any at all, athletic resumes and letters of interest are great tools to further one's chances of getting recruited by a college coach. 

An athletic resume is a document that highlights all of one's achievements, experiences, and skills in a comprehensive format. Proper athletic resumes will showcase an athlete's skills and make a case for their recruitment to coaches and recruiters. A superb athletic resume will include all of a student-athlete's accomplishments (both athletic and academic), their experience with travel teams and sports camps, as well as extracurricular activities, such as volunteering, leadership roles, or academic honors. 

A letter of interest is a personalized letter that a student-athlete sends a college coach to show interest in playing for their team. College coaches are looking for players who they feel would be a good fit for their team, so in a letter of interest, it's paramount to stand out and highlight your accomplishments, showcase your personality, and explain why you are interested in joining that team. The letter of interest is your chance to make the case of why you are a good fit in a personal way that your athletic resume itself cannot.

All these aspects will be vital when the time comes to reach out to coaches and recruiters. For the best chance at success, students should have a well-written resume and a letter of interest to send out. 

Use Your Resources

The NCAA website and your high school counselors and coaches will be your primary resources throughout your high school career. They have the knowledge and know-how to lead you toward the best college and career path. So, communicate your goals with them so they can help you on the best path to success. 

For a more in-depth look at college admissions, InGenius Prep also offers our hands-on counseling service, where we optimize your student profile to give you the best chance at acceptance into your top-choice college. Our team of former admissions officers and former college coaches know the college admissions process firsthand. They can give you insider knowledge on what admissions officers and college coaches are looking for in their students and how to craft the best application possible. For more on the best methods to gain the attention of college admissions officers and strategies for getting accepted into your school of choice, read our other blogs on standing out to admission officers on the InGenius Prep website or schedule a free call with one of your advisors today!

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