College Recruiting: How to Navigate the Process

Gabby Nelson

College Recruiting: How to Navigate the Process

While much of this information is applicable to all athletic conferences, this article is specifically directed at students interested in college recruiting for the NCAA. The NCAA is the largest collegiate athletic governing body, composed of 3 divisions and over 1,000 universities. The NAIA and NJCAA have their own recruiting rules.

College Recruiting can be overwhelming, or at least that’s how I remember it. Today, I am a member of the Yale Women’s Basketball team, but my recruiting process during high school had its highs and lows. When I was going through the process, I needed to learn it all on my own, sometimes the hard way. I hope this blog can help you make the most of your recruiting process.

Whether sports are helping you finance the next four years or get accepted into an elite college, there is a significant amount of power within college athletics. If you are interested in playing sports at the collegiate level, remember that each sport has its own recruiting process. To truly take advantage of college recruiting, you need to understand the timeline, level of competition, regulations for each sport, and type of schools you are interested in attending. While there are small differences in college recruiting due to these factors, there are certain aspects of the process that are universal and necessary to understand if you want to play at the next level!

Understanding the Recruiting Timeline

One of the most important things to understand before jumping into college recruiting is the typical timeline for your respective sport. For most athletes, the peak of their recruiting season is during junior year or the subsequent summer, so keep this in mind as you are moving forward with the prospect of playing in college.

Even though the schedule for each sport varies, there are several avenues to help you filter all of the information that is out there! The NCAA, the governing body for over 460,000 student athletes has a recruiting calendar to help explain the timeline for different sports and their respective divisions. But one of the best ways to learn about what’s to come is by talking to other college athletes that have gone through the college recruiting process themselves.

If you do not look into the traditional timeline for reaching out to coaches, going on campus tours, and taking official visits, you run the risk of falling behind! Trust me, you don’t want to be the athlete trying to get your recruitment process underway second-semester senior year.  

The Context of Recruiting

After understanding the recruiting timeline, you might be wondering what college recruiting actually entails. In a nutshell, college recruiting is about convincing a coach that they should add you to their program. So, how do you accomplish this?

First and foremost, you have to show that you are competitive from an athletic standpoint. Some sports have very salient standards for example, track and swim are able to measure athletes in terms of times. For most sports, however, assessing the skill of a player is pretty subjective. Sports like volleyball or basketball require more in-person assessments from coaches before they are willing to offer you a place within their program.

Second, you must have an academic record that meets the college’s admissions standards. Even though recruited athletes may be granted more leniency for their GPA and test scores, if you fall outside of a university’s minimum standard, you won’t be accepted. I was primarily focused on Ivy League and equivalent universities, so my GPA and test scores needed to reach a high threshold. At one school with lower average test scores, my ACT score automatically qualified me for an academic scholarship that waved half of the college’s tuition. That, combined with assistance from an athletic scholarship, meant that I actually would have made a small sum of money each semester. This would not have been possible if I had not taken my grades seriously in high school!

Your goal should be to make yourself the best academic candidate possible rather than merely achieving the minimum requirements of the schools recruiting you. The best piece of advice during my recruitment was that good grades can do nothing but help you. The ability to qualify for academic scholarships is especially relevant for Division II and Division III schools that have different rules with respect to athletic scholarships they are allowed to offer (don’t worry, we will break this down later). You should have the mindset that academics are as important as athletics when pursuing college recruiting.  

Where Do You Want to Play?

Before diving into the college recruiting process, you should take the time to research which type of school you want to play at. There are three divisions in the NCAA: DI, DII, and DIII. The divisions primarily differ by size and rules regarding scholarships. When people hear Division I, Power 5 Conferences are typically the first schools that come to mind, but there are actually over 300 DI colleges. Division I schools are able to offer scholarship money to their athletes, but the amount and number of scholarships available will vary by sport. One exception to this rule is that Ivy League institutions cannot provide athletic scholarships, despite being DI. Division II schools, often smaller universities, also may offer scholarship money to their athletes. Division III are the smallest of all NCAA institutions and cannot offer athletic scholarships. College athletics is very time consuming and challenging, so it is important to reflect and understand what you want out of your college experience.

Communicating with Coaches

Conversations with coaches can start in a number of ways, such as letter, email, and phone calls. Be sure to follow up any of these forms of communication with schools that interest you. Not hearing from a school you would like to play for? Reach out yourself! Coaches are recruiting all over the country. It is impossible for them to see all the talented players, so take initiative early on and be persistent. Coaches’ phone numbers and email addresses can normally be found under a recruiting or contact tab on their team website. The best initial contact is with the assistant coach labeled as the recruiting coordinator. If that is not an option, contact the first assistant and copy in the head coach.

When reaching out to coaches, it’s important to hook their interest. There is no better way to do this than showing them you are academically and athletically fit for their school. Send your high school GPA, test scores, and sports statistics via email. If you are unsure of the typical academic profile of their accepted applicants, ask an assistant coach to assess your standing as a prospective student for that university. All else equal, coaches will take the student with the higher academic standing because it means less time convincing the admissions office you should be admitted. It can be a nerve racking process, but try to be yourself and let your accomplishments sell themselves! When having these conversations, try to strike the right balance of confidence without sounding cocky. If you act like you have nothing to learn from them, why would they want to coach you?

Coaches also appreciate emails and phone calls tailored to their college more than a generic message. By customizing what you send to each coach, it lets them know that you are serious about their program and college. Make sure to end all conversations thanking the coach for their time, as well as attaching a schedule of all your upcoming games and events.

Later in the Process

After initially casting a wide net, you should start to cut out colleges so you have a more manageable list of schools that interest you. Once you move further into college recruiting, you may communicate with coaches on a weekly basis, while other coaches take a more hands-off approach. Coaches all have different styles of recruiting. Some want to touch base several times a week while other check in once a month. If you are ever confused about how actively a school is recruiting you, be upfront and ask how likely it is you will be offered a spot on their team.

When possible, try to take a campus tour or go on an official visit to the schools at the top of your list. Being on campus (especially during the school year) can give you the most accurate impression of what it is really like to be a student athlete there. If the team is on campus during your visit, be sure to interact with them and assess if you would be a good fit within the program. You will spend a LOT of time with these individuals during your college years, so they can certainly make or break the experience.

Making the Decision

You will have your own unique recruiting process. Even though some athletes are lucky enough to get an offer from their top choice, this is not a reality for everyone. If a school you really like decides to go another direction, accept this decision and move forward with other programs you are still excited about.

I am constantly asked by recruits what my one piece of advice would be when going through college recruiting. Without a doubt, my answer is to go to a school that you would be happy at, even if your sport is taken away. No one wants to think that their athletic career can get cut short for any reason, but it is important to consider that possibility. Going to a school that you love will also improve your overall experience, on and off the court.

Best of luck with all of your college recruiting!

About the author: Gabby is a rising senior at Yale University, majoring in Economics. She is the captain of the Yale Women’s Basketball team and a Texas native. This past summer she was a Marketing & Business Development Intern at InGenius Prep!

Sign Up for Our monthly Newsletter

to get the best admissions tips