Updated: Sep 24, 2019
When I was in high school, the dream and desire to play a sport in college didn’t come till my junior year of high school. Till that point, college sports were not on my radar. I was a three-sport high school athlete who just looked forward to competing in a sport each season. It was during my junior year of high school that I realized that I really liked playing lacrosse and I had a desire to competitively play lacrosse as long as possibly. Playing in college was the next step.
For most athletes, this is the process (developmental model) that most athletes tend to follow. For more information on athlete development model, check out my blog on Athletic and Social Development Model: https://www.epicsportpsychology.com/learning-to-compete
The biggest difference from when I was in high school to the present day is that the majority of sports now have travel clubs and residential sports academies that allow student-athletes to play, train, and compete in college prospect tournaments and prospect camps year around. While this year around exposure to college coaches increases an athletes chance to be seen by college coaches, it doesn’t necessarily increase an athletes odds of getting recruited, nor does it increase an athletes odds of receiving a bigger scholarship for college. Attending college prospect tournaments are just the first step in the recruitment process.
As athletes inch closer to college signing day, the following are things to consider as athletes and parents navigate the college recruitment process.
Take control of your college selection. Unlike professional drafts like the NFL, MLB, and NBA, the majority of high school athletes are not being scouted and college programs definitely are not drafting them. Getting recruited and finding a college program to continue your athletic and academic career is more in your control than you think.
Take some time to consider the following:
i. How far away from home are you willing to go?
Most college students prefer to stay within a few 100 miles of home.
My first goal when searching for a college was to be as far away from home as possible. Luckily, my parents had more insight than I. As a result, they gave me a distance restriction of attending a college no more than four hours away from home. Having grown up in Ohio, there were literally 100+ colleges and universities to choose from, not to mention, all the colleges and universities in the surround states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kentucky.
Secondly, with my sport being lacrosse, I wanted to find a college or university that had a NCAA sanctioned program.
ii. What size school are you comfortable attending? Are you the type of person that thrives in a big school population or do you need more of a smaller community to feel at home?
The population of my high school was 325 students. As a result, I felt more at home with a smaller college program. My college was less than 5,000 students and class sizes varied from a 50:1 to a 3:1 ratio of student to professor. I thrived in a small school environment both academically and socially.
iii. What Division level in college do you have your sights set on?
Take an honest assessment of where your abilities are in relation to your sport. Take time to watch college games at each level and compare your skills to those athletes.
If you are a multisport athlete who has a desire to play multiple sports in college, Division III is the best choice. Division III is the one division that encourages multisport participation.
iv. College Scholarships
With travel teams and year around sports, parents, youth, and high school athletes are chasing the dream of not only getting recruited to play college sports, but to receive a coveted Division I scholarship. For parents and athletes who have done their homework, there are scholarships available at every level of college sports. While Division I and II colleges provide athletic scholarships, all divisions award some sort of scholarship or grants for athletes.
No matter what division college you are applying to, grades are important. Even at the Division I level, grades are one of the deciding factors on whether a coach chooses to recruit you over another recruit.
v. Find the right coach and team
Playing for the best college team and the best coach doesn’t mean that you are going to have the best college experience. Take time to visit as many colleges as you can and contact coaches from the schools that are of interest to you. It is important to take the time to find the college team that fits your values, level of expectation, and coaches and teammates you can see yourself playing with.
vi. Contact college coaches before attending a tournament
Let college coaches know you are interested. While Division I college coaches are not allowed to contact you before September 1 of your junior year of high school, they are able to answer any general enquires that you have about the team and the school. They can reply either with a general form letter. Division III coaches have no limits on communication once you reach prospect age. You can also let them know which prospect tournaments you will be attending, so they can come watch you play. It’s important to contact college coaches and get them interested in you!
As mentioned earlier, your high school G.P.A. is important. If a college coach has to choose between recruits, grades tend to be the deciding factor. Have an idea what you may want to study in college as an undergraduate. Also, consider what Masters and PhD programs are offered at those schools as well. If you are looking to attend graduate school, finding colleges with the grad programs of interest can help insure that you are taking the right undergrad courses required for grad school.
viii. Getting recruited is easier than actually playing in college
Youth and high school athletes may not recognize that the hard work they put in to get recruited to a college program is just the tip of the iceberg.
As a college athlete, most of your time will be spent training, at practice, at competition, attending classes, and doing homework. If you enjoy having free time, participating in college sports may not fit in with your daily schedule. Many athletes have dreams and aspirations of playing in college but their dreams tend to end there. While they worked hard to get into school and make the team, they were not ready to work even harder to stay on the team and to put in all the extra time necessary to improve.
College sports aren’t for everyone. Athletes will even say that high school sports were fun, while college sports seem more like a job and a grind. Remember, once you sign your letter of intent to a college, you then have to make the team, consistently fight to earn playing time, and earn a starting position on the team.
ix. Do it for you
Do it for you and no one else. In general, the desire to play a sport has to come from inside of you. If the expectation to play in college is because others expect you to, chances are, you will not succeed because your heart just isn’t in it. Focus on getting a college education. Most high school athletes aren’t likely to become professional athletes. Therefore, make sure you choose a college that challenges you academically and helps you find your future professional career.
Remember, high school athletes looking to continue their sports careers in college, it can be a daunting task to figure out how the whole process works. I know it was for me. Here is additional information and resources to help you better understand the college recruitment process.
A friend of mine who coaches high school and youth lacrosse created this college recruitment guide. While he specifically wrote it for high school lacrosse players, it is a helpful guide for all high school athletes interested in playing in college.
COLLEGE RECRUITING GUIDE
By Matthew Wilson
In case you are interested in playing lacrosse at the college level, here is some information for you:
There is a program that’s right for everyone!
Role of a Student-Athlete:
- Determine how your sport will impact your goals for attending college
o Will you only go to a college where you can play lacrosse?
o Will you give up lacrosse, or play club if you are admitted to a certain college or university?
- Decide your level of commitment to the sport.
o Division 1 is an extreme commitment both in time, work and mental energy
- Decide what colleges best meet your criteria and goals (academic and athletic)
- Get off to a good start academically (Easier to start with a high GPA than try to raise your GPA later).
- Play other sports!
o College coaches love 2 & 3 sport athletes. Coaches expect that if their recruits are good enough to play for them, they will also be impacting other teams in their high school. Dom Starsia, (former) head coach at Virginia was known for only recruiting middies and defensemen that play 3 sports in high s chool.
- Be involved in many aspects of school life (Student Council, Live Music Club etc.). The more diverse and active you are, the better!
- Attend lacrosse camps and play club lacrosse
o Only do this if you really want to… not many college coaches are watching freshmen play Club Lacrosse… if you want to take a summer off, this is the one!
- Stay focused academically
- Keep track of your personal stats and athletic honors for all of your teams
- Start to research colleges
o Consider all levels à Division I, II, III and Club
- Take as many “unofficial” visits as possible-
o Start to figure out what your are looking for in a College
o Size, possible academic major/concentration, level of selectivity, geographic region etc.
o Do not show up at the college coach’s office unannounced
- Begin to honestly assess your lacrosse abilities
o To be recruited by a division 1 school, you will need to be making an impact on your varsity team as a sophomore.
- The summer between Sophomore & Junior year will be very important for the very top (possible D I bound) players but less important for everybody else
o Play some club lacrosse, attend camps and play summer league
- Stay focused academically
o Challenge yourself and understand your limits
- Players start to receive information from colleges on September 1st of their Junior year
- Create a detailed sports resume/personal profile
- Begin to compile a list of college choices
o Start with 10-12 (4 reach schools, 6 middle range, and 2 colleges you are pretty sure you can get into)
- Work closely with your college counselor
- Send a letter/email to coaches
o Include sports resume/profile, list of fall tournaments (unless playing a fall sport) and spring lacrosse schedule
- Fill out the online questionnaires or return immediately any questionnaires you receive directly from a coach
- Have on hand a couple of spring season video taped games
o Create a highlight tape to be provided to coaches who request them
- College coaches CANNOT call you or return your calls
o Email is the best way to communicate
- Send a follow-up email or letter with updates regarding classes taken, grades, PSAT/SAT scores and summer tournaments at the end of your Junior year
- Begin to organize your summer schedule à It will be busy!!!!
- Stay focused academically
- Summer between Junior & Senior year will be a very important one for most student athletes wishing to play lacrosse in college
o Play club lacrosse and attend some camps/recruiting showcases (Don’t overdo this)
- Begin to narrow down your list to 3-5 schools
- Factors to consider when narrowing your list
o Academic profile
o Level of lacrosse
o Type of School
o Distance from home
- Coaches can call student athletes on July 1st as you enter your Senior Year
- Contact the coaches at the top five schools you are considering
o Let them know they are one of your top choices
o At this point you should be communicating directly with the college coach
- Try to schedule an official over night visit to each camps
o Stay with a team member and become familiar with their program
o Meet the coach in person
- Fulfill NCAA Clearinghouse requirements (Division 1); http://www.ncaa.org/student-athletes/play-division-i-sports
- Start requesting college applications (Common Application starts in August)