Athletic Recruit 101: Everything Athletes Need to Know About College

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Four types of sports balls on wooden background.

Athletic Recruit 101: Everything Athletes Need to Know About College

Thousands of high school athletes across the country dream of taking their athletic skills to the next level by playing in college. For many, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Division I, II, or III school. The sheer opportunity to play at the collegiate level is enough to inspire goals of becoming an athletic recruit.

And who can blame these aspiring students? The idea of playing the sport you love throughout college with the possibility of receiving tuition assistance on top is enough to capture anyone’s attention. Despite the popularity of this possibility, there’s still a lot of confusion regarding athletic recruits, how to works, and how high schoolers can improve their chances of playing in college.

Here we’ll explore everything athletic recipients need to know about the process.

Contact from a coach is no guarantee.

Wondering how you even become an athletic recruit? The process usually begins when the coach at a university or college reaches out to a high school athlete. These letters can range from personal and handwritten to generic and impersonal.

Generally speaking, it’s safe to assume that a coach who took the time to handwrite you a specialized letter is more interested than another coach who copied and pasted your name onto a reusable template. However, in both scenarios, the same principle remains.

Being contacted by a coach is no guarantee you’ll become an athletic recruit. You can think of it like the college brochures you receive from schools across the country. Yes, technically, they are interested in having you attend, but you shouldn’t take this interest to mean you’re automatically a shoo-in.

Just like colleges, athletic programs cast a wide net by contacting a lot of prospective athletic recruits. Coaches understand that not all of the high schoolers they contact will attend their school or join their team.

As a result, it’s common practice for coaches to reach out to more students than they’ll accept. You have every right to get excited about a letter and to be proud of your hard work. Just make sure not to get your hopes up too much at this stage in the process.

Student-athletes can initiate conversations too.

Hollywood has spread the misconception that all student-athletes with a chance of playing in college are automatically approached by college-level coaches. In reality, many student-athletes end up initiating conversations with coaches instead of the other way around.

With millions of high school athletes and only a few thousand coaches throughout the country, it’s impossible for collegiate coaches to contact all of the talented individuals with the potential of playing in college. That’s why it’s crucial for student-athletes to take charge if they have a dream of playing in college.

Start off by speaking with your high school coach to get a realistic idea of where you might have a chance of playing. Colleges are ranked in various divisions based on the competitiveness of their teams. You’ve probably heard of Division I, II, and III schools before. These are the different divisions of the NCAA. Division I is the most competitive.

Once you have a clear idea of where you have a chance of playing in college, search colleges in that division to see what catches your attention, don’t forget to consider other important factors such as academic fit, location, tuition costs, and more. You want to make sure these schools are a good match for your abilities as well as your interests.

When you’ve narrowed down the list to a manageable number of schools, it’s time to reach out to the coaches of your prospective sport. You can find most of their emails on the official school athletic department websites. If you have trouble finding contact info, contact the school to get in touch with the right person.

You should mention your interest in the school and ask about what kind of information they’d like to see. Most of the time, coaches want a resume of your athletic accomplishments and some game footage of your highlights.

During this time, you should also be familiarizing yourself with NCAA timelines and recruitment guidelines. Keep in mind that the specifics can vary between each sport, so find the rules and schedules that are relevant to your sport. It’s always a good idea to throw important dates into your calendar so you don’t miss anything important.

Don’t get discouraged if coaches aren’t as responsive as you’d like. Keep reaching out to the schools that you would like to attend and follow up with colleges you haven’t heard back from in a while. Persistence and patience are key when seeking out potential colleges as a student-athlete.

Being an athletic recruit doesn’t mean paid tuition.

There’s a common misconception among many high school athletes that getting recruited for college automatically means a fully covered tuition. Parents also often fall for this misconception.

Although being an athletic recruit can certainly help cover some of the costs of college education, it’s by no means an automatic free ride. In reality, only 1% of college athletes have their full tuition costs covered by their college.

Female athletes running during a 100-meter relay race.

But don’t get disheartened. Just because your chances of getting a full-ride as an athletic recruit are slim, that doesn’t mean you won’t get a great deal on your education. In fact, the NCAA reports that Division I and II colleges and universities offer nearly $3 billion in athletic scholarships each year to over 150,000 athletic recruits.”

Even a tiny slice of that massive pie would make a huge difference for many student-athletes. Plus, schools are often limited by the amount of financial aid they can hand out to different sports. This prevents many coaches from being able to offer a full-ride despite how much they might want to.

High school athletes who are passionate about continuing their sport in college will most likely have to accept something less than a full ride unless they’re in the upper-echelon of talent and going to a school that’s generous in its offerings for athletic recruits.

If your sole motivation for playing in college is to receive academic incentives, you might want to think twice about committing so much time and energy towards this path to college.

College isn’t easier for athletic recruits.

There’s a popular misconception that athletic recruits get to freewheel through college because of their status as student-athletes while other students are pulling all-nighters to study for an exam, committing hours upon hours to homework each night, and working their hardest.

Hollywood hasn’t done much to dispel this myth with countless movies and shows depicting college athletes falling asleep in class, getting in trouble regularly, and generally not trying at all while still getting passing grades from begrudging teachers.

A man stretching in the park before running during sunset.

In reality, athletic recruits have to work just as hard, if not harder, as their college counterparts. Many schools have GPA requirements that students must meet to continue playing on the team. Furthermore, athletic scholarships typically have performance requirements too.

So, not only do athletic recruits have added scrutiny to keep their grades up, but they have the added responsibility of attending practice throughout the week and playing games. It’s definitely a more challenging experience than most people think.

However, if you’re passionate about the sport and have a genuine desire to earn your degree, you shouldn’t have any trouble! Besides, there are plenty of on-campus resources to help you manage your time between athletics and academics.

Athleticism will never outshine academics.

There’s a golden rule that all athletic recruits should keep in mind: athleticism will never outshine academics. In other words, your athletic performance won’t ever save you from poor academic performance. No college is going to put athletics above academics.

You might be the most talented high school athlete in the entire country with a dozen records under your belt. However, no athletic accomplishments, no matter how impressive, can overcome a low GPA, poor test scores, and a sub-par application overall.

Different sports equipment lying on grass.

Even if a coach reaches out to show interest in recruiting a high school athlete, there are still stringent academic requirements that must be met in order to qualify to attend the school. That’s why it’s imperative for student-athletes to always prioritize their academics.

Turning your homework in on time, getting excellent grades on tests, doing great in your classes, and preparing for the SAT and ACT are all essential for your college athletic career. At the end of the day, schools always place academics first, no matter how much of a sports culture exists.

Students need to consider academic fit.

In the same way that athletics isn’t everything when applying to college, it shouldn’t be the only thing you think about when choosing a college. In other words, your desire to play in college shouldn’t obscure your academic and professional goals.

A student reading a book and holding a pen.

According to the NCAA, fewer than 2% of college athletes end up going pro. That means 98% of athletic recruits will have to find alternative forms of employment…aka regular jobs. Just based on the odds alone, it’s not smart for athletic recruits to pick a college solely for athletic reasons.

If you get interest from a school with a great sports program, but it doesn’t match your academic interests or goals, it’s not a great fit. Ideally, you can find a school that supports both your academic and athletic needs. However, when push comes to shove, you should always prioritize academic opportunities.

Before you start receiving letters from potential recruiters, it’s a great idea to have a clear idea of what you want to study in college. This way, when schools start reaching out to you about potentially becoming an athletic recruit, you can accurately judge the match.

For example, if you’re interested in becoming a software engineer but the school that contacts you is heavily liberal arts-focused, you might want to hold out for other offers. On the other hand, if you’re recruited by a school with great engineering offerings, you’ve found a great match!

Academics aren’t the only kind of “fit” to consider.

When people talk about college-fit, they’re not just talking about academics. Although this is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a college, it’s definitely not the only component high schoolers should think about. Here are some other elements of a prospective university you should take into account:

  • Campus size
  • Location
  • Proximity to cities
  • Student population
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Research opportunities

Tips for choosing the best colleges as an athletic recruit.

Student-athletes have an extra factor to consider when choosing where to apply to college: whether their athletic skills will end up giving them a competitive advantage. However, the process of choosing a number of schools to apply to shouldn’t differ that much from any other student.

Although there are probably dozens of schools you would be ecstatic to attend, it’s not feasible to send out that many applications. Sure, it’s possible. But you’d be spreading yourself too thin to prepare high-quality applications that would actually increase your chances of getting accepted.

A basketball on court floor

When you can narrow down your options to a handful of schools, your applications will be much stronger. At AdmissionSight, we advise students to apply to around 5-7 colleges and universities. This sweet spot gives you enough possibilities without overextending your efforts.

It’s crucial for student-athletes to conduct in-depth research about all of the schools that catch their attention. This way, you can gain a better understanding of which colleges are a good match and which aren’t what you’re looking for.

During your research, organize the schools into three different sections:

Dream Colleges

These are your top-pick schools where you would dream of attending as an athletic recruit. These are the colleges and universities you could get into in the best-case scenario. Don’t hold back when considering schools for this category. Nothing is too far out of reach. That’s the kind of mentality to have.

Target Colleges

These schools are the perfect balance between places you’d love to attend and ones you can realistically get accepted into. Some schools in this category might be slight stretches, while others are a tad easier. Colleges in this category should also be a fantastic fit in other areas, including financial, social, and academic characteristics.

Safety Colleges

You always need a backup plan when applying to college. Just in case you get turned away from your dream and target colleges, you should have a last resort option. Schools in this category are ones you’d have no trouble getting into.

Your academic and athletic performance should be well above the standard for accepted students. Although there’s never a guarantee, these schools are easier to get into than your other top picks.

When you’ve completed your research, you’ll most likely have at least a dozen colleges and universities spread throughout these categories. The challenging part comes: narrowing it down to two or three schools in each group.

You’ll want to end up with around two dream schools, two target schools, and two safety schools. This balanced spread will give you the right amount of exposure to all types of schools to increase your chances of getting into a great-fit school.

Get into the school of your dreams with AdmissionSight

Feeling a bit confused and uncertain about the college admissions process? You’re not alone! Every year, millions of high schoolers start preparing for the big transition to college without much guidance or support. That’s where AdmissionSight can help!

As a college entrance experts, we specialize in helping students just like you master the college admissions process. Yes, that’s a real thing! Over the past decade, we’ve carefully studied the expectations of admissions officers at top colleges throughout the country to perfect our understanding of what schools want to see from applicants.

Based on this insider information, we’ve developed a series of comprehensive services designed to help applicants greatly increase their chances of getting into the schools of their dreams – no matter how prestigious or selective.

In fact, three-fourths of the students we work with get accepted into Top 10 or Ivy League schools. When you work with us, the sky is truly the limit. Whether you need a hand planning your academic or extracurricular curriculum, preparing for the ACT or SAT, perfecting your personal statement, or getting the best letters of recommendation, we’ve got you covered.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation. We’ll be happy to discuss how we can help you achieve your academic goals. We look forward to hearing from you.


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