Being a college athlete can involve having to make quick and difficult decisions, but many will make their biggest decision before putting on their jersey for the first time.
What school should I go to?
Picking the right school can be challenging. According to a 2018 study, 39% of all undergraduate students will transfer schools at least once before completing a four year degree. While that number tends to be lower for student athletes as a whole, those playing certain sports such as men’s basketball and tennis tend to transfer at higher rates. Most student athletes transfer for athletic purposes rather than academic purposes.
Picking the right school is a challenging and complex decision, and the high school recruiting process can help narrow down options and help athletes find their ideal fit at a program. Three current and former collegiate athletes were interviewed for this story, and they explain their recruitment process and the steps they took to realize which school was their ideal fit. For privacy purposes, all three athletes will remain anonymous.
The first person interviewed is a basketball player at a Division I university. He said he based his decision on balancing basketball and academics. “I think that was really important as you don’t know how long basketball can last in your life.” said the athlete. “You want to have a valid degree.”
This athlete said he had contacts with many different Division I and Division II universities during his recruitment process, but made his decision rather quickly, and the school’s academics and the basketball team’s coaching staff were the primary factors that lead to his quick decision. “The coaching staff just seemed perfect for what I wanted. They are making this program grow, and I think that’s going to keep going forward in the future.”
Now a Junior, he says a recommends prospective athletes to look for schools that strike an ideal balance between athletics and academics. “If I’m not playing basketball after college I wanted to have a degree that’s good for my future” he said.
The second person interviewed is a former Division III baseball player who looked at a variety of smaller schools before making his decision. His decision came down to being able to meet the coaches of all the schools he was looking at and finding a coaching staff he was able to connect with on a personal level.
“I attended a showcase where I was able to show some of my talents, and then got to meet with each of the coaches” he said, noting that some coaches seemed more interested in him than others did. When it came to following up with coaching staffs he met after the showcase, he was drawn toward the coaches that followed up and put in the effort to connect with him and his family. Since his top two schools were very similar from an academics standpoint, he said that his final decision came down to baseball and which coaching staff he felt a better connection toward.
Having now graduated, he recommends high school athletes be realistic about where their talents can take them and look for opportunities to get exposure. “A lot of guys I graduated high school with were great, but some guys whose talents were far better than mind never got to show off their talents” he said. He would like prospective students to know that it is not all about talent, but academics as well.
“I was really blessed to go to a really good academic school, I made all state academic team my senior year and I was the only one from my class to get that” he said. “If you can take on an academic scholarship that might make you a higher priority as a recruit than some guys that just have talent alone.”
The third person interviewed is another former Division III baseball player who found his school in part through personal connections. “I sent out some feeder stuff to some smaller schools, and filled out some questionnaires a lot of schools have” he said. “I did a short campus tour my senior year of high school with the coaches. And they basically talked about the program, what their philosophy was, how they trained their players and that just kind of sold me.”
He recommends prospective athletes know that finding the right program depends getting a sense on how each program conducts their business and what kind of culture and coaching philosophies they have. “Collegiate recruitment is kind of like of finding a suit you want to wear” he said. “Some you may not like the color, some you may not like the feel, but others you might want to wear around.” Individual goals should also factor heavily into the collegiate decision, such as player development geared toward players who someday want to play professionally.