Sports are an exciting part of college life. While most students enjoy watching and cheering on their school’s team at homecoming, there are a few who would rather be on the field, court, rink (or whatever medium their sport requires) themselves.
Students with the ability to play at the high level of college athletics may be recruited or seek a spot on college teams as part of their application process. These students will need to become familiar with the many rules of college athletic eligibility as well as what they need to do in order to be considered for a spot on the team.
While many of the requirements vary by athletic division or school, there are some general things for a college athlete to keep in mind to be prepared for the application process.
Start doing research early.
Students should research their schools, take tests, and plan to start applying earlier. They’ll need to have their academic stats at hand in order to assess their eligibility for playing on the collegiate level to initiate the process of consideration for recruitment.
Be realistic about your athletic ability.
Students should honestly assess their athletic skills and determine which conference best meets their athletic and academic goals. High school coaches can be valuable resources for helping student athletes determine their skill level and recommending athletic divisions as well as schools to consider.
Know your division.
As students research schools they might be interested in playing for, they should consider what level of competition and time commitment they’re interested in. Do they want to play at Division I, Division II, or Division III schools?
Division I and Division II schools offer scholarships, both full and partial, while Division III schools don’t offer scholarships based on athletics. Recruitment is highly competitive in Divisions I and II, while in Division III, recruitment may not involve being contacted by the school; students may need to take the initiative to contact the schools.
Division I schools tend to have more funds available for scholarships that Division II, although students should check with specific schools for these details. Division III schools are less competitive in terms of athletics and devote more time to academics than athletics.
Make the grade.
Students should make sure to keep their grades up. In order to be eligible for collegiate athletics, students must not only be amateur athletes but also meet the minimum criteria for grades, test scores, etc.
Research the schools you want to play for…
Students will need to research each school individually, checking out the website of each college’s athletics department. Look for information about the team as well as information about what sort of additional information students will need to provide coaches to demonstrate their athletic talents.
…and the NCAA’s eligibility requirements
In addition to college-specific information, students will need to learn about the requirements of each NCAA division. To become familiar with each conference, it is highly recommended that students check out the NCAA website, which contains descriptions and frequently asked questions about each conference. In addition, students should download the NCAA guide for College-Bound Student Athletes.
Students who want to play for Division I or Division II schools will need to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center by the end of their junior year; to do so, they’ll need to submit a registration fee.
Reach out to the school’s athletics department
After doing their research, students should contact the athletics department/coaches at schools where they’d like to play. Students should consider the coach as well as the athletic culture at the school, such as competitiveness, the type of time commitment students will be expected to maintain as an athlete, the success rates of student-athletes at the school (graduation, going pro, etc), the positions that the school is seeking, the school’s academic policies.
Beyond athletics, does the school suit me otherwise?
Most important: Student athletes should consider whether they would want to attend the school even if they didn’t play for the school’s team. Students can get hurt, or they can have little or no playing time. Students should make sure that they’d be happy attending the school even if, for some reason, they could no longer play.
For students who receive a full or partial scholarship at a Division I or Division II school…
If students do receive partial or full scholarships from Division I or Division II schools and decide to accept, they must sign National Letters of Intent. Such letters are contractually binding, so students must determine if the school is right for them in terms of academics, athletics, and any other factors they seek in a college. In addition, students should have a clear understanding of what their place on the time will be, how much time they will be expected to dedicate to athletics, what school team policies are, etc.