Recruiting and the Process of College Elimination

I asked a student athlete one time where she wanted to go to college. She said her top three schools were Boston, Lehigh, and University of Miami. I was like, Why? What do they have in common? She didn’t have a thoughtful answer. She said she wanted to have a variety to choose from. Not a good plan. If you don’t know what you’re looking for in a school, how do you even know where to start applying your effort and energy, or which coaches to start targeting?

Here’s a first step.  It’s a great starting point and it’s almost never too late to do this: Drive through a town nearby where you live, and visit the college campuses there. Undoubtedly, this is easier to do when you live near a big city, like Washington, DC, where you can visit Georgetown, George Washington, American University, and University of Maryland, among others, practically in one day. These schools are near each other and they represent a wide range of options for the types of college you may want to attend.

You can go to any good-sized city and get to see differences in campus styles, and you can do this when you’re 13 years old or when you’re 16. The earlier the better because early exposure to different types of universities gives you a sense of what you like and where you want to be. For instance, Penn State is a huge university in the middle of nowhere. Georgetown, small campus, but it is in a large city. It’s really important to let yourself see the different options.

And if you’re not close enough to travel to a city with a lot of options, schedule time to go see the schools in the area where you are traveling with your travel team. You play in South Carolina? Go see Clemson. You’re in the Midwest, swing over to Cincinnati. Playing in New Jersey? Visit Rutgers or Princeton. If you really loved a school you visited and you’re back at the tournament the following year, go visit it again. Use those travel days to multipurpose.

You don’t even have to get out of the car, you can just drive through to get a look. We started traveling for my daughter to play sports when she was 10 years old. Our routine became to drive through the campus, then get out of the car and go to the bookstore to buy a t-shirt or something. This forced us to look around a little bit and get a sense of the culture of that university. Bookstores and student union buildings are great microcosms of campus life.

But even if you’re just driving through, you’ll get the sense of it.

Here’s another opportunity for young athletes who play sports to go see university campuses. Many of the universities offer summer camps, where you go to the campus, live in the dorms, and play sports for a week. This is highly advisable for two reasons:

1) You get the chance to see the campus

2) It helps you build a different level of excitement for your sport. It’s really fun — after you get over the initial nerves — to go to a campus and stay with kids you don’t know and play sports. And if you actually stand out, this is the first time the coaches see the students. If you do really well, even at a very young age, you’re on their radar, and you’ve already started the relationship.

This isn’t a primary goal at a young age for most students, mostly because it doesn’t happen a lot, but you will be seen when you participate in these camps. For kids who play well, the coaches or their staff will tell you to stay in touch. That means “Come back to the campus the following year,” or “Check the schedule to see if our team is coming to your neck of the woods,” or “Come back and see a game and say hello.”

The coaches may not be able to talk to you about admissions because of NCAA rules, but you’re identifying that you’re interested. And this is super important to coaches. In fact, I know one university whose first recruit of the year was not even that great a player, but she was a local girl. She had grown up in the city where the university was located and had gone to watch games throughout her young life. They knew she was going to be a student first and a player second, and for many schools, that’s far more important. If you grow up in a state with a state university that has a good team, go and attend games and meet people. You’re local, and they appreciate the loyalty.

It matters to coaches. They don’t want students thinking about transferring or where else they could be. They want student athletes who love the school. All colleges want to be loved, and in return, they may love you back. So start looking around and deciding what you like. And don’t be afraid to spend some time on college campuses.