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Athletic Recruitment

College Athletic Recruiting: 4 Simple Steps to Navigating the Process

Picture of Matt Musico & Jeff Depew
By Matt Musico & Jeff Depew on August, 19 2022 | 12 minute read

What is the process for high school athletes looking to get recruited by colleges? To better prepare families as they navigate the process, we've put together a checklist of steps to get students on the right track to getting recruited and continuing their passion at the collegiate level!


Athletic Recruiting: Getting Started

For many families, having a student decide to become an athlete at the next level is an exciting experience. However, it can also be nerve-racking with thoughts on how to navigate the collegiate athletic recruitment process. There seem to be plenty of factors out of a family’s control that can impact the experience, and it’s especially intimidating if you’ve never done it before.  

When attempting to face this process head-on, it’s vital to a student's confidence levels to feel productive. That can be done by taking small steps to make progress on the things they can control.

In this blog, families will discover four simple steps to get started on navigating athletic recruiting, including:

  • Step 1: the starting point
  • Step 2: collecting and presenting information to coaches and recruiters
  • Step 3: getting organized and starting outreach
  • Step 4: compiling the right tools


Step #1: The Starting Point for Students

Going from a high school athlete to a recruited college athlete involves several steps in-between. It’s common for a family to ask exactly where they should start to get this journey off on the best foot possible. We’ll cover three general areas below that’ll be useful for anyone at the beginning. This will include a few important details for each to give families, and more importantly, students, the necessary tools to feel confident in the road they're traveling on, along with some applicable examples of recent students Collegewise has worked with.  

So, what is the starting point for students beyond simply being athletically gifted? Well, knowledge is power. It’s much easier to work through any experience when you’re educated on facts, figures, and the range of possible outcomes. This applies to just about everything in life, especially athletic recruitment. The first few steps a student should take to familiarize themselves with the process include reading The National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) guide and registering for the Eligibility Center. 


Read the NCAA’s College-Bound Athletic Guide

Like college admissions, each student-athlete’s specific situation is unique from one another. Even if we’re talking about the same sport. The NCAA produces a college-bound athlete guide that includes a wealth of information on Division I, II, and III expectations, academic standards, core courses, and how initial eligibility is determined. In addition to many other things, this guide also covers the meaning of recruitment terms and recruiting calendars. This is a helpful first step in figuring out what’s important as students dive headfirst toward trying to achieve their dreams.  


Register for the NCAA’s Eligibility Center

The Eligibility Center certifies whether prospective college athletes are qualified to play sports at Division I or II colleges. Division III athletes are welcome to register for a profile, but it’s unnecessary because financial aid is not awarded to student-athletes based on athletic ability. This is done by having a student’s transcript, test scores, and amateur status reviewed to ensure it complies with NCAA rules. There is no hard date on which a student needs to register with the Eligibility Center, but it’s suggested to do so at the start of junior year.

These two items are typically the first two homework assignments Collegewise gives students who are interested in playing college sports. Reading up on the process helps set realistic expectations, as well as knowing what deadlines, events, and information could be happening soon. Plus, registering with the Eligibility Center allows students to share their ID number on their athletic resume (which we’ll talk about momentarily).  

There’s a saying out there that "you must build the foundation before you build the house." Nearly all my [Matt Musico, college counselor and author] aspiring student-athletes meet with me for the first time feeling excited about jumping into the process. That’s followed by me slowing them down to take these necessary steps before diving headfirst into the rest of the below checklist. It’s great to be excited, but it’s even better to be informed about what’s to come and to be excited about that.  

Work with an Athletics Expert

Step #2: Collect and Prepare to Present Information to Recruiters

The athletic recruiting experience is different for everyone. At the core of it, though, students learn how to market their abilities, as well as become advocates for themselves. To do that effectively, they need to have the right tools within arm’s reach. The following things will be helpful.  


An Unofficial (Physical or Digital) Copy of a Transcript

You know the adage that “student” comes first in “student-athlete”? It’s true here. One of the first things a coach will want to do if they’re interested is to see if a student is an admissible candidate to their college. Having both versions of the unofficial transcript available allows a student to give them that information as quickly as possible so everyone can see if there is an academic fit. It also demonstrates their interest, eagerness, and preparedness to coaches (qualities every college admires). 

An Athletic Resume

Just as it’s vital for an admissions office to see an applicant's academic credentials, coaches want to see a student's athletic credentials. Relevant personal details and statistics, general academic information, and any awards they've won should be included here. We have an incredibly helpful (and free) template for you to use at the bottom of this post. 

The above two components are crucial, but coaches also want to get a glimpse of a student's athletic ability in action. Before potentially making a trip to see a student play in person, this is a great way to give them a bit of a preview of what you’re capable of doing within your sport. 

Work with an Athletics Expert


After my students read through the college-bound student-athlete guide and register for an account with the Eligibility Center, these are the next things they work on. There are plenty of things out of a student’s control during the recruitment process. So, actions such as obtaining a copy of a transcript, creating an athletic resume, and putting together a highlight video are great because each is completely in the student's control.  

Although, many students may need some help with the highlight video. Ideally, it’ll be a mixture of game film and skill demonstration. One of my students – who is an aspiring college baseball player – completed the skill demonstration portion of his highlight video at his club baseball facility with the help of his coaches. Many times, they’ll either produce the video themselves or have a contact that does it for them. This way, students won’t need to show off any beginner video editing skills, and coaches can focus on evaluating their athletic ability. 


Step #3: Get Organized and Begin Outreach 

Regardless of how narrow or wide a student's college search is, it’s critical to stay organized. The last thing families want is to get a legitimate initial communication or response from a coach they're interested in playing for, but it goes unanswered because of a lack of organization.


Build an Initial List of Schools

Before students can start reaching out to coaches, they need to know whom they'd like to contact. Start building a list of schools based on wants, needs, goals, and credentials. Which Division is the best fit for your skills? Is there a conference you prefer to target? Is the location and setting of the college important? What majors are you interested in? There are several helpful online tools that can aid in forming a big list of schools that fit general criteria, like the College Board’s BigFuture tool 


Contacting Coaches and Athletic Recruiters

Once a list has been established, it’s time to start sending the information compiled. There are two ways to do this: via email or by filling out a program’s prospective student-athlete questionnaire. Sending an email to the entire coaching staff allows families to attach transcripts, test scores (if necessary), an athletic resume, and a highlight video easily. Filling out the prospective student-athlete questionnaire on the program’s official website gets the information put directly into a coach’s recruitment database, as well. There is no preferred approach, but families should consider what best suits their needs and timeline. 

Create a Document to Track Communications

Condensing all the necessary information received from coaches is simple and can make a student's life easier as they juggle school assignments, college applications, and their day-to-day life. It doesn’t matter what kind of document it is – an Excel sheet, a Google Sheet, a Microsoft Word document, or something else. Knowing who has been reached out to, responded to, or whom your family is actively conversing with (among other things) can erase a good bit of potential anxiety that comes with the unknowns of athletic recruiting. This is one of those “control what you can control” moments to take advantage of. As students go through and build an initial list of schools, honestly answering the above questions will help you chart a realistic path toward reaching your goals.

Work with an Athletics Expert

I’m working with two baseball players who are very focused on Division III programs because the athletic and academic atmosphere those types of colleges can provide are what they’re looking for. 

Their current coaches evaluate them athletically and provide some direction as to which schools could be a good fit based on their ability on the field and in the classroom. These coaches have many contacts in college sports, so they can even facilitate an introduction to get the ball rolling from a recruitment perspective. Zeroing in on certain types of schools makes it easier to find showcases where you can get in front of those specific coaches.  

These two aspiring Division III baseball players I mentioned earlier both recently attended a Showball Tournament. After doing all the work mentioned above, they knew this specific event had the college coaches in attendance that they wanted to get evaluated. 

Many times, the question isn’t about how many showcases and tournaments a student should attend. The better question is figuring out what you want in a college and what academic/athletic programs you could be a fit for and finding showcases that include coaches from those schools.  


Step #4: Compiling Tools to Start Making Progress

At Collegewise, we believe in sharing accurate advice about college admissions. We also believe in providing families with actionable strategies and tools to decrease those stress and anxiety levels. So, in addition to the above information, we have some downloadable resources to use as you start the athletic recruitment journey.  

First, you’ll see that we’ve turned this blog post into more of a checklist so students can keep track of all the things they've done thus far. There’s just something about crossing out a to-do list item or checking it off that just feels great, doesn’t it? Second, you’ll also see a sample template to use for athletic resumes, so you don’t have to go and recreate the wheel.  

There are several steps to take upon diving into the athletic recruitment experience. But as Loa Tzu once said, “The journey of a thousand miles beings with one step.” Take the first step today by downloading these resources and beginning the process of making progress. 


Download Our Athletics Checklist


Commonly Asked Questions:

Do athletes still have to apply to colleges the same way non-athletes do?

Yes, high school athletes are still expected to apply to colleges similarly to non-athletic students. A great benefit to this is having a coach act as an additional advocate for the student in their application!


When do colleges typically start recruiting athletes?

Although the question to this answer differs depending on the sport, colleges will begin recruiting students in their sophomore year, at the latest. Some schools or sports teams may even fill their recruiting class by the spring of a student's junior year. That's why starting this process early is important to seeing success!

If a student is recruited, does this guarantee an athletic scholarship?

No! In fact, scholarship opportunities are usually the last conversation to be had between coaches and prospective student-athletes. 


About Collegewise: 

With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications, or the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools includes counselingtest prepacademic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, which leads to 4x higher than average admissions rates. 

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