About 7.8 million U.S. high school students compete in interscholastic athletics. Well under 10% of those student-athletes subsequently compete in college athletics at any level, and many of those students are enrolled at NCAA, NAIA, and NJCAA institutions which do not offer athletic scholarships. The bottom line is that unless you are an exceptional athlete getting outstanding exposure, you can’t just sit back and wait for the scholarship offers to role in; you need to actively seek out opportunities.
But, before you get started, you have some thinking to do. For instance, is it really critical that you receive an athletic scholarship, or would you be satisfied to receive a financial aid package which allows you to attend a college at which you could get a good education while continuing to play the sport you love? If the latter is true, you might want to explore options at NCAA III and other institutions that do not offer athletic scholarships, but award other kinds of aid to qualified students. Some of the best endowed, most generous colleges in the country…colleges which meet full financial need…offer Division III sports and many have excellent athletic programs.
So, even if you believe you can compete at the Division I or Division II levels, you might not want to rule out Division III programs. In any case, student-athletes should reach out to and compete with all college coaches in the same way, regardless of the levels of the programs they oversee.
Elsewhere on this site, you’ll find a listing for, and the URL of, virtually every college in the United States. Each individual college website has an athletics section; most break athletics down by sport, so finding the email addresses of coaches is pretty easy. Generally, if they do not list coaches’ email addresses, they offer an online form you can fill out to contact coaches. Occasionally, you will find both email addresses and a form. When you do, you are probably better off using the form. Most online student-athlete questionnaires are very straightforward. All you’ll need to do is provide the information called for as completely and accurately as possible.
If you contact coaches via email (as opposed to using an online form), we strongly recommend that you:
- do not do so prior to the summer before the beginning of your junior year.
- address each coach by name, so your email won’t look like a mass mailing.
- use the name of the college or university when expressing your interest, for the same reason.
- include, in resume form, your complete name, postal address, area code and telephone number, email address, high school name with complete address, year of high school graduation, prospective college major field of study, your position(s) or event(s), your years of junior varsity and varsity experience, your relevant statistics, academic/athletic/community service awards and honors won, and your current coach’s name (with full contact information).
- provide information about your GPA, ACT or SAT scores, and any honors, gifted, or AP courses you have taken or plan to take.
- Include a statement about the level at which your current coach believes you have the ability to compete (Division I, Division II, etc.). Even better, if your coach believes you can compete at the college or university in question, say so (but avoid sounding “cocky”).
- offer to provide complete statistics and a video (if available).
- offer to provide a schedule of your games or meets.
- thank the coach for his or her consideration.
- check your grammar and spelling carefully. Treat your email message as seriously as you would an admission essay.
- offer to provide recommendations and academic credentials.
- save your email and send it again if you have no response within a month.
- keep all responses in a file so you can refer to them whenever you wish.
If you receive no response to your second email or second attempt at the online questionnaire, you might want to try postal mail. Not everyone is comfortable with email, and technical difficulties sometimes prevent online questionnaires and emails from reaching their intended recipients.
Many coaches hear from hundreds of students each year who are looking for athletic scholarships and/or an opportunity to compete in intercollegiate athletics. As a result, it is important that you communicate clearly and effectively with coaches, and understand that it may take some time before you receive a response from them.
Generally, however, if a coach does not respond to you after you have reached out to him or her twice, it means that he or she has little or no interest in you. Just get over it quickly and turn your focus to other coaches. Never forget that all you need is a “yes” from one coach.
When you first have reason to believe you have the potential to compete in college athletics, there are a few important conversations you must have (the sooner the better). Don’t skip any of them or you risk making a bad college decision. Yes, you can transfer, but isn’t it better to pick the right school the first time and have a great freshman year? And keep in mind that, in most cases, transfers have to sit out a year. So, your first stop is your family. Sit down with them and see what their thoughts and expectations are for your future. Tell them about your goals and plans and find as much common ground as possible. In most instances, family members know you better than anyone else, and they want you to be happy and successful; that’s why they’re first.
Next, speak with your coaches, all of them, if you can. You might want to have your parents be part of this conversation. In fact, it is probably a good idea, but it’s not essential. Bring a list of colleges, a notebook, and a pen. Go through your college list and ask the coaches if they think you have a chance at each. Next, ask them to recommend some colleges in which they think you might have a chance to play. Ask them what you need to do to improve. Finally, ask if they will be willing to write athletic recommendations for you.
The next stop should be your counselor, and again it makes sense for your parents to accompany you. Review the conversation you had with your coaches and ask about the colleges on your list. Your counselor should be able to add information about them and perhaps suggest additional institutions. A good general rule, as your counselor may tell you, is to ultimately wind up at a college or university that is a good match for you even if you ultimately don’t play intercollegiate sports.
Don’t make the big mistake many students do by overrating your abilities. Be realistic about the colleges and universities you contact. Few athletes can compete in football at Alabama or basketball at Kentucky. If you listen to your coaches and your counselor, you’ll probably wind up at a college which is a good fit for you. Parents are generally helpful as well, although parents all too frequently inflate the athletic potential of their children.
Throughout the process, consider everything when putting together, trimming or adding to your list of colleges. Academic programs, size, location, campus environment, co-curricular opportunities, and special programs are among the factors you need to investigate and evaluate very carefully.
Do not overlook opportunities at smaller or less well known colleges. Open all your mail, talk with the college representatives who visit you school, and attend the college fairs held in your area.
You might want to attend exposure camps or events at which college coaches will see you play, or join one of the many services which purport to help bring student-athletes and coaches together. However, carefully check out anyone who charges for services. You may also gain exposure, and improve as an athlete, if you compete in AAU style programs.
Don’t count on athletic scholarships alone. Explore other sources of financial aid as well, including the free college scholarship search sites listed on this site.
Remember that the major benefit of college is to obtain an education. Be wary of coaches who do not have a genuine commitment to the education of their student-athletes.
Know the rules of athletic recruitment and be sure they’re adhered to, no exceptions. If in doubt, visit the website of the organization which governs athletics at the institution in question (usually the NCAA, NAIA, or NJCAA).
Contact admissions officers, not just coaches. Admissions professionals, unlike coaches, are allowed to contact and speak with you at any time, and will provide you with information you may not get from coaches.
Do not rule out colleges initially on the basis of their published costs. Your actual cost may be much less. In fact, at some institutions, the average student pays just 60% of the published tuition.
Be aware that a few letters, brochures, and/or emails from a coach does not always mean he or she is seriously interested in you. Keep your options open and communicate with all coaches who sincerely appear interested in you until you have a firm commitment. Unfortunately, like all other groups of professionals, coaching has its share of bad apples, so do not halt the process until you are absolutely sure you have a firm offer from a college about which you are excited.
When you do commit to a college or university, contact and thank the coaches who have been communicating with you. This is common courtesy, and may give you more options if you wish to transfer from the college or university you attend initially.
Keep in mind that, whether you end up competing in athletics or not, the college selection process is a marathon, not a sprint.