The college admissions process has a lot of moving pieces, and for student-athletes hoping to continue their sport in college, there are even more deadlines and logistics to consider. High school athletes who are interested in playing college sports should begin their research with the NCAA Eligibility Center and initiate open conversations with their high school coaches for support and guidance along the way.
To better understand the logistics of athletic recruiting from the admissions perspective, we checked in with two of our admissions experts. Kennon Dick was a Division 1 admissions liaison to the athletic department for Drexel University, where he later got to peek behind the recruiting curtain as an assistant lacrosse coach. At Tufts University, which supports a Division 3 athletic program, Becky Leichtling served as the admissions liaison to the softball, women’s soccer, and women’s lacrosse coaches, and assistant coach for women’s Ultimate Frisbee.
Q: We’re in the thick of admissions season now, as students across the country are working to submit applications by the Regular Decision deadlines. How does that application timeline differ for recruited student-athletes?
KD: For most D1 recruits, the process is nearly or already complete by this time of year. For 2019, the signing period for the National Letter of Intent started November 13th, so for the majority of D1 athletes and their families, that marks the end of the process. For some D1 athletes, the process started as early as middle school, before the NCAA restrictions kick in, and has continued throughout high school. Between midsummer and early fall, most student-athletes at this level have sorted it all out and know at least what their top few choices are, if not their final choice. The D1 process is typically more accelerated than the D3 process.
BL: At the D3 level, admission decisions are made (and communicated) by admissions officers during the traditional review timeline for all applicants, meaning student-athletes won’t receive official offers before other students. But coaches usually connect with their admissions partners during the summer to request a preliminary academic review of the athletes on their radar. They want to know which possible recruits will be academically competitive for admission, so they can advocate strategically for the impact players who will also stand out to the admissions officers. And they’ll communicate the feedback from those early reads clearly, so students can make informed decisions about when and how they want to apply.
Q: Sounds like the process starts a lot earlier for student-athletes, regardless of which division you’re shooting for. Does that mean the admission process takes longer, or does it simply take place sooner?
BL: Because D3 applicants still apply within the same timeline as non-recruited students, their official recruitment status can stretch from summer into fall and winter, and change along the way. In August, a coach might have a clear idea of their top three recruits, but someone new might pop up in October who impacts those preferences; similarly, as students make their early application decisions, coaches might need to reconnect with students who weren’t originally top recruits. So, a coach’s plan for who to support through the admissions process—and a student’s sense of whether they are being recruited—might be evolving all the way through that final application deadline.
KD: The process certainly does start earlier for most D1 athletes, and most know very early in the process that they are considered a D1-level talent. Students can now have an official campus visit as early as September of their junior year. They still only get five official visits, but they can see campuses as an athletic recruit much earlier than they used to. Once July 1 has passed between the student’s junior and senior year, coaches can freely communicate with recruits. During the latter half of that summer is when the coaches usually will expect student-athletes to make a commitment to the program. This tends to be when verbal scholarship commitments are also made so that the student-athlete knows what financial help is being offered. For some athletes, the overall process can be much shorter than is often true for D3 athletes or other students.
Q: Sounds like a lot to manage! Do you have any suggestions for how students should approach their interactions with coaches as they navigate these different relationships?
KD: Having seen this from the coach’s perspective and the admissions perspective, with both D1 and D3 schools, I think the advice is the same in each scenario: honesty is the best policy. Be honest with the coaches about how interested you are in their college and how much you like their sports program. They know they are not the only coach talking to you, so be open about your discussions if you feel you have a good rapport with the coach. Start seeing campuses earlier than you might otherwise; visit a variety of campuses and determine early what kind of colleges best fit you. Then think about the athletics program at the school and how well you fit in with the coach’s style and the other athletes on the team. The other item of note is to think about how happy you would be if you had a sport-ending injury. Would you still be happy on that campus and have the opportunities you are looking for? If the answer to that is yes, you’ve likely made a good choice.
BL: I completely agree—it’s important to engage with honesty and kindness. At the admissions stage, it can be easy to get swept up in the strategy of balancing different options, but on the other side of that is (hopefully) four years of partnership as part of the team. It won’t help your freshman season if you spent senior year of high school stringing a coach along and communicating in a vague or rude manner. The coach will be the one setting the practice plan and the starting lineup and choosing how to develop your talents within their system. So, initiate these relationships as you mean to maintain them, from a place of respect and openness.
Thanks guys! It’s helpful to hear your perspectives, both to understand the differences in timing and process and to be reminded of the universal importance of clear communication with college representatives. That’s a great place to end our conversation; I hope your advice helps students (and parents) reading this to approach athletic recruiting with openness and confidence.