By Dave Galehouse
Thousands of high school athletes aspire to play at the college level. Some have dreams of going pro one day, others are simply looking to play at smaller colleges in their state or region, or just trying to pay for school with an athletic scholarship.
Whatever the dream or motivation behind it is, the college athletic recruiting process overwhelms a lot of families as they try to navigate the nearly two-thousand different schools at the NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA levels.
Here are five tips to help prepare you and your student athlete in the process.
1. Balance Athletics and Academics
The NCAA has minimum academic qualifications for eligibility that are usually lower than what most colleges seek in an applicant. However, grades and test scores will be the first thing college coaches inquire about – and although being a recruited athlete can garner some advantages in the application process, grades and test scores need to be very close to the general student body in order to be considered a good candidate.
Encourage your child to find a balance between sports and academics – doors will open.
2. Be Flexible
You may dream of watching your son or daughter play football for Notre Dame or basketball for Duke but only a small percentage of high school athletes have the skills and/or grades to play for programs of that caliber.
Your child may not be able to play at a high-level D1 program or qualify for a full athletic scholarship, but if they have athletic skills and apply themselves in the recruiting process, there is a place for them and there’s potential for athletic scholarships at many programs.
Don’t dismiss a program until your family has had an opportunity to explore that school and their athletic and academic programs, as well as any aid or grant packages the school might be willing to offer.
3. Evaluate Athletic Skills
Evaluate how your son or daughter performs against other players at their high school and in their league, state and national level. Recruiting is now a global process, and coaches look at athletes locally, nationally and internationally.
This can be nerve-wracking but it shows the importance of determining one’s skill level as it applies to different colleges.
Determine your child’s athletic skills objectively. Asking trusted coaches or instructors for their evaluations is a great start.
For example – my high school baseball coach played hockey in college (less helpful). My summer baseball coach was an elite college baseball player and later was selected in the MLB draft after college. He proved to be a huge influence on helping me to research colleges and evaluating my skills.
Coaches, trainers, instructors, etc. are typically thrilled to help.
4. Be Proactive
While a few high school athletes are “discovered” – most work at being found.
College coaches spend a great deal of time recruiting but they also rely on high school athletes to reach out. Your son or daughter should research programs that might be a potential fit and introduce themselves to those coaches via phone or email.
Reminder: this is not a job for you parents.
Having your son or daughter contact the coach directly will show maturity, a trait all coaches want to see in a potential recruit. Once a relationship has been established, showcase your child’s athletic abilities either through a visit or videos. Did you know NCAA D2 schools are allowed to hold tryouts?
It’s important to find tournaments, camps and/or events where your child can demonstrate their skills to the right coaches. Events can often have 20 to 30 college coaches in attendance.
If those schools those coaches represent are not a good fit for your academic and athletic skills, those events might not produce a recruiting opportunity. If you and your athlete take the time to do your homework, you can find events that have the right coaches and schools in attendance.
5. Strategize How to Pay
Travel teams and AAU fees, equipment, camps and private coaching add up quickly. Many families make sacrifices or at least prioritize these fees because their student is extremely passionate about their sport. Plus, these teams and other costs are all investments in the student’s athletic success.
Being involved in these extra activities often instills hope in both the athlete and their parents. When an athletic scholarship does not materialize or comes in lower than expected, families and athletes can panic. Don’t give up but remember – resources are limited.
Resources Are Limited
Keep in mind that after Division 1 football and basketball, there is significantly less money for other sports’ scholarships. College programs such as baseball (11.7 D1 scholarships) or lacrosse (12.6 D1 scholarships) often spread their financial resources across many athletes to fill out a roster of 30+ players. The simple math with tell you that 11.7 scholarships spread across 30+ baseball players may leave only partial scholarships for players, if any.
The take-away is that despite your child’s talents and a partial scholarship, you may still be looking at a tuition bill of $40,000+ each year at a top private school.
Luckily, there are many strategies to save for and pay for college.
First things first, start planning early – ideally long before junior year rolls around. If you start early enough, there are savings vehicles such as 529 Plans.
Financial aid is also an option depending on your situation. A financial aid package can include work study jobs, plans that don’t require repayment such as grants and scholarships, and need-based loans such as the Federal Stafford Loans and Federal Perkins Loans.
There are two main methodologies to apply for financial aid.
The first is through the federal government via FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). FAFSA provides loans and grants to millions of high school students each year and is a need-based program. Application is open to anybody starting Oct. 1 each year.
The second financial aid option is the CSS Profile. This form is primarily used by private colleges and asks for more detailed financial information than the FAFSA, such as the value of your home, income of non-custodial parents, retirement accounts, trusts and even the value of your cars.
Whatever you choose – you are not alone.
Working with a financial advisor can help you navigate the complexities of the college funding process and optimize your strategy. Contact us to discuss your individual situation.