How to Get Recruited: A Comprehensive Guide to College Recruiting for Student-Athletes

Football coach showing football player how to hold the football properly

How to Get Recruited: A Comprehensive Guide to College Recruiting for Student-Athletes

Published August 13, 2023

Football coach showing football player how to hold the football properly

Navigating the world of college recruitment can be daunting. Wondering how to stand out from the crowd and get recruited? Our guide demystifies the process, providing actionable insights to help prospective student-athletes make informed decisions and shine in the competitive realm of collegiate sports.

Understand the Recruitment Process

Talent Assessment: Knowing Where You Stand

Regardless of your sport, honestly assessing your talent and skill levels is the initial step. Many student-athletes aim for Division 1 (D1) without knowing if they’re a good fit athletically and academically. Remember, D1 programs are fiercely competitive.

Just because you shine in your local or regional area doesn’t mean you’ll stand out nationally. Consulting national statistics and talking with your high school coach can offer clarity. While D1 might be the dream, D2 and D3 programs can provide enriching experiences and might be more suited to your abilities. However, remember that D3 colleges don’t offer athletic scholarships through the NCAA, though other D3 athletic scholarships are available

>>RELATED: Is Going to a Junior College (JUCO) a Good Step for Athletes?

The Different Stages of College Recruitment

From initial identification to signing, understanding the recruitment stages is essential. This includes familiarizing yourself with introductory emails, official visits, and the importance of National Signing Day.

Here’s a breakdown of the stages of college recruitment:

  • Identification: This is the beginning, where college coaches first notice potential recruits, usually through high school matches, club tournaments, or scouting platforms. Highlight reels and stats from student-athletes can aid in this stage.
  • Initial Contact: After identification, coaches often make their first contact. This could be through introductory emails, questionnaires, or even casual conversations at events.
  • Evaluation: Coaches will now study the athlete’s game closely. They may attend your matches, analyze your highlight videos, and even discuss your potential with your current coaches.
  • Verbal Offer: If a coach is impressed, they might make a verbal offer. While this is an exciting phase, it’s essential to note that these offers aren’t binding.
  • Official Visits: These are campus visits funded by the college where the athlete gets an in-depth look at the facilities, meets the team and gets a feel for campus life.
  • National Signing Day: This is the day when high school seniors sign their National Letter of Intent (NLI). An NLI is a binding agreement stating the student-athlete’s commitment to a college in exchange for an athletic scholarship.
  • Commitment: After signing the NLI, the student-athlete has officially committed to play for the college. From here, the focus shifts to preparing for collegiate-level competition.

Know the NCAA Guidelines

The NCAA has clear guidelines for many sports. Make sure you’re compliant with these regulations throughout the recruitment process.

Here’s what you need to know.

Recruitment Periods

  • Contact Period: During this time, coaches can make in-person contact with athletes and their parents, watch athletes compete or visit their schools, and write or telephone student-athletes.
  • Evaluation Period: Coaches can watch athletes compete in person or visit their school but cannot have in-person conversations off campus.
  • Quiet Period: Coaches may not watch athletes compete or visit their schools and can only have face-to-face conversations on their own college campuses.
  • Dead Period: Coaches may not have in-person contact with athletes or their parents.
  • Eligibility Center: Before playing for an NCAA school, you must register with the NCAA Eligibility Center to ensure you’re academically eligible.

Other NCAA Guidelines

  • Amateurism: The NCAA has strict guidelines on maintaining amateur status. Accepting payment for playing, signing with an agent, or receiving gifts can jeopardize your amateur status and eligibility.
  • Academic Requirements: GPA and standardized test score requirements are based on the NCAA’s sliding scale. This ensures student-athletes are equipped for college life.
  • Recruiting Calendars: Specific to each sport, these calendars outline when and how college coaches can contact high school athletes. It’s essential to familiarize yourself with the calendar for your sport.
  • Scholarships and Financial Aid: While Division I and II schools offer athletic scholarships, Division III schools do not, at least not through the NCAA. Understanding the financial aspects and how scholarships work within NCAA guidelines is critical.
  • Transfer Rules: Specific rules are in place if you’re considering transferring from one NCAA school to another. Ensure you understand these before making any decisions.

Staying informed and abreast of these stages and guidelines is critical to ensuring a smooth recruitment process and maximizing opportunities. Student-athletes and their guardians should be actively involved in understanding these aspects to make informed decisions.

>>RELATED: A Student-Athlete’s Path to College — Tips From an Expert

How to Get Recruited: Showcasing Your Skills and Value

To stand out in the crowded field of aspiring student-athletes, you must not only possess talent but also effectively showcase these skills and the unique value they bring to a team. Let’s delve into how you can position yourself as a top recruit.

Create a Highlight Reel

Crafting a highlight reel is one of the most influential tools to get a coach’s attention. Here’s how to make it memorable:

  • Prioritize Quality Over Quantity: Your reel should be concise yet powerful. Aim for a length of 3-5 minutes showcasing your best plays.
  • Start with a Bang: Your best clips should be at the beginning to grab the coach’s attention immediately.
  • Variety is Key: Display a range of skills. For example, a basketball player might showcase shooting, defense, passing, and court vision.
  • Clear Identification: Ensure coaches can easily identify you in the clips. Use arrows or highlighting tools, especially if the footage is from a full game.
  • Add Pertinent Information: Begin your reel with a brief slide with your name, position, graduation year, GPA, and contact information.
  • Update Regularly: As you improve and achieve more on the field or court, update your reel to reflect your latest accomplishments.

Build an Athlete Resume

A well-constructed resume gives coaches a comprehensive view of you as both an athlete and a student.

  • Personal Details: Start with basic information – full name, date of birth, height, weight, and contact details.
  • Academic Achievements: List your GPA, standardized test scores, and academic awards or honors.
  • Athletic Accomplishments: Detail your sports achievements, including statistics, awards, tournaments, and any press coverage.
  • Leadership & Extracurriculars: Highlight leadership roles (like team captain) and involvement in other clubs or community service. This paints a picture of you as a well-rounded individual.
  • References: Include contact details of coaches, trainers, or mentors who can vouch for your skills and character.
  • Update Often: Like your highlight reel, your resume should be a living document updated with new accomplishments.

Network with Coaches and Players

Building relationships can be as valuable as showcasing skills. Here’s how to foster meaningful connections:

  • Initial Contact: Draft personalized emails to coaches introducing yourself. Attach your highlight reel and athlete resume. Be concise and express genuine interest in their program.
  • Attend Camps and Showcases: These events are prime opportunities to interact face-to-face with college coaches and display your abilities.
  • Engage on Social Media: Follow teams and coaches on platforms like Twitter or Instagram. Engage professionally – liking, sharing, or commenting on relevant posts.
  • Seek Feedback: After any interaction, ask for feedback. This shows your eagerness to learn and grow.
  • Build Peer Networks: Connect with current or past players from prospective colleges. They can provide insights into the team culture and what coaches look for.
  • Stay Persistent but Respectful: While it’s good to be proactive, ensure you’re not overstepping boundaries or becoming a nuisance.

You can greatly enhance your visibility and desirability as a potential college recruit by showcasing your skills and actively engaging with the right audience. Remember, it’s about making it easy for coaches to see your value and imagine you as a vital part of their team.

>>RELATED: Common Misconceptions About the College Athletic Recruiting Process

Academics in College Recruiting: Why Grades Matter

Grades and GPA

In the recruiting arena, your athletic prowess is a significant factor, but so is your academic standing. Here’s why your grades and GPA hold paramount importance:

  • Eligibility Benchmarks: Many collegiate athletic programs, particularly under NCAA or NAIA, have explicit academic criteria. Athletes often must uphold a certain GPA to be considered for potential scholarships and participation. Lagging behind could risk your position or even result in the loss of a scholarship.
  • Distinguishing Factor: When multiple athletes are vying for the same spot with comparable athletic abilities, a higher GPA can tip the scales in your favor. Coaches respect athletes who showcase dedication both in their sport and their studies.
  • Academic Scholarships: Beyond athletic scholarships, robust academic performance can pave the way for academic scholarships. These can serve as an excellent backup, especially for sports that might offer fewer athletic scholarships.
  • Preparation for Transfers: Should there be a need to transfer to another college, your GPA becomes a deciding element. Both athletic and academic performance are scrutinized during transfers.
  • Post-College Opportunities: Not every athlete turns professional. A commendable GPA ensures you’re set for life after college, enabling you to dive into various professions.

To keep your academic performance at its peak, stay organized, engage in class, set specific study times, and don’t shy away from seeking help when needed.

>>RELATED: What Is a Good GPA: Different Calculations, Impacts and Tips

Standardized Testing Readiness

While the emphasis often rests on an athlete’s performance on the field or court, their prowess in the classroom cannot be overlooked. Academic achievements speak volumes about a student’s discipline and commitment and can open additional doors during the recruitment process. Let’s delve deeper into the essentiality of academic preparation.

  • Prioritize Academics: Take the PSAT in your sophomore and junior years to gauge where you stand. While these are practice tests, they glimpse your academic prowess. However, ensure you’re prepared before taking these tests to present your best academic side. Coaches need this information for their recruitment list. Treat these tests like a big game — prepared, focused, and determined. Standardized tests like the PSAT, SAT, and ACT are benchmarks for academic aptitude. 
  • Early Preparation: Begin preparing well in advance. Just as you wouldn’t walk onto the field without prior training, the same principle applies here. Consider prep courses, tutoring, or study groups to ensure readiness.
  • Retesting: If you feel your score doesn’t adequately represent your abilities, don’t hesitate to retake the test. Universities often consider the highest scores, so it’s in your interest to present your best.
  • Sharing Your Scores: If coaches express interest, be transparent and share your test scores. This transparency can build trust and show coaches you’re both athletically and academically inclined.
  • Athletic Mindset: Bring the same dedication, discipline, and resilience you show in your sport to your academic endeavors. Remember, every test is an opportunity to score and further solidify your position in the recruitment process.

>>RELATED: What Is a Good PSAT Score? Essential Guide to Scoring, Scholarships, and Prep

Prioritizing Academic Excellence

In the competitive world of college recruitment, an emphasis on academics can be the distinguishing factor. It’s not just about scoring goals or making baskets; it’s also about acing tests and showcasing a well-rounded personality. Aspiring student-athletes must remember that the “student” comes before “athlete” for a reason.

Consider these aspects of academic excellence.

  • Balancing Act: Excelling in academics and sports requires meticulous time management. Consider using planners, setting specific study hours, or seeking help to ensure you stay on track.
  • Beyond the Game: While athletic skills are crucial, they have a shelf life. Academic excellence ensures that you have a solid foundation for life beyond sports, opening avenues for diverse career opportunities.
  • Academic Scholarships: Achieving high academic standards can lead to academic scholarships, which can be a great supplement or alternative to athletic scholarships. In some cases, it might make you a more attractive recruit as it may reduce the financial burden on the athletic department.
  • Staying Informed: Stay updated on the academic requirements of the NCAA and the institutions you’re interested in. Ensure you’re on track to meet these standards.
  • Engaging in Extracurricular Activities: Engaging in non-sport activities showcases your versatility, leadership skills, and ability to commit to multiple disciplines.

Networking for College Recruiting Success

Building authentic relationships and effectively networking are as essential as training and academic preparation. Establishing these connections can set you apart and give you a more in-depth insight into the college experience from multiple perspectives.

College Tours: The Key to Understanding Fit

College visits are invaluable. They enable these benefits:

  • Objective Assessment: A college tour lets you objectively evaluate if the environment aligns with your personal and athletic aspirations. Walking around campus, observing the student culture, and checking out training facilities can offer a tangible sense of life at the college.
  • Face-to-Face Interaction: Meeting coaches in person can solidify your interest and demonstrate your commitment. Prepare a list of questions to ensure you gather all necessary information and understand their expectations.
  • Classroom Visits: If possible, attend a class or two. This will give you a feel for the academic rigor and teaching style, helping you gauge your comfort level.
  • Financial Assessment: While on campus, visit the financial aid office. Discussing potential scholarships or grants can clarify the financial aspect of your college journey.
  • Feedback Collection: Engage with current students, especially those outside the athletic community, to gain a well-rounded understanding of the campus culture, academic pressure, and overall experience.

>>RELATED: College Tours: 6 Things to Pay Attention To

Connect with Current College Athletes

Talking with current college athletes can provide several benefits:

  • Invaluable Insights: Current college athletes can provide a first-hand account of their experiences, challenges, and the dynamics of balancing sports with academics.
  • Mentorship: Building relationships with seasoned college athletes can lead to mentorship opportunities. They can guide you through tough decisions and offer advice based on their personal experiences.
  • Training Tips: Gaining insights into college-level training routines, nutrition, and recovery can give you an edge as you prepare for recruitment.
  • Network Expansion: Connecting with one athlete can lead to introductions to others, expanding your network and increasing your visibility.
  • Set Expectations: Understanding the day-to-day life of a college athlete can help set realistic expectations for yourself and give you a clearer picture of what lies ahead.

Engage in Community and Volunteer Work

The benefits of community work include:

  • Character Building: Engaging in community work showcases that you have a sense of responsibility towards your community. It demonstrates leadership, compassion, and a proactive attitude.
  • Skill Development: Volunteering can help develop skills like teamwork, communication, and problem-solving — all vital in sports and life.
  • Broadening Perspectives: Community work can provide diverse experiences and broaden your worldview. This can be especially valuable in a team setting where understanding and respecting diverse viewpoints can lead to better team cohesion.
  • Networking: Community involvement can introduce you to various people, some of whom may have unexpected connections or opportunities related to college sports.
  • Positive Impression: Coaches often look for players who bring a positive influence to the team and the college. Showcasing your commitment to community work can leave a lasting impression and tip the scales in your favor.

In the quest for college recruitment, while athletic prowess is indispensable, it’s the relationships you build, the initiatives you undertake, and the character you display that can make all the difference. Always remember to be genuine in your efforts and let your true self shine through.


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

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