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5 Factors to Consider When Building Your Target List of Schools

Almost every high school athlete thinks a lot about what schools will recruit them. But there’s another question that’s just as important: Where do you want to go and what are you looking for in a college? You owe it to yourself to think about where you really want to go and what’s important to you in a school. Some athletes prefer smaller schools, others can’t imagine leaving their home state. Regardless of the schools that are recruiting you, create a list of 25-50 schools you want to be recruited by. Use this checklist when developing your target list:


What part of the country are you interested in, and how much does temperature matter? Where would you feel safe? Do you want to stay close to home, get as far away as you can, or are you flexible? Do you want to be in the heart of the city, at a school like Michigan or USC? Out in the country, at a place like Washington and Lee? In the suburbs? A classic college town like Gainesville or South Bend?

The easiest way to understand if a location is right for you is to visit the school. Tour the campus, investigate the city. After you visit a few colleges, your preferences might change. And that’s OK! Keep an open mind as you start forming your list of schools.


Sports are a big part of an athlete’s college experience, but they’re not the number one priority. Ultimately, college is a place to get an education, and academics are a crucial consideration. Look into whether a college has a strong program in your future area of study. Think about whether your focus is business, professional, technical, or in the hard or social sciences. Most importantly, do you feel like you could succeed there? There are a few schools that are athletic and academic powerhouses — Stanford, for example — but there are also a lot of academically elite schools where athletics are a ticket in the door.


What do you want out of your college athletic experience? Is it a way to pay for college, make friends, and build character, or do you hope to go pro? Does the division level matter to you  (NCAA I, II, or III; NAIA; NJCAA), and is the division you are targeting realistic for your athletic and academic qualifications? Would you stay if the coach left? This happens often, so you need to consider if you’d be willing to stick around without the coach who recruited you.

Playing Time

The more competitive your school, the less playing time you are likely to get early on. Unless you’re one of the top 0.1% of recruits, you probably won’t start your freshman year as a football player at Alabama, a basketball player at Duke, or a softball player at Arizona State. You may never get a chance to start at all. Which is more important to you — playing time or being part of a top-tier program?


Are you looking for a small, tight-knit group at a small college, or a massive student body like you’d find at a Big Ten or SEC school? Big schools can be intimidating at first but provide a chance to do a lot of exploring; small schools tend to foster a strong sense of community. Consider whether you would prefer big lecture halls or small seminars. Size has nothing to do with how good the school is — great schools come in all sizes.

If you need help developing your target list of schools, call one of our NCAA-certified recruiting experts at 866-579-6272. Or, start building your recruiting profile in the NCSA network so coaches can find you.

About the author
Aaron Sorenson