NCSA Recruiting Expert and Educational Speaker Coach Bob Chmiel travels the country year-round, providing families with recruiting education at partner camps, combines, and high school events. With over thirty years of experience in college football – specifically football recruiting – Coach Chmiel now lives his passion for sports and education as a speaker at NCSA.
One of the most exciting aspects of the recruiting process is visiting a college campus. The dream of moving on to play a chosen sport in college really starts to feel like a reality once a student-athlete has had the chance to go and check out the school, meet potential teammates, and get to know the coaching staff.
Even just walking the paths between class buildings and dorms starts to give a good idea as to what campus life is like, and whether or not student-athletes could see themselves attending a particular school.
Now, there are two ways to visit a school as a prospect or recruit: an unofficial visit, or an official visit.
When looking at Division I schools, a student-athlete can take five official visits and an unlimited amount of unofficial visits according to NCAA regulations. In all other divisions, (DII, DIII, NAIA), official and unofficial visits are unlimited.
But what’s the difference between the two? As fall sports are in the middle of campus visit season, and spring sport student-athletes are preparing to accept offers to visit schools, let’s do little review.
Official Visits to a College Campus
An official visit is when the school invites a student-athlete to visit campus and pays for their travel, lodging, and certain per diem expenses. For instance, if a student-athlete flies in an airplane to visit a school, the school will pay for their plane ticket when coming on an official visit, (not the ticket of a family member or anyone else coming along, only the student-athlete). If the school is close enough for a student-athlete to drive to, the athletic program will pay for gas mileage on an official visit.
Again, student-athletes are allowed up to five official visits in Division I, and unlimited in all other divisions. By the same token, college programs are only allowed to host a certain amount of official visits, and this amount varies by sport.
It is my advice to take as many official visits as offered and of interest outside of DI. Why? Outside of Division I, you can take unlimited visits!
You’ve got nothing to lose, the trip is paid for, and you may fall in love with a campus and program you wouldn’t have experienced had you not gone on an official visit there.
If you are getting multiple offers for an official visit within DI, it’s going to take some planning and discretion when deciding where to accept an official visit to, because of that “up-to-five” rule. Keep this in mind as you start to map out when and where you want to visit and what division it is.
Just as the word suggests, an “unofficial” visit is the exact opposite of an official visit in regards to having expenses covered.
On an unofficial visit, a student-athlete pays their way to the campus, and is also responsible for covering all lodging, food, and other expenses.
Once you have committed to taking an unofficial visit to a program, a recruit may be issued up to three tickets to a regular season game being played during their visit, according o NCAA regulations, which the school will set up for you.
No school can offer a recruit tickets to tournament or bowl games. And again, a recruit can take an unlimited amount of unofficial visits.
How recruits can set up both official visits and unofficial visits
Both types of visits require an invitation from a college coach or program, meaning a school has to proactively send you some form of an invitation offering either an official or unofficial visit, and that’s when it is up to you to follow-up.
As a high school student-athlete, you can absolutely reach out to a college coach or program and let them know your interest in visiting their school.
In fact, I highly recommend doing so.
In an email or over the course of a phone call, it is a great idea to mention to a coach, “I want to be clear that I really love what I know about your program and school and would be honored to be offered a visit.”
Taking an enthusiastic, respectful, and proactive approach to getting offered an official or unofficial visit is a great place to start with schools that are on your radar.
Coach Chmiel’s last pieces of advice on official visits and unofficial visits
There are some final thoughts I want to leave you with.
Being offered an official visit by a college program generally means a program has a very high level of interest in you.
Take this into consideration, and remember, if it’s a DI school, you only get five official visits. Use them wisely.
If a school is offering you an unofficial visit, there is at least some interest there, however not anywhere near the same level as an official visit.
When schools outside of DI offer you an official visit, I don’t really see any downside in taking it. You may learn you love a school you never knew much about, or it may make it easier to cross it off your list. And practice interacting with coaches and their team is always a positive thing when it comes to your recruitment.
Plan visits early on and with efficiency by area of the country; schedule them in an area where you’re vacationing with your family or perhaps traveling for a tournament. When you make campus visits a priority early on, the more confident you’ll be in your decision later down the road.
The scouts and digital resources at NCSA Athletic Recruiting can help you prepare for your campus visits. The best way to get started is with a recruiting profile.