Unofficial visits are a great way for student-athletes to get a feel for different college campuses. In the past, going on unofficial visits, or college visits financed entirely by the recruit’s family, was the key to snagging an early offer from a coach, even as young as 14 or 15 years old. However, effective May 1, 2019, the NCAA changed its rules around unofficial visits at the Division I level to curb the trend of athletes receiving such early scholarship offers.
Before the rule change, athletes could arrange unofficial visits with college coaches, even before college coaches were allowed to proactively communicate with them. Then, when the athlete was on campus, the coach would meet with them and, in many cases, extend an early scholarship offer. With the new rule change, however, athletes and their families are not allowed to arrange unofficial visits with a school’s athletic department (including the coach) until August 1 of the athlete’s junior year. Families can still go on unofficial visits before August 1 of junior year, but they aren’t allowed to have any recruiting conversations with the coach while on campus.
A key reason to go on unofficial visits is to evaluate if a college is the right fit for you, especially if you’re not yet a junior in high school. Get a campus tour, check out the dorms and get a feel for if you could live there for four years. The best part: Unofficial visits are unlimited and can be taken at any age and at most times throughout the year. You can also assess college fit during an official visit as well, which athletes in most sports can begin taking August 1 of their junior year. However, many student-athletes never receive an invitation to go on an official visit, as programs might have limited budgets and aren’t able to offer many official visits to recruits.
Insider Tip: Check the school calendar and steer clear of homecoming weekend and other busy dates to avoid paying premium hotel rates.
There’s a lot to consider before you start planning your unofficial visits. Due to the new NCAA recruiting rule changes (effective May 1, 2019), how you plan your unofficial visits will be different depending on your goals for the visit, your age and the division level of the school. If you’re visiting DII, DIII and NAIA schools, you won’t be impacted by the NCAA recruiting rule changes—they are only applicable for DI schools. This means that, no matter your age, you can arrange the unofficial visit with the athletic department or coach, and you can speak with the coach while you’re on campus.
If you’re interested in visiting DI schools, you can’t arrange the visit with the athletic department—or talk about recruiting with the coach while you’re there—until August 1 of your junior year of high school.
If you’re an upperclassman visiting D1 schools, or a recruit visiting schools at the other division levels, you can use your unofficial visit as a chance to advance your recruiting with the coach at that school. To do so, you need to make sure that the schools you’re visiting offer real recruiting opportunities. Ask yourself each of the following questions before you set up the visit:
If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you’re in a great position. Most importantly, you want to ensure that you have been in communication with the college coach. You don’t want to waste your time visiting a school that may not be a realistic recruiting opportunity for you. To set up your visit, call the coach and let them know you’re interested in seeing the campus. Ask them what dates they would be available to meet you and your family. Some recruits lean heavily on their high school or club coach to help them set up unofficial visits with college coaches.
If you’re an underclassman interested in D1 schools, there are a few different routes you can go. First, you can take unofficial visits to those D1 schools as if you were a regular student. Tour the library and the campus at large. Check out the town. Ask questions, take notes and determine what you like about the campus. This can help you better understand what you’re looking for in a school, so you can refine your target list. Don’t forget to check out some DII, DIII and NAIA schools—you never know what your best fit will be until you explore the different options available!
Insider Tip: There are a few different ways unofficial visits can “pay for themselves.” First, schedule back-to-back visits with schools that are located close to each other. Second, set up visits with schools in cities you’re already visiting. For example, if you have a tournament in the Kansas City area, consider visiting the University of Kansas in Lawrence if you have been in communication with that coach.
While every school is a little bit different, most coaches will take some time to speak with you and your parents/guardians about the school and their athletic program. Come prepared with questions for the coach and use this opportunity to get them answered. Then, the coach may take you on a tour of the athletic facilities. The rest of the time will be up to you to arrange a tour of the campus and possibly meet with an academic adviser. You and your family may also be invited to attend a home sporting event.
While unofficial visits are a great way to get to know a coach and the athletic program better, they also give you a chance to really experience the college campus. Can you picture yourself living there for four years? Here are a few key ways to familiarize yourself with the college campus during your visit:
As you’re checking each of these spots off your list, take a couple minutes to write down your thoughts. It might seem trivial at the moment, but as you visit schools throughout the year, they can all start to blend to together. You can always refer back to your notes later on when you’re working on narrowing down your target list of schools.
According to the NCAA unofficial visit rules, you are allowed to stay on campus with an enrolled student, but there are some specific rules the institution must follow based on its division level. For DI and DII schools, recruits can stay in an enrolled student’s dorm; however, the athlete must pay the regular institutional rate for that lodging. DIII recruits can stay with currently enrolled students in their dorm if that housing option is available to all students who visit the school, athletes and non-athletes alike. DIII schools can also pay for a student-athlete’s housing during an unofficial visit if they provide housing for every prospective student. Your parents/guardians will still need to find their own accommodations.
When you go on your unofficial visit, one of your top priorities should be to ask the coach any questions you have about the school and the program. Before you go, write down your questions and keep adding to the list throughout your visit. When it’s time to talk to the coach, you’ll have your list ready to go, rather than trying to come up with questions on the spot. Here some examples of questions you might want to ask:
A lot of recruits ask us what to wear, and our best piece of advice is to err on the side of overdressing, rather than underdressing. You want to look neat and clean throughout your entire trip. For men, bring a collared shirt with nice jeans or khakis. For women, skirt, dress, nice slacks or jeans are acceptable. Avoid wearing sweatshirts, sweatpants, hats, flip flops and ripped jeans.
Bring athletic clothes and shoes in case you get invited to work out with the team. For all D1 sports—minus men’s basketball—athletes are not allowed to try out for a team during a visit; however, the team captain can organize a team workout, which recruits can join if the coach is not present. Similarly, at DIII schools, recruits can join in an unofficial team workout. For Division I men’s basketball and all DII sports, recruits are able to take part in tryouts during visits.
When you get home, write the coach a “thank you” note. Tell the coach what you liked about the school and thank them for their time. You can also include a brief list of where you’ll be playing next so they can watch you in person. Not only does this show the coach that you are a thoughtful, courteous athlete, but it will keep you top-of-mind as the coach works on creating their roster.
Insider tip: Despite the impact that coronavirus had on college sports, as of June 1, 2021, the NCAA resumed its regular recruiting rules and activity! Coaches are actively working to fill their rosters, so student-athletes should be proactive in reaching out to coaches. Read up on how the extra year of eligibility granted to athletes who were most affected by the pandemic in 2020 will impact future recruiting classes.