College Recruiting Process: How Do Colleges Recruit Athletes?
For many families, the most difficult part of the recruiting process is understanding how colleges recruit, evaluate, and show interest in student-athletes. To better explain the college recruiting process, it's helpful to look at it from a coach's perspective.
Many college coaches begin the recruiting process by contacting a large group of athletes that think would be a good fit for their program. For bigger programs, this number can be in the hundreds or even thousands. Through evaluations, reviewing highlight video, contact with recruits, etc., they slowly start to whittle that number down until they've filled their open roster spots. In other words, the college recruiting process resembles a funnel, starting out with a lot of recruits and narrowing down to a select few.
These are the typical steps coaches will take to get to their final recruits.
Gather a pool of athletes who meet basic requirements
To start out, coaches need to gather a large group of recruits. They will identify recruits who meet basic criteria like height, weight, position, grad year, academics, location, etc. To do so, college coaches will use the following methods:
- Recruiting media sites like Rivals.com or 247Sports
- Third-party recruiting services like NCSA (we have the largest network of student-athlete online profiles)
- Recommendations from high school or club coaches
- Emails and messages from recruits
- Camps and showcases where they can see many potential recruits in one place
At this point in the college recruiting process, around 800 athletes may make it through the initial evaluation process at smaller programs, while nearly 8,000 prospects may make it on the next step at larger programs.
What this means for you: As a recruit, you need to look at the college recruiting process like a funnel, too. You want to start out with as many programs that would be a good fit for you, and then pare that list down based on your interests and the interest of college coaches.
To do so, consider attending camps and showcases held by coaches at schools you’re interested in. Create your free recruiting profile with NCSA so college coaches can easily find your information online. And get your name in front of college coaches as much as possible through emails, social media, and more. Don’t forget to always include the key pieces of information they need to know to conduct their initial evaluation of you as a recruit.Back to Top ^
Send letters to prospects to gauge interest in the program
The next step for most coaches is to begin sending out messages to that large group of athletes to get an idea of how many might be interested in their program. Athletes who pass the initial evaluation will likely receive one or more of the following:
- Requests to complete a recruiting questionnaire
- Invitations to a camp
- General interest letters from the school
After coaches send these communications, they will see who responds—and how—and narrow their list of prospects down to between 500-3,000 athletes, depending on the size of the program.
What this means for you: Recruiting questionnaires, camp invites and general interest letters from a school may seem impersonal and not worthy of a follow-up. However, they do serve an important purpose. Respond to each coach with a personalized message, thanking them for the letter and letting them know you are interested in their program.
At this point, many athletes want to know if a college coach is really interested, and the answer is actually quite simple: If you've received mail from the coach, they are most likely evaluating you as a recruit. It's in your best interest to quickly follow up to ensure you get to the next step in the recruiting process.Back to Top ^
Conduct in-depth athletic, academic and character evaluation of recruits
At this stage in the college recruiting process, coaches really need to get to know recruits in order to create a ranked list of top prospects. This often means they will get in touch with athletes and start calling their high school/club coaches to get an evaluation and/or recommendation. They may also travel to larger tournaments or showcases where many of their recruits will be competing, or they will send the athletes personalized invites to their own camps. Official and unofficial visits can also happen at this time, as coaches try to really get to know prospects and create a solid list of top recruits.
Once this round of rigorous evaluations is complete, coaches will be down to a ranked list of about 20-300 athletes, depending on the sport and the division level.
What this means for you: Don’t wait for college coaches to start contacting you! Instead, take the initiative to show them why you deserve to make it to the next round of the college recruiting process. Send them updated athletic and academic stats and highlight videos with your best and most recent footage. Ask your high school/club coach to reach out to college coaches on your behalf. And let coaches know you’re coming to their school for an unofficial visit and you’d like to arrange a time to meet with them while you’re there.Back to Top ^
Extend scholarship offers and lock down commitments
Coaches now have a ranked list of their top prospects, and it’s time to start locking down commitments. As with every step of the college recruiting process, different coaches will approach this step in different ways. For large programs at DI or DII schools, college coaches will have a list of nearly 200-300 athletes. Not all of those athletes will be joining the team, but the coach will start by giving out offers to the recruits at the top of their list and then work their way down until they’ve filled all open roster spots. Coaches may still conduct on-campus visits at this step, at which point, athletes should be prepared to answer tough questions if they get an offer.
Many athletes ask when can college coaches make you an offer, and that depends on the type of offer. Verbal offers, or non-binding, handshake agreements between a recruit and a college coach, can happen at any time and age. Offers usually become official when the athlete signs their National Letter of Intent, which typically occurs their senior year of high school. However, one of the biggest problems with early offers is that both the recruit and the coach can back out of them at any time. For example, if an athlete was given a verbal scholarship offer from a school their freshman year, that school can back out that athlete’s senior year. This leaves the recruit in a tough spot if they haven’t been communicating with any other schools.
After all the offers are made—and accepted—a recruiting class can range from 2-30 athletes, depending on the sport and division level.
What this means for you: If you’ve made it to this point of the college recruiting process, you need to be ready to handle some tough conversations about scholarships, offers and financial aid. Talk with your family about narrowing down your target list of schools and make sure you know which schools where you’d be prepared to commit.Back to Top ^
Signing athletes and ensuring academic eligibility
The last step for college coaches is ensuring that each recruit signs with the program and meets eligibility requirements. Here’s how the committing and signing timeline works in most cases:
- The athlete verbally commits to the school.
- The college coach extends an official offer.
- The athlete signs the official offer.
- The athlete continues to meet eligibility requirements by taking all the necessary core courses and receiving the required GPA in those courses.
Unfortunately, every year, athletes who have signed with a college end their senior year ineligible to compete at the college level. This leaves both the athlete and the coach in a lurch. The coach will need to go back to their list of top prospects and see if the athlete who ranked number two in that spot is still available, interested and academically eligible. The recruit will likely need to compete for a year or two at a junior college to gain academic eligibility.
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What this means for you: While it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of athletic recruiting and signing with a school, you still need to make sure that you stay academically eligible. If you’re concerned at all that you may not be able to meet the requirements, meet with your guidance counselor to go over what grades you need to meet in your core courses, and strategize a way to get there.