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Application Deadlines and Processes

Application Deadlines and Processes.

The recruiting process at times can seem overwhelming. With so much to think about and accomplish—from putting together your athletic profile to attending events and making sure the right coaches see you play—it’s easy to forget the fact that you actually have to apply to college. If you’re not organized and miss important deadlines, there’s no real safety net. It’s up to you to manage your time wisely so you can sign on the dotted line and begin your college athletic career. Learn about the benefits of recruiting services at NCSA.

There are seven main parts to the application process:

  1. Registering for and taking the ACT and SAT
  2. Registering with the NCAA Eligibility Center (for DI and DII) and/or the NAIA Eligibility Center
  3. Filling out and sending in college applications
  4. Submitting your FAFSA paperwork
  5. Requesting your final amateurism certification 
  6. Sending your final transcripts and proof of graduation to the Eligibility Center(s)
  7. Signing the acceptance letter 

ACT and SAT registration and test dates

SAT and ACT test dates

As an underclassman, you should be taking prep courses and the PSAT and PLAN to prepare for the real deal. By your junior year, you should register for and take both the ACT and SAT standardized tests. The ACT is given six times per year: September, October, December, February, April and June. The SAT is given seven times per year: October, November, December, January, March (or April), May and June. Registration for each test date usually opens about a month before.


You can take the ACT up to 12 times and the SAT as many times as you want, but you should stick to no more than four times.

The College Board website has more information about the SAT. Learn more about the ACT.

Insider tip: Fee waivers are available for economically disadvantaged students for both the ACT and SAT. You can use fee waivers up to two times for each test.

The NCAA and NAIA Eligibility Center registration

If you’re looking to play Division I or Division II, register for a Certification Account with the NCAA Eligibility Center (formerly the Clearinghouse) and/or the NAIA Eligibility Center by the summer after your junior year. Student-athletes who will play Division III can create a Profile Page in the NCAA Eligibility Center to receive updates relevant to their needs.

Insider tip: If you aren’t sure which division you will compete in should start with a Profile Page and move to a Certification Account if they end up doing DI or DII.

The NCAA Eligibility Center looks at your high school core courses, your core GPA for those courses and your ACT/SAT test scores to determine eligibility. Your official scores have to be sent directly from the testing agencies, so use code “9999” for NCAA and “9876” for NAIA when you request those scores. It’s important to register by your junior year so you can go on an official visit.

College application tips: when to apply

By the time you’re ready to apply to college—usually the summer before your senior year—you should have your target list of schools narrowed down. You can apply to as many colleges as you’d like, but keep in mind that there are application fees involved, and filling out the forms can be time consuming. Every college has different deadlines for their admissions process, so make sure you have a method for organizing those important dates. A good practice is to create a spreadsheet or calendar so you can stay on top of the various timelines.

Insider tip: Student-athletes should consider using the Common Application, which allows you to send multiple schools the same application information at once. It’s a huge time-saver.

You have three application choices: apply for an early decision; choose a rolling decision option; or apply as part of the regular decision process. Each of these options has different deadlines. Most student-athletes choose to apply as part of the regular decision so they have more time to make a final decision on the program they are most interested in or get their test scores up.

early regular decision applications

Early decision applications are usually due around November 1 of your senior year, while most regular decision applications aren’t due until January 1. However, with early decision applications, student-athletes are bound to applying to only one college. This choice is a personal one based on your circumstances.

Are Ivy League or Top-50 colleges on your target list? offers 1-on-1 guidance from admissions experts to strengthen your college applications and boost your chances of admission.

What’s the Common Application?

The Common Application (also known as the Common App) is a form that student-athletes fill out with general information like GPA and extracurricular activities, which they can use to apply to multiple schools. Instead of filling out this information for each school, student-athletes can apply to any of the 870+ colleges that accept this application. This is especially helpful because athletes are able to submit the same admission essay to a large number of colleges. While the Common App is free to use, every college charges their own application processing fee.

Early action vs. early decision

When it comes to applying to college, an early action or early decision application offer less competition than a regular application for getting admitted at an early stage. However, these early applications mostly benefit those who have done their research ahead of time and have narrowed down their choices to where they want to attend college.

The main difference between the two applications is that an early decision application is binding and the applicant must attend the school if they are accepted. An early action application is not binding but can offer the applicant ease of mind with knowing that they’ve been accepted (or not) at an earlier date.

For more on the topic, check out this video featuring D3 Kalamazoo College swim coach Jay Daniels and former D1 and D3 swim coach Danny Koenig.

Should you apply early decision?

Getting accepted early does offer some benefits, including saving on the cost of submitting multiple applications, reducing stress and time spent waiting on a decision, and having more time to prepare for moving to college. Additionally, studies show that early decision applicants get accepted at a higher rate than regular applicants. Plus, if not accepted, early applicants also have more time to form a back-up plan.

This can be especially appealing for student-athletes who have done their college research and have settled on a first-choice school that fits them athletically, academically, socially and financially. However, applying early decision may not be a good decision for someone who is not 100% sure they want to attend that college, has not done a lot of research into colleges or may need to bring their grades up their final semester.

To learn more about early decision, watch this video featuring former D1 University of South Dakota football player Phil Wells and former D1 and D3 swim coach Danny Koenig.

How to write a college application essay

Since courses, grades, and standardized test scores are set factors in the application process, a student-athlete’s personal essay is an opening to tell their story, display their interests, talents and motivations. When writing a college essay, student-athletes want to write something that stands out from the large stacks of essays college admissions professionals read. 

The tips below will help student-athletes prepare and write an essay that might land them in their dream college.

Understanding the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

While a full-ride scholarship to the school of your dreams is what every student-athlete wants, the reality is that only 2 percent of high school athletes are awarded athletic scholarships, and an even smaller percentage of that receive full rides. And there are no athletic scholarships at the DIII level. Luckily, all students are eligible for financial aid to supplement scholarship dollars.

In order to receive financial aid, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Students (FAFSA). To fill it out, here is what you’ll need for yourself and from your parents, if you are a dependent:

There are three deadlines to be aware of regarding submitting your FAFSA:

If you miss the college or state deadline for FAFSA, you are not likely to receive much financial aid, if any. If you miss the federal deadline, you’re out of luck for that year. However, you can submit for the next year. 

Common FAFSA mistakes to avoid

Assuming an athlete is ineligible 

Every family should fill out the FAFSA, even if they don’t think they are eligible to receive federal student aid. Michael Runiewicz, Director, Student Financial Services at Washington University in St. Louis, elaborates, “A lot of families who think they won’t qualify for aid, in reality, qualify for and oftentimes receive significant amounts of aid. In the case of expensive private schools, even if a family makes more than $300,000 a year, students might receive need-based aid if their family has more than one student in college.”

If an athlete’s circumstances change during their college career and they need to take out a student loan, they must have a FAFSA on file to do that. Plus, some schools require students to have a FAFSA on file to get a job on campus. 

Misunderstanding who “you” refers to

Parents often think “you” refers to them because they are the ones reading it, but “you” almost always refers to the student. For example, for the question, “Are you married?”, the married parents of an athlete may mistakenly answer yes. That’s a significant mistake, because the application is asking if the athlete is married. The same thing can happen on questions about income. If a parent puts their income in the student section of the FAFSA, that, too, is an error and will cause problems in the application process. 

Self-adjusting financial information

The FAFSA asks families to provide “prior, prior year” data, meaning that students entering college in the fall of 2021 will be asked to provide financial information from 2019. Families are often confused by this, especially those whose financial circumstances might have changed since two years prior due to losing a job, filing for divorce or something else that has impacted their finances. 

As a result, some families believe their story is not being told correctly and they decide to provide data from the most recent year because they consider that to be more reflective of their current situation. Michael Runiewicz shares that this can cause problems for institutions when they review FAFSA applications, “That’s going to be a problem for us. We don’t want families to self-adjust anything; we are the ones required to make those adjustments on behalf of the family.” 

Runiewicz urges parents to let a school’s financial aid office know if there is something impacting their family’s ability to pay for college that is not reflected on the FAFSA.

Forgetting to sign

And don’t forget to sign the application! Neglecting to sign the FAFSA is an all too common mistake that prevents FAFSA applications from being processed. It’s also important for parents and athletes to make sure they are using the correct FAFSA-designated pin numbers when signing electronically. Mix-ups occur when a parent signs with their student’s number and vice-versa. 

While the FAFSA is correctable, failing to fill out the application properly the first time slows down the process and could jeopardize meeting aid deadlines.

NCAA Amateurism Certificate

Starting April 1 of your senior year, you must request your final amateurism certificate if you plan to play in a DI or DII institution. To be eligible to compete and receive a scholarship with the NCAA, you have to meet certain requirements. You have likely already registered with the NCAA Eligibility Center during your junior year, but you must update the information in your senior year in order to become certified and cleared to play at the college level.

Final transcripts and proof of graduation

After you graduate high school, you must prove to the NCAA that you’ve done so. The best way is to have transcripts sent to the NCAA Eligibility Center with your graduation date included. If you can’t provide a transcript with the graduation date included, an administrator at your high school can sign a proof of graduation and fax it to the Eligibility Center.

Tell the coach when you’ve applied

One of the most common mistakes student-athletes make in the application process is not letting the coach know when they’re applying to the school. If an athlete applies and doesn’t get in, there’s nothing they—or the coach—can do about it. But if the coach knows that an athlete submitted their application, they may be able to flag it with the admissions office. Of course, an athlete’s test scores, GPA and application need to stand on their own, but coaches will want to know when top recruits have applied to their school.. 

If the athlete doesn’t have a relationship established with the coaching staff, they should still let them know when the application was submitted. It may remind the coach to take a second glance at the athlete’s recruiting profile and video. For many coaches, deciphering whether a recruit is seriously interested in their program or not can be a challenge, so communicating about your application to the college may give you a competitive edge over other recruits.

The role of college coaches in the admissions process

College coaches can serve as both an aid and a barrier in a recruit’s college admissions process. Below is a list of the main ways college coaches get involved:

  1. “Walk your application through”: College coaches usually have some sort of input on recruits being admitted, depending on the college, the sport and the influence of the coach in question. This process is often referred to as “walking your application through,” but even the most powerful coaches have a limited influence with admissions. In most cases, coaches are going to reserve this power for elite recruits. With that said, a college coach only has so much influence and recruits trying to get admitted to a strong academic school that don’t have the required grades would be a lot more difficult.
  2. Secure financial aid: Access to additional aid is important for many student-athletes, especially those playing in equivalency sports with smaller athletic scholarship budgets and Division 3 programs that don’t offer athletic scholarships. College coaches can coordinate with their college to line up financial assistance for recruits, including academic scholarships, need-based aid and other forms of financial help. 
  3. Dismiss unqualified recruits: If a college coach sees that an athlete may not meet the academic or athletic standards to gain admission on their own, then coaches may not even bother recruiting them. When building a list of prospective schools, athletes should have a good understanding of whether or not they meet the requirements to be admitted and if it’s realistic to add the school to their list.

Acceptance letter

Nothing is official until you receive an acceptance letter. And, even then, if you don’t formally accept, you haven’t made it quite yet. Each school has its own deadline for when you must accept, so make sure you note that when you receive your letter. If you don’t let them know you intend to come, they will offer your spot up to someone else. You’ve done all the hard work, so it’s time to make it official.

What if a coach recruits me after the application deadline?

Several coaches—especially at the D3 and NAIA levels—recruit student-athletes well into their senior year. Some student-athletes may find themselves in a position where the college coach is actively recruiting them, but the application deadline has passed. Fear not, there’s still a chance the coach may be able to override the deadline if their roster spots aren’t filled.

“Coaches would be calling you in the spring of your senior year knowing that they’ll more than likely be able to still get your application in, if you’re interested in their school,” says Julian Beckwith, Recruiting Coach at Next College Student Athlete.

So, if an athlete is being recruited by a coach at a school they haven’t applied to, they should be up front and let them know. If the coach is genuinely interested in the athlete, they may be able to still get the athlete’s application in.

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