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College Athletic Recruiting

For a high-performing student-athlete, playing at the college level can be a rewarding experience. The challenge is to find the college and athletic program that is the best fit for the student while maximizing his or her recruiting opportunities. The process is highly individualized, depending on the sport, the college, the coach, and the student's academic record and level of play. However, the following timetable will be helpful to students considering this approach.


Most students who are recruited to play at the college level have had exposure throughout high-school on out-of-school teams. In some sports, such as track and field, squash, swimming, tennis and golf, regional and national rankings drive recruiting. Those who play other sports generally send video footage of their play to selected colleges based on the advice of their coach and college counselor.

Grades 9-10

Students who have achieved a high level of play early in high school may start getting letters of interest from various coaches in their freshman or sophomore years. Students should respond to these letters if they are even remotely interested in the colleges, keeping in mind that thousands of such letters are sent out annually. Because students’ academic records are still forming, counseling students with regard to academic fit is impossible at this point.

Therefore, while stories abound of students who have “decided” by 10th grade that they are going to university X or Y, they will have made this decision before learning about all of their potential options. Each student should determine which college is the best overall environment for him or her. If a student is injured or the coach is replaced, the student should still love being at the college. Elite athletes may find themselves pressured into making an early verbal commitment; it is up to each student to determine how to handle any such offers.

Grade 11

By second semester junior year the athletic recruiting process as well as the college search process move into a higher gear. Aspiring athletes divide into two groups: GROUP A = students who are chasing coaches, and GROUP B = students who are being chased by coaches. Students in GROUP B may find that they are getting requests for athletic resumes (see Appendix I) and transcripts (sent at your request by the college counseling office); those in GROUP A need to create athletic resumes and initiate contact with coaches at the colleges that are of interest. The college counseling office will suggest academic matches for each student after his or her first meeting before spring break. Over spring break, students should visit a few colleges and try to meet with the coach if possible. Students wanting to play Division 1 athletics need to register with the NCAA by the end of their junior year. (See Appendix II) Again, elite athletes may already find themselves committing verbally to Division I coaches before the end of junior year, but this is more the exception than the rule.


Most students will take the SAT or ACT close to the March date during junior year. Some students (including athletes), however, will take it in January because some coaches like to see scores as soon as possible. The down side of taking the test this early is that a student may still have math and vocabulary to cover in class that will help boost scores. Indeed, students can always take a prep course AFTER taking their initial standardized test. Only the highest scores are taken into account, even if a student takes the test two or three times.

Grade 12:

Beginning in July prior to senior year, Division 1 coaches can contact students once a week. Students are free to contact coaches at any point and as often as they like. Division 1 protocols are generally clear; students are invited for official visits and are made offers to which they need to commit or decline. Division I AA colleges (e.g. Patriot League, Ivy League) have academic indices that are well-above NCAA certification. Therefore, they will need to take transcripts and test-scores to the admission office for approval.

Division III coaches have no such restrictions and recruiting in the fall of senior year can become complicated. Decisions made by students (and coaches) have been known to form and then change very rapidly. Counseling a student becomes more nuanced as coaches “suggest” that applying early decision will help his or her chances of admission. They are not allowed to pressure students to apply early, but the reality is that someone else who is being recruited WILL apply early. Therefore, students (particularly those applying to small, Division III colleges) should think hard about committing an early application to that college IF IF IF and ONLY IF the coach has run a student’s transcript and scores through the admission office, from which they need to receive approval. Any other promise from a coach needs to be treated with great caution. Even if approval is granted from the admission office and a student applies early, colleges will call in November to be sure that a student has maintained his or her academic progress through the fall before granting formal admission.


Students from Potomac find academic matches at colleges which play athletics in Division I or III leagues more than they do those in Division II. Division I and II colleges have scholarships to give away; Division III colleges do not. However, Division III colleges will certainly have slots for athletes and need-based financial aid for those who qualify.

Division I athletics is definitely a lifestyle choice; athletic practices and games will dominate much of a student’s time at college.

Some Division III programs can be as competitive and time-consuming as Division I programs. However, in general, students can have a broader experience more easily at a Division III college. In addition, those students can often consider being a two or even three-season athlete.


Stay organized, set your priorities, be flexible, and communicate often with your coach and your college counselor. In November of your junior year the college counseling office will give you a lot of information to read. Remember that for most athletes—particularly for Division IAA and III—
GRADES, DIFFICULTY OF COURSES, and TEST SCORES remain critically important for admission.

Please click here to download A Brief Guide for the Potential College Athlete

The document includes: