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The recruiting process

runner starting block

You love competing in your sport, and you want to keep playing in college. Expensive recruiting services offer all kinds of features, but what do you really need? Let's walk through the college sports recruiting process and give you the confidence to do this without paying for extra services.

The short version - you can handle this on your own if you know how to navigate the process. It helps to have an online profile that lets colleges easily see your athletic and academic achievements, as you will want to share more details than will fit in a social media platform summary.

Identify a list of target schools

college campus

During your freshman year of high school, put together a list of 10 to 20 target schools. Consider schools based on the following criteria.


How far away from home do you want to be? Look for schools a certain distance from home, or in an area of the country, that are a fit for you. Look at the athletic conferences that those schools are in, and what schools they compete against, to get additional ideas.


Look for schools that have the academic major that you want. Take into consideration the school's academic requirements, and how your academic ability matches up. The vast majority of college athletes are not going to play professionally!

Make sure you are set up for successful next steps after your 4-year undergraduate degree.

Campus setting and school size

Do you want a large urban campus setting, a small quiet campus, or something in between? Visit some schools of different sizes and walk around the campus to get a feel for the setting that feels right.

Athletics level
large soccer stadium

Too many athletes waste time and money pursuing schools that are not a fit for their athletic abilities. Be honest with yourself about where you fit, and how much you will play at the schools on your list. Look at the bios of athletes on the current roster at schools you are interested in. Did they get recognized within their region or state while in high school? Did they get recognized nationally? How does your resume compare? If almost all athletes at a target school have athletic resumes that look much better than yours, it may not be the right fit.

Have some schools on your list that may be a stretch for your athletic abilities, some that are a good fit, and some you know would be a very safe bet.


Many college athletes get partial or little athletic scholarship money. The website is a great resource for estimating costs and potential scholarships. In addition to knowing what you can afford, also consider the value of the degree you will be getting. As an example, getting an engineering degree from a prestigious and costly university may be worthwhile, knowing that those graduates get high-paying jobs. By contrast, paying for a very expensive 4-year biology degree when you are going on to medical school may not be worth the expense.

Know the timelines

Most sports allow for the college coaches to have communication with high school athletes starting on June 15th after their sophomore year of high school. Some sports are different though, so check the NCAA recruiting calendars to be sure of the timelines and also the recruiting dead periods (when coaches cannot communicate with recruits) for your sport. You can still reach out to colleges before these dates, but they can not respond. For more details, head over to our Recruiting Resources article.

Make contact via email

Find the contact information of head and assistant coaches on their college sports website, and reach out via email. Your email should be personalized for each college, briefly explaining who you are, your graduation year, and why you are interested. Include a link to your SportProspect.Online profile where they can easily see all of your athletic and academic achievements. Use our Tracked Links feature to keep track of which colleges actually take the time to view your profile online!

College coaches are busy - they will appreciate you giving them an easy way to quickly learn more about you.

This email contact can and should be done before the date when two-way communication is allowed so that they have you on their list as a potential recruit.

Get a college to watch you compete

coach and athlete

The reality is that college coaches get a lot of emails from high school prospects that are interested in their program. The best way to get on their list of recruiting prospects is to have them see you compete. Let them know if you are competing in any events that college coaches typically attend. Go to a camp that they run at their college so that they can see your skills and you can check out the university. When attending camps, have your high school or club coach contact the college coach to let them know you are coming. For more advice on camps, take a look at our College Camps article.

Handling communication

Let's talk about how to handle the various forms of communication with college coaches once they can respond to you.

Phone calls and text messages
athlete and cellphone

You will know that a college is interested in you if they want to set up a phone call or text back and forth with you. Phone calls are a chance for the college to get to know you, and for you to get to know them! Be open and honest with them, and tell them about who you are. If you do extra training outside of what is required, tell them. If academics are important, let them know.

Coaches will form an initial opinion of who you are as a person, student, and athlete based on what you tell them!


The next step from a truly interested college will be offering a visit. A visit can be "official", which means they pay your expenses, or "unofficial", which means you pay your expenses for the visit. You only get 5 official visits as a student-athlete, but you can take unlimited unofficial visits. It is very common for colleges to offer unofficial visits, so don't think less of that opportunity.


Scholarship offers, or offers for a spot in their program without a scholarship, may happen at the end of a visit or after a visit. You can and should ask a college what their timeline is for making decisions, and expect they will ask you for your timeline as well. Note that Power 5 schools give 4-year scholarships for incoming freshman, while other schools are typically 1-year - and renewed year by year. Keep in mind, however, that if the school does not want you there after 1-year, you likely won't want to be there either. It is best to choose the right level of competition to match your abilities, and keep working on your craft in order to earn your scholarhip every year.

When faced with a choice between schools remember this - your chances of success and enjoying your college experience go up dramatically when you commit to where you are really wanted, rather than going where they are just OK with having you on the team!

General advice

  • Do get good grades. When a college has a choice between two similar athletes, they will favor the better student.
  • Do not limit yourself to only D1 programs, or only schools in a certain conference. You may find a great fit with an unexpected school.
  • Do be proactive and persistent. College coaches are busy, they may not respond for a few weeks even if they are still interested.
  • Do not compare your journey to others. Not everyone makes their college choice at the same time.
  • Do watch what you are posting on social media! Assume college coaches will see everything that you post, and think about the impression you are making.