“Being a student-athlete should enhance your college experience,
not be a roadblock to your success.”
Prospective student-athletes should search for a school that will provide them with the best college experience academically, athletically, and socially; we call this the The College Experience Trifecta. Too often prospective student-athletes will choose a school solely based on the athletic program and not so the academic or social aspects of the college. Being a college student-athlete is more than attending classes and competing, it is an experience. That is why you must look at the college search process from three perspectives; as a student, an athlete, and as a young man or woman. You need to find a school where you will be happy in all three aspects of your college life.
There are many factors that go into finding your College Experience Trifecta. Each prospective student-athlete is unique and they need to find what is best for them. A common mistake by many prospective student-athletes is they will begin the college recruiting process by looking at the athletic programs before looking at the school. I believe you will have a better chance of finding the College Experience Trifecta by first looking at what each school has to offer you academically and socially. The next step is to try to match an athletic program that fits what you are looking for. There are over 1,200 colleges and universities, if playing your sport is important to you then there is a school out there that fits what you are looking for in your college experience. College Admissions standards continue to rise which make for a very competitive industry. As the standards increase acceptance rates are on the decline. It is important that you put yourself in the best position academically to find the school of your choice.
At this point in your life you have been attending school for over a decade. As a student, you know how it works. You attend classes, read, take notes, write papers, and take tests. College is no different except the expectations are greater. In college you have the ability to do more free thinking, express your opinions, and defend your beliefs. As you search for the right fit academically you should keep these questions in mind as you navigate through the process.
- What type of learner are you?
- What subjects do you do well in and what subjects do you struggle with?
- Classroom environment: Do you do well in lecture classes, discussion classes or labs
- Are you looking for a well rounded liberal arts education or are you looking for a more straight-forward approach to your education?
- Would class sizes affect how you learn?
Knowing the answers to these questions can help you identify what type of academic environment you may be looking for.
Personally, the size of the school was a major factor in my college search process. I needed smaller class sizes where I had the opportunity to interact with my professor and classmates in a smaller group setting. I knew that I would have never survived a school where I had to sit in large lecture halls listening to a professor speak for an hour. However, every student is unique so you need to discover what environment best suits you to learn and grow.
In addition, the areas of study you may be interested in will affect your college search process. Yes, most schools have the popular majors like business, science, and education. Are you interested in a more specific major like engineering or oceanography? If so, that can quickly narrow your college/university options.
The academic side of the college search process is very important. Remember playing intercollegiate athletics is an experience that provides student-athletes the opportunity to excel at a sport they love while building an educational foundation for their future.
College is intended to provide students an experience. It is the place where you develop as a person. You will be exposed to new ideas, you will make new friends, and you will have successes and defeats along the way, it is all part of the college experience. This may be the most important part of the college search process. It is this aspect of college where you will ultimately love your decision or regret your decision. There are many factors that are involved in finding a school that fits your social or personal preferences.
- How far away from your home are you willing to travel?
- What are your travel options, is it a car ride away, or a train, or do you need to take a plane.
- Do you want your family to be able to see you play live as much as possible?
- Do you want to be close enough where you can go home and get a home cooked meal or do some laundry? On top of that do you want to be close enough where your family can just stop by when they please?
- Do you dislike cold weather and would like to go to a warmer climate, or are you a person who prefers cold weather and likes to ski or snowboard. As a DI athlete these activities may be frowned upon from the coach because they can result in injury.
Campus Setting: Size and Setting
- Do you want to be a small fish in a big pond or big fish in little pond? There are thousands of schools of all different shapes and sizes. There are Division I schools that have an undergraduate enrollment of 1,000 students and schools that have over 50,000 students. There are schools located in the heart of a metropolitan area, center of a small town, or nestled on the side of a mountain.
- Extracurricular Activities:
- What is there to do on or around campus?
- Do they have big time athletics program?
- Are there clubs or other organizations you can join?
Cost of College
In today’s world a college education is a huge investment for most families. College is more than just paying for an education you are paying for a 4 year experience. The experiences you have in college will shape who you are for the rest of your life. Yes, colleges are very expensive to the naked eye. Every college or university has a sticker price just like buying a car. What you don’t see upfront are all the discount opportunities that are available. When you are researching college costs you should look for the Average Net Cost. That is what does the average student pay to attend that school for one year. Obviously state schools are usually less expensive than private institutions but private colleges and universities offer a larger discount than those state schools. Those discounts could be comprised of Merit Scholarships, Athletic Scholarships, private scholarships, and need based financial aid.
When I was a college soccer coach and I was speaking to prospective student-athletes about scholarships and the cost we would use the comparison from buying a Mercedes Benz to buying a Ford. It was much more affordable than they thought when we put it in those terms. The cost of college is a major factor in college selection. So make sure you have a conversation with the family about a financial plan? Sit down and try to answer these questions before you get started
- Do you have a preference between state schools or private institutions?
- How much out of pocket are you willing to spend per year?
- Do you plan on taking out a student-loan to help pay for college?
The social aspect of the college search process may be the most important. Everybody has their own personal radar about things they like or feel comfortable with. Listening to your personal radar is essential during the college search process. If you are researching or visiting a campus and things don’t seem right or you can’t see yourself there than you should listen to what your gut is telling you. Don’t force yourself to try and like a school or program. You will never be truly happy with your decision. The only way to experience campus life is to visit while classes are in session. You should walk around campus and talk to as many people as possible to get a real feel of what campus life is like. If you are fortunate enough to be able to have an overnight visit at an institution please do it. There is no substitute for experiencing a day in the life of a student-athlete.
Now that you have created a list of schools that match your academic and social preferences, now it’s time to turn your attention to the athletics side ,the reason this process started from the beginning.
Level of Competition
- Are you looking for an athletic scholarship, then DI, DII, and NAIA are your best options. If you are interested in pursuing DI opportunities, are you looking at schools in the major conferences (AAC, ACC, BIG10, BIG EAST, BIG 12, PAC12, and SEC) or are you looking at Mid-Major Schools?Are you looking to continue to play competitively but not the full year- round commitment then DIII may be a better option for you.
- Who are the coaches? Do you feel comfortable with your interactions with them? Could you play for them?
- What are the athletic facilities like? Could you see yourself competing on those facilities?
- What is the current roster make-up? Are their a lot of graduating seniors in your class? Is there a lot of roster turnover from year to year? If, so that could be a red flag.
- What is the success of the team? Is it traditionally a winning program or is it a program that is rebuilding.
- How important is playing time to you? Are you looking for an opportunity to play immediately or are you willing to bide your time and work for playing time?
- Building relationships with college coaching staffs may be the most important part of the college search process. Now you shouldn’t choose a school solely based on coaches but they do play a major role in the process. In the end, you should choose a school that you would enjoy even if you were not playing your sport.